Working the high ropes course

This morning I listened to a  TEDxWomen — Suzanne Braun Levine  on FB.

(well worth ten minutes)

It reminded me of a long ago story when I joined with a bunch of people to do a challenge course. I knew most of them peripherally but none of us were what I would call close friends. All I knew was that it was some kind of “team building” exercise that would take up one of my Saturdays.

We all met at a small private hospital that had the Ropes Course built on the grounds. There were probably a dozen of us with two instructors. They explained the general plan of how we would start with the low course in the morning and moved to the high elements in the afternoon. None of us really knew what that meant. (I conveniently forgot that my brother had an irregular part-time gig ‘building’ ropes courses.)

We worked, laughed, and collaborated to try to do a series of challenges. Like four of us trying to “ski” two parallel railroad ties with ropes attached. What we all learned was who the leaders were, who the followers were, as well as how to work together. (it was much funnier than it sounds, and a little annoying.)

The afternoon events were much more challenging because they involved harnesses, ropes, helmets, and belay lines. The high elements were essentially trees were telephone poles lashed together with ropes and safety lines while everyone was attached to a watchful instructor. The final element was what they called the “pamper pole”.

We all gathered the base of a 40 foot telephone pole. There was a stepladder leading up to the spiked footholds reaching to the top. There was nothing else attached to this gigantic pole. Approximately 10 feet away, were two poles with the bar between that held a trapeze.

As you might guess, the goal was to reach the top of the telephone pole, (the diameter of which was approximately 12 inches), stand on top—there is NOTHING—to hold onto, gradually turn around 180°—because the trapeze is now behind you and… That’s the only way down. Unless you jump off this four story pole.

I sat under a tree with two friends watching if one person after another attempt this death-defying feat. A couple of the guys managed to get up the pole with ease, but only one was able to jump far enough to reach the trapeze.

Some quit halfway up the pole or fell when the attempted to stand upright.

I said, more than once, “that’s nuts, there’s no way he’d get me into that harness.”

Now here’s the interesting, kind of woo-woo part of all this. After one of my friends got down and began to unfasten the harness, I literally found myself replying when the instructor said, “who’s next?”

What the… A force completely outside of me was moving my body toward the bottom of that telephone pole. I’m serious. This is where the team building comes in. I distinctly heard the voices of people who, only that morning, were casual acquaintances cheering me on, and encouraging me to do it.

I started up the ladder and never looked back. Something inside of me focused on the top of that pole and whispered, “You can do it”. Of course there was another voice whispering, “are you out of your f***ing mind?”

I heard the voices and I kept going. When I reached the top, I had my left foot on the highest spike, my hands on the sides of a 12 inch dinner plate, and nothing to hold onto.

I somehow had to get my right foot between both hands and raise myself up with the strength in one leg—my right ankle, by the way, had been the victim of numerous sprains. And these clinical facts raced through my mind like a freight train.

Below me, I could hear cheers and words of encouragement flying towards me. And once again I heard that voice, “You can do this” and I answered, “Yes. I. Can.”

I slowly straightened up and watched as both my feet covered the top of the pole. I could feel the pole swaying slightly as I looked over the tops of the trees. I was completely at ease and filled with a kind of exhilaration I had never felt my life. It  felt as close to heaven as I could be and I knew with absolute certainty that I was not alone on that pole. And I never would be again.

I inched myself around until I was facing the trapeze. The 10-foot expanse between the handlebar and me was even greater than I imagined. If it had been 10 feet lower, I might’ve stood a chance. But it was directly opposite and no matter how hard I pushed off, gravity would get me first.

What choice did I have?

Securely harnessed. Attached to a safety line. Wearing a helmet… “On the count of three.”

(photo: this guy is actually on a zip line, Not free-falling. Imagine this without the bar in his hand.)

I pushed off as hard as I could and fell for couple of seconds before the rope caught. They lowered me to the ground and one of the guys caught me. As soon as he did, I burst into tears of joy, victory, and immense pride.

There are no words to describe the complete elation of accomplishing something that seemed absolutely, totally impossible. I knew with that moment, with complete certainty: If I truly believed in myself, there was nothing I could not accomplish.

Over the years, that moment and those very feelings have resurfaced reminding me of one of the one of the most profound life lessons I’ve learned.

Photos from 

High Ropes Courses Using harnesses, helmets, cables, ropes and wooden beams strung 20 to 50 feet high among trees or poles, teams explore risk-taking, trust and coaching. Each moment is rich with discoveries, whether you’re climbing, simply encouraging others or on belay.

8 thoughts on “Working the high ropes course

  1. Thanks for the reminder that the mind is a powerful thing, indeed. The sky is the limit with a determined mind, and friends who offer encouragement along the way. You go, girl!

  2. Pingback: Jon Anscher | Blog

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