Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Finding Motivation in Weakness and Inspiration in Success

Since David and I met more than four years ago in Spain, our life has been a blur of extended climbing trips in the US and Europe, interrupted by bouts of seasonal work—in large part because our international relationship required frequent border crossings such that neither of us overstayed our visas in the other’s respective home continents.
After David received his green card at the end of 2012, we settled down in Bozeman so that he could find employment and we could get our bearings. Since that time, David has worked (at least) full time, and I’ve been wading my way through a very intense post-baccalaureate program at Montana State University. Needless to say, our life has changed dramatically. Our climbing experience has shifted from perma-road trips to weekend outings and gym training.

However idyllic roadtrip life might sound, David and I were both excited for this change. Aggregate years of living in tents and out of our passenger car were immensely fun—providing us with uncounted days in gorgeous settings on the world’s best rocks, being spotted and belayed by fantastic friends from around the world. But those years were also extremely challenging. The lack of stability made regular training (beyond climbing) difficult for want of gym (and shower!) access. Thus, for me, injuries were frequent. Extended spells of bad weather was dismal, and leaky tents soaked our clothing and climbing gear.

Throughout those years, I’d forged a career out of freelance writing. Though the freedom it afforded was great, the pay checks weren’t, and I was wearing out my welcome as a multi-hour coffee shop squatter. (“One medium roast, drip coffee, please!”) I’d reached my satisfaction ceiling with freelancing, and found myself drawn to a career change—hence my plunge back into academics.

Fast forward to this spring—my spring break. David was able to get 10 days off from work, and snow storms escorted us hastily from Montana down to St. George, Utah. Prior to the trip, David was able to invest some serious hours into training and weekend climbing trips—even in sub-zero weather (really!). David’s ability to train hard after long days of physical labor amazed me, and he continued to get stronger and stronger.

I did my best to do the same, but found that my drawn-out training plan was often befuddled by piles of lab reports to write and books to read. I would record my weight lifting numbers, and discover that I hadn’t done the same exercises in over three weeks. And my little fingers have never worked that well for rock climbing in Montana winter conditions. Nevertheless, I tried to do the best I could in the gym with the time I had, and I felt prepared for our trip.

We spent more than a week in the shadows of the Utah sun, and David utterly bloomed. He climbed extremely well—both in terms of strength and technique. It was an inspiration to behold. He tried and tore up difficult routes on the gorgeous, European-like limestone in the Utah Hills, climbing copious pitches each day.

I didn’t. Though I had tried before the trip to lower expectations of myself, I was shocked to feel my fingers yielding on decent holds, and my core wavering on the slightest of overhangs. I was scared, weak and disappointed. Though I’d set my sights low for this season-opening trip, my performance was vastly below my lowered expectations.

Though the 20-something Christine would have been pissed and bitter, I opted instead to introspect about my climbing goals, and to make the best of the trip. I climbed as many pitches as I could—mostly “warmups,” and dabbled in a few harder routes—often on top rope. I allowed myself to be afraid, and forgave myself for being weak. I bit off challenges in manageable and rewarding amounts. And by the end of a trip, I sent a route that I had found difficult and scary—even to top rope—at the beginning of the trip. I found this genuinely satisfying, even though I would have likely warmed up on that route a little more than a year ago.

I am committed to a career change, and I realize that school will be a major part of my life in the years to come. Yet, I am unwilling to sacrifice climbing, and have seriously revamped and streamlined my training to best maximize the time I have. I’ve paired down my regime—addressing only the essentials: climbing-related exercises, finger training, and major muscled groups in weight training—thereby creating a training plan that I actually can accomplish on a weekly basis.

I have seen other climbers and athletes earn great success whilst neck-deep in school, careers, and familial responsibilities. I am determined to do the same—within my own abilities. It’s my project. I look forward to a spring full of regular training, climbing (during windows of nice weather, fingers crossed!), bolting… and studying. I have my eye on a lot of local routes, and want to climb and send the routes I bolted last summer. I am inspired by David’s motivation and success, and I am grateful for his support and encouragement, no matter what my climbing abilities may be.