“You ready for this? I’m going to go flash that V9 dude,” I overhear, nervously chuckling at the colloquialism yet still shifting my body slightly in order to watch the speaker do just that: climb a difficult route in my high school climbing gym on his first try. I turn back to the wall and stare at the V2 taunting me, daring me to try and inevitably fail again.
My high school on the western slope of Colorado had a fantastic reputation that followed the climbing team to any competition. The varsity teams frequently qualified for regionals and subsequently for states as well, usually with team and individual results in the top three.
Other sports piqued my interest more than climbing, so I never had or took the time to improve much more than minor arm strength. When there were open climbs on weeknights or open competitions at our home gym on the weekends, I would always avoid them in fear of being judged and for being just plain bad at climbing.
As a first-year at Colorado College last year, I had a similar fearful stigma surrounding the Ritt Kellogg climbing gym and all those who inhabited it. I was frankly terrified to step through the door and thereby relinquish all control I ever had over my other preferred and better sports.
Many will agree that being good at something gives you a certain agency, a certain sense of power that can’t really be classified as egotism or confidence: it’s more a prideful feeling of having committed so much time and effort to a specific endeavor that you become better than at least one other person.
This high is stripped away when you lose the talent in a new sport or talent field. I felt it as almost a physical disrobing when I smelled the dry chalk and heard the silent concentration and gentle rumble of laughter in the gym. My sports have almost always utilized lower body strength alone, and having no power or talent with my upper body is incredibly frustrating.
At CC, I learned that everyone is so genuinely willing and excited to help you get better. In helping you, they share their own passion for climbing with a new face, a new personality in the gym, and a new set of eyes.
Brush aside your premonitions, find a climbing buddy, and head down to the climbing gym. Rent some shoes and ask the monitors or really anyone there to help you, and I almost guarantee that they will. I have rarely met a more genuinely kind and helpful group of people than in the climbing gym. So, have fun!