Sometimes, I think it takes losing yourself to find yourself again. It’s almost a necessary lesson in human evolution; we grow, we change, we experience loss, and ultimately redemption. We don’t always understand the process or reasoning while it’s happening, but looking back, there is always an important takeaway that molds us into who we want to become.
I begin in a sit position, both hands on the plastic rocks at the bouldering gym. I move to a crimpy hold with my right hand, bring my feet up into a layback position, bring my left hand up to a slopey hold, then a dyno with the right hand. I move up a few more holds with ease, then I know I will have to stretch to get this hold with my right hand; I step up to a feature on the wall with my left foot, stretch my right leg out to where the wall protrudes, as I use my toe to hook the side. I make the hold and continue until I top out on this difficult boulder problem…. I open my eyes, only to realize it was all a dream. I sit up in bed, pain aches from my left shoulder down, and I continue to accept that even 7 weeks after shoulder surgery, I am still unable to climb.
Before having this dream last night, I had told my fiancé, “I can’t remember what it feels like to climb.” Had it not been for that dream last night, I would still feel the same way today. The dream felt so real, including the movements, struggle between holds, and the final moment of completing the route.
Over the last 7 weeks, I mourned climbing over and over again. I fell in love with this sport, this lifestyle years ago, and it completely ingrained itself within my DNA for the last 2 years. Without it, I have had a feeling that I lost part of myself. Climbing isn’t just climbing, for me, it’s freedom. It’s a sport, an art, that saved my life, allowing me to live again. As dramatic as it sounds, it’s like losing a love.
On almost a daily basis, I’m asked when I will be able to climb again. I just got out of my sling 2 weeks ago, and struggle to raise my arm above 90 degrees. When individuals see where I am in my rehabilitation, and still ask about my climbing, it’s a tough pill to swallow. I always say, “I don’t know.. it could be 4 months… 6 months.. 8 months.. we don’t know”. I always see the look of disappointment on their faces after this complete honesty spills out of my mouth. You know, I get it; People see me as strong, which I am, but I’m still human. They have high expectations for me, just as I have high expectations for myself. However, as I’m learning, I cannot instantly repair myself and jump back on the wall. My body is fighting my mind and determining my schedule in getting back to climbing. I cannot change it, or force my body to heal faster. I have to wait out this storm, and fight every day through the pain to complete all of my exercises necessary to heal. I can only keep the fire burning, and do what I can now to ensure I have the strength necessary to climb when my body completes the healing process.
Some days are harder than others. It’s always one step forward, two steps back. Then maybe three steps forward, and two back. Other days, it’s really hard to see my improvement. I tend to compare myself to others who have gone through similar surgeries. I’m trying hard to be the exception, not the rule. I’m trying to come back to climbing sooner, clinging to success stories of other climbers’ who had this same surgery. I’m slowly learning that this is not going to make it happen any faster. In fact, it may just set me up for failure.
This experience is teaching me to take every “win” I can get. Like the first time I was able to wrap my arms around my fiancé to hug him – That was amazing! Or when I was able to play soccer outside with my son and run around the field trying to catch him! Some wins cannot be measured by strength, mobility or flexibility. Some wins have nothing to do with my ability to get back to climbing, but rather get back to the people I love the most. Some wins are measured in moments that I missed while stuck in a sling, sitting on the couch, binge-watching The Office (I won’t lie, those were an amazing 14 days!)
Although I’m going through this, I have not abandoned the climbing scene or my friends who continue to push their limits in climbing and make strides on routes that were once difficult for them. I do a lot of my exercises in the rock gym, just to be among the rocks and people that have become my family. A lot of days, when I am done trying to get my arm past 90 degrees, I go into the women’s restroom and cry. I see others climb, and it’s heartbreaking to me. I want to touch those rocks and feel what it’s like to do something I love. To be so close, and so far away from climbing again, I’m sad, but determined. I would give anything to be on the wall with them, projecting a difficult climb.
To fuel my fire, I cycle on a stationary bike almost every day. I crank up the intensity, pedal hard, and get my heart rate up. I’m so determined to get the rest of my body strong while my shoulder heals. The running joke between my friends, is that I’m going to get my legs jacked, so that when I can climb, I will just walk right up that wall! Heel-hook and bat-hang my way up the wall! (I’m stubborn enough to make it happen) I became one step closer to climbing last week when I was cleared to run 2 miles, twice per week. Before this, I was not allowed to run, due to impact on my shoulder. Again, I will take any win that I can during this time. In fact, today, I was able to complete my run at a 10:30 pace. Until I can climb again, my goal will be to get sub-9 running 2+ miles. Why not have fun and make a game out of this, right? All it will do is strengthen my body and heart.
Being a heart patient, it’s very important that I take care of my body. This is why I am cycling indoors, and running when I’m allowed. As I lose muscle in my upper body, I am doing intense cardio where I can to not lose that muscle in my heart. It’s not the same as climbing, and I won’t even pretend that it is. However, there is a lot of satisfaction and excitement, especially in running when I set goals and achieve them. It’s amazing to see how far I can run, how fast, and look at how far I have come. When I first realized that I would be out of climbing for a long-time due to surgery, I looked at my surgeon, who is a marathon runner, and said to him, “You’re going to turn me into a runner when this is all over with, aren’t you?!” This is something you should NEVER do to a climber 😉
Although I was perfectly happy with the person I was before surgery, maybe this whole “losing myself” thing will open up other avenues that I never saw possible. I’m sure I could focus on many of the negatives throughout this whole process, but life is just too short. I think I will just have to slow down, re-learn how to appreciate the small things, and just look forward to falling in love with climbing again when given the chance.
“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.” ― Jack Kerouac