Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Body Mind Spirit Ropes Course

Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise
will sooner or later have to find time for illness.
Edward Stanley

PETALUMA, California, July 1994: Struggling thirty-five feet in the air, I tried to reach the platform above me. I was only half way up the pine tree, and the rope ladder proved a rascal to climb. Unattached at the ground, it twisted and turned as I tried to climb it. My breath was labored, and my arms were tired. I rested a moment, my arms woven through the ropes. The ladder bent almost ninety degrees as my weight forced my feet straight out from my arm hold. I wasn’t scared of falling, exactly, because I was strapped to a safety belt that was anchored by four of my teammates on the ground. I had some small concern that my three hundred pounds (I’d lost twenty pounds since the training began) will uproot my teammates if I should slip, but I expected they could handle it.

Our guide up on the platform gently encouraged me to keep climbing. My team, below me on the ground, shouted their encouragement as well. I untangled my arms and pulled myself up another rung. My progress was slow, but I was climbing. My energy stalled a few feet from the platform as my arms trembled from what seemed a Herculean effort to pull my weight this far into the sky, almost seventy feet up now. I wove my arms through the ropes to rest one more time.

I didn’t know if I could climb another rung. I thought, “I will hate myself for giving up,” but I was exhausted. My arms, back, and legs ached. The four rungs to the platform seemed like a mile. I focused my attention on my breath to calm my mind, and with a last-ditch effort I summoned a glimmer of energy and climbed the last four rungs. Apparently, the mind gives up before the body does. I was so grateful to feel the solid wood platform under my arms. Our guide helped me to swing my legs onto the perch, while the entire team let loose a raucous cheer seventy feet below me.

I quietly gloated to myself. Finally, mind triumphed over matter; my willpower was stronger than my “fat” body. Now I stood to face the next challenge: grab a handheld trolley, step off the platform, and ride a cable across an open meadow to the ground. I could hear the ocean off to my right. Richard stood on a ladder across an open field at the base of the cable. I had been so focused on scaling the rope ladder that I forgot to dread stepping off seventy feet into space.

My guide deftly disconnected my safety belt from my teammates on the ground and strapped me to the hand trolley. I stepped up to the edge. Fear gripped my belly and tightened my throat as I looked at the ground, my teammates tiny in the distance. What the hell? This has got to be easier than climbing that damn ladder. Before I can think about it any more I stepped off. The fear immediately gave way to the blast of shooting down the cable.

The thrilling sensation was better than any roller coaster. I shot past Richard on the ladder and hurtled toward the tree that anchored the cable. My momentum slowed, and I swung back toward the ground. With a few swings back and forth, Richard grabbed me from his post on the ladder. I was breathless with my feats and proudly declared to him, “I can never call myself a sissy again.” Richard promised, “I’ll bear witness to that.”

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