The First Time
The panicky voice reminded me of someone.
The calm voice reminded me of many someones.
My homegirl Jonalynn was having a freakout on a ledge at Wishon, California. To climb higher, she had to make a challenging move full of trust. It was her first climb ever – and on a route that was no gimme. It was probably a 5.7, harder than what I wanted to start her on, but there were no anchors above easier routes.
The slabby section got into her head as slab had gotten into mine many times. That's how I knew exactly how she felt as she wrestled with how to stand up on a small ledge with no obvious handholds for assistance.
She put her left foot up – in the ideal position for successfully stepping up on her right as well. "Yes, that's perfect!" I said. "Just stand up!"
But she didn't trust herself to land it. Over and over, she retreated to her secure stance below.
"I'm sorry I'm taking so long!" she said in a panicky voice that reminded me of my voice filled with fear on so many climbs.
"Don't worry about it," I said calmly in a voice that reminded me of so many of my patient belayers. "Go when you're ready. You've got this."
"Has this ever happened to you?" she asked.
"Only all the time. I've put my belayers though much worse."
After many hesitating false starts, she embraced the courage to stand up.
Jonalynn nears the end of her first climb as Sarah Jane belays. Photo courtesy of Sarah Jane Alexander / time2climb.com
"Yes, that's it!" I yelled.
She landed it!
"Now what!?" she asked, her voice still shaky.
"You're in a panic. Why don't you just breathe for a little while?"
She hugged the rock and breathed. After a few moments I said, "When you are ready to move, look above your head. There are some great handholds. Move your feet a few inches up and you've got them."
She did. Then she was hiking the route again and finished.
I lowered her, and she high-fived and hugged me. The smile on her face was precious.
Joy and pride replaced the panic in her voice. "I can't believe I just did that!" she said.
All the times I had embarrassed myself by being scared, tentative and slow were worth the humiliation. They had given me the empathy I needed to instruct and the patience to do it lovingly.
For more from Sarah Jane Alexander visit her website: time2climb.com
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