Andrew stared up at the miles, or so it seemed, of rope ladder as it twisted back and forth, reminding him of a strand of DNA he had seen in a science class video. The fear of leaving the ground was slowly spreading through his body, creating a form of mental-induced paralysis. He tried to overcome the terror of the height he needed to climb, but it seemed to be an effort in futility. Mother Earth had comforted him in her bosom his entire life and there seemed to be no logical reason why he should need to leave her.
The platform was thirty feet above him. It might as well have been thirty miles, for there was no way he was going to be able to even take the first step up the unstable ladder. The fact his team had safely made it around the high ropes course did not console him in the slightest. His coaches attempting to talk him through his fear really did not help his anxiety subside either. He couldn’t understand why it was so important for him to climb up to a bunch of obstacles hanging high over the ground. What purpose did it serve? Of course, it didn’t matter, since he had no desire of getting up there. He had been here once before and the results were the same, Andrew was not climbing the ladder or getting on the high ropes course.
Slowly a thought began to penetrate his cloud of doubt and fear. A soft voice whispered in his ear, “You can do this, I will be here the whole way.” The voice came from Coach Levi, the quiet, but strong mentor who suddenly became his biggest cheerleader. Coach had a way of putting things in their proper perspective and it began to make sense that trying this senseless act might actually serve a positive purpose, no matter how scared he was to try. Coach Levi helped him to understand that it was the path of the journey and not the destination that mattered. The effort to overcome the terror of that first step is what builds character, not whether or not you are the fastest one to go around the course. He told him that everybody experiences success differently. No matter what though, overcoming obstacles and fear are how people grow. Andrew decided that today, he was going to grow.
With Coach Levi at his side, Andrew slowly made his way to the base of the rope ladder and grabbed the rung with his right hand. Coach held the ladder as taut as he could to allow for minimal sway. As Andrew looked up to the base of the platform, a flood of terror rushed through him as if a dam had broken. The seed of doubt had grown into a forest of fear, but with the vocal support of his team and coaches, Andrew took the most important step of his life; he climbed the first rung of the ladder. He methodically climbed a few more rungs. As he reached the midpoint, it was obvious to those on the ground the fear was still haunting. Undaunted, he continued until he reached the platform.
Andrew had done it! He had passed the first challenge and made it to the starter platform and his harness was clipped to the safety wires. Standing at the edge, Andrew fearfully looked at the course ahead with Coach Levi, who calmly spoke to build his confidence. Several times it looked as if Andrew was going to take that first step onto the rope swing. It was not to be on this day; Andrew decided it was too much and needed to get back to the ground. We clipped him to the rope and he was belayed back down.
Andrew was overcome with a feeling of failure and it showed on his face. I approached him, put my arm around him and explained how proud I was of him. Andrew looked up with surprise in his eyes. I described that he had gone much further than he had the first time he had tried a ropes course. The first time, he didn’t leave the ground. This time, he had made it to the platform; Andrew had taken a huge step closer to overcoming his fear. I also explained that he should remember he has many talents and gifts, a brilliant musician being one of them. Many people, including me, would love to have that type of talent. Andrew smiled and understood what I was telling him. We all have different challenges and fears that keep us from succeeding, but when we confront them head-on we can overcome them and grow.
All-in-all it was a great day for all of the campers. They were able to focus on their teambuilding skills and their communication with one another, whether on the ropes, working together on their catapult launchers, or competing on the paintball course against one another. As a coach, I was proud to see how the critical thinking and communication skills have improved over the past few months. We had a great time together and look forward to our next adventure.