Judie Fleyshgakker, Program Coordinator at Momentum Climbing School, talks about how learning to rock climb has affected her life – and how it can change yours (see Lifelong Learning’s class Indoor Rock Climbing)!
Every morning, we sit quietly in the shadows as the sun rises over the Wasatch mountain range. These stoic giants sit protectively on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley and beckon skiers, boarders, hikers, trail runners, bikers—they demand to be visited, to be appreciated, to be loved. Beyond the stampede of people with their feet mostly planted on the ground, occasionally, if you look up, there will be another group of recreationalists. Some of them will be dangling from ropes and their fingertips on the rock faces that make up the stunning peaks we marvel at from a distance, and some will be hiking around with big pads on their backs like turtle shells. On weekday evenings down in the valley, you’ll find this same group at the gym—the rock climbing gym!
I fell in love with the Wasatch two years ago, when I moved to Salt Lake City – five years after I first took up rock climbing. In the last seven years I have gained so much knowledge from this sport, and while wasn’t my only teacher it is among the most powerful. From my experiences in rock climbing I have learned:
To set goals and then to work hard to attain them. Climbing is hard! I have yet to find another sport in which we force so much stress on our upper bodies, particularly on our hands and fingers. My goals tend to be grade oriented, and by that I mean there is a scale in rock climbing – some climbs are harder and some are easier. I train to climb harder grades like any other athlete trains for a race or competition to beat their best time or heaviest weight. A goal can be as simple as getting off the ground, or getting to the top of a wall, or it could be creating a safe learning environment for people trying rock climbing for the first time. Any one of these takes consideration, planning, and work.
To be present under pressure. One of my favorite things about climbing is that it offers general fitness and requires mental focus. Climbing will increase the heart rate, build muscle, and help focus the mind. In those moments, when the lactic acid is pulsing through my forearms, and my fingers can barely stay closed around a hold, my heart is pumping hard and fast, and my mind has every excuse to wander into dangerous territory about falling and failing; in those moments I can stop, take a deep breath, and my focus centers on the next hold, that one move, where to put my feet, how to curve my body to be most efficient and keep climbing.
To develop problem solving skills. There is a form of rock climbing called bouldering in which a climb is actually called a problem. In Russian, boulderers call problems “little riddles”. Often completing one of these climbs will be a matter of unlocking some technique, for example turning a hip a certain way, or grasping a hold sideways or, even upside down! I have been taught patience and been humbled by many rock faces, on my quest to solve these little riddles.
To develop social skills. In a city like Salt Lake, where rock climbing is so prevalent, climbers become a subculture and community of their own. As in any community, a lot can be learned about connecting with people, being kind, and reading body language. Climbing is unusual because most forms of climbing require a partner—I would go as far as to say one of the most intimate partnerships a person could enter, as each time your belayer watches you leave the ground, your life is partly in their hands. It is also unique because so many members are working towards and reaching goals, which gives onlookers a great opportunity to be supportive.
That how I define myself becomes who I am. This bit of knowledge is slightly more abstract. I was never an athlete until the day that I decided I was, and now I’d be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees. I was never a strong climber, until I decided I was. I was never good enough to teach, until, of course, I decided I was. No one is ever ready for the greatest adventure of their life, but they decide to embark anyway, and then they become ready—they become adventurers. For me that greatest adventure is climbing; for my sister it’s being a mom and entrepreneur; others become travelers, body builders, cross fitters, academics, actors, politicians; and for some of you it might be as scary or as simple as taking a Lifelong Learning course.
Don’t be scared to try Rock Climbing, and perhaps meet Judie at Momentum! Click here to enroll in Indoor Rock Climbing today.