By Kacey Gardner, editorial assistant
In the pictures of Wildcat Recreation Center staff member Salam Ali fixing the rope to my harness for the first time, you’ll see me beaming with eyes cast down, watching her hands as she explains the reliability of the Figure-Eight Knot she’s tying.
What you don’t see are the frantic thoughts racing through my mind: “Why am I doing this? This is a terrible idea. I hate heights. Are you crazy? Look at how high this wall is!”
But at that point, there was no turning back.
I had agreed to face my fears of heights and aversion to exercise in order to write about the WREC Climbing Gym for this blog.
In theory, it had sounded fun. But actually standing there—all too aware of my physical weakness and propensity for panic attacks, clammy hands clutching the satchel of chalk that would soon be strapped to my suspended body—not so much.
The route I would be attempting was for beginners. Called “Green Jugs,” it was marked by the green holds which would guide my hands.
“Your feet can go anywhere,” Salam reminded me.
Hands on green, feet can go anywhere. It became a pseudo-mantra I repeated to myself out loud and in my head to start focusing on the reality that I would at least have to try.
The WREC was relatively empty on that summer afternoon, and in the good company of two supportive coworkers and the amazingly positive and reassuring Salam, I realized that though facing fears under any conditions takes courage, this was an extremely safe and controlled way to do it.
I squared up to the wall and took a few deep breaths. Hands on green, feet can go anywhere, I thought. I assessed the start of the route, noting that Salam had been right when she said a lot of climbing is problem solving. You have to think about your upcoming moves and plan ahead.
I found what I thought was a good place to start, reached up, and started to climb.
As soon as both of my hands and feet were off the ground, all thoughts about the height of the wall fell away. I had to focus on figuring out the puzzle, putting myself in a position to better leverage my strength. Ah, this is the fun part, I thought.
I made move after move, slowly making my way up the wall, totally intent on the task at hand. I climbed nearly halfway before I didn’t feel strong enough to push up with my legs and get to the next hold. My body had reached its physical limits.
But making it to the top didn’t matter to me. As I rappelled down the wall, I was satisfied. I had given it my best and came away empowered by saying yes to new adventures, even when failure isn’t completely off the table.
In fact, looking back on my college career, this theme of saying yes to the things that scare me has led to some of my most rewarding experiences. Sure, I had my share of setbacks and defeats, but I never would have been the editor of the student newspaper or landed an internship at The Sacramento Bee if I had let the fear of failing keep me from moving forward. As Salam told me, “If we gave up after every failure, there wouldn’t be any climbers!”
Do you want to try out the Climbing Gym? Don’t be intimidated. The wall is open during summer Monday through Friday 3–8 p.m. and Sunday from 3–7 p.m. Normal operating hours are Monday through Friday noon–10 p.m. and Sunday 3–9 p.m. The gym boasts 36-foot walls and 3,000 square feet of climbing space with over 125 routes for all skill levels on bouldering and top rope climbing walls. Staff belays and equipment are available for free. In addition, sign-ups are open now for Adventure Outings’ Introduction to Rock Climbing trip Oct. 18–19, 2014.
Q&A With Salam Ali
WREC Climbing Gym floor staff and senior mechanical engineering student
How long have you been working at the WREC?
I am a recent hire to the Climbing Gym, but prior to hire, I frequented the Climbing Gym three, sometimes four days a week.
When did you start climbing and how did you get into it?
I began climbing four years ago when I took the Intro to Rock Climbing class with kinesiology faculty member Michael Dent. Ever since then, I’ve continued to learn and grow as a climber.
What’s the best thing about climbing?
The complexity of it all. Climbing isn’t repetitive like running or other physical activities. I also like how climbing is an all-around workout. It works most, if not all, muscle groups and cardio is incorporated into it too.
What does it take to be a good climber?
I honestly think that patience is what makes a good climber, not how strong you are. There are times when you’ll attempt a certain boulder or top rope problem multiple times and not be able to complete it. Most would become frustrated and give up; however, good climbers take a breath, reassess the route, and try again.
What’s your best advice for new climbers?
Come in with a positive attitude, ask a lot of questions, and don’t give up! I think that most people don’t try out climbing because they are apprehensive and don’t know much about it.
Any words of caution for new climbers/common mistakes you see by new climbers?
If you are unsure about what to do or how you’re doing something, please ask us! We are here to provide a safe environment for everyone to learn the fundamentals of climbing.
Do you have any climbing-related goals you hope to accomplish?
My current goal is to be able to complete a 5.11a (top rope) and a V4 (boulder) by the end of the year!