We all have setbacks.
Over the past year I’ve watched several climbing partners and friends being forced to take at least two months off from climbing. Between shoulder pain, surgeries, accidents, and finger injuries to mention a few…
I can’t help but think it’s just a matter of time before it’s my turn.
Last Sunday Chris and I volunteered for a re-bolting event at one of our local crags through the Boulder Climbing Community. We were to replace the 1980s hardware on a 5.11a named Boxcar Willy, notorious for being slabby and runout.
I headed up the lichen-covered slab, my hands running along the gritty sandstone searching for holds as if I were reading Braille. I could see a down-sloping rail just out of reach for my right hand, and a left foot up by my waist with nothing in between.
After exhausting all my other options, I decided to go for it. I popped to the rail with my right hand, my arms stretched as far as they could go. I just needed to get my left foot up — by my WAIST — yikes! My foot was an inch away from settling on the hold when…
My foot slipped off and my right hand held on moments before I whipped fifteen feet down the slab. The fall was fine- but my shoulder was not. I had shock-loaded it with all my weight at full extension.
I sat on the rope and tested my shoulder, gingerly lifting it up and down, rubbing the tweaked muscles and tendons. This did not feel like just another muscle strain, the pain felt deeper- my joint was very angry.
I thought about the trips coming up this fall. In two weeks I’d be in Turkey, and the Red River Gorge, Kentucky in November. Will I even be able climb?
It’s scary being injured as an athlete. We create our identity so much around what we do. If I can’t climb- who am I?
I ignored the pain in my shoulder and by the end of the day 37 of us had re-bolted the entire crag- it was a huge success!
Hiking down the trail I thought of my injured friends and their battles- both physical and mental (often more difficult to overcome). Above all, I needed to stay positive and keep moving forward.
And so, over the past week (since I couldn’t climb) I decided to take advantage of exploring the extensive trails of Boulder right out our back door.
A few days ago I set out for a “short” run, and was having so much fun exploring I ended up at Bear Peak, the highest point of the Boulder foothills, and back 10 miles later. My stick legs haven’t felt this much of a workout in ages.
I looked forward to my newfound pastime- the time spent by myself running or hiking along for miles without seeing a soul. My consciousness and thoughts are what makes me who I am no matter what. It’s easy to define ourselves by what we do, not who we are. Heather the veterinarian, Heather the rock climber, Heather the wife- in the end all of this can change. We are more than what we simply do each day. It’s difficult but essential to identify with more than just what we do and be comfortable in our own skin, like the grazing deer and the snake I see basking on the trail.
And so, ten days later, my shoulder feels nearly back to normal. I am able to climb virtually pain free, and my range of motion is almost back to where it was before. It turns out my injury was super minor and no big deal- nothing like what many of my friends have been through lately. I am lucky this time, but I know it won’t always be this way.
And for today, I am Heather the rock climber again. But I am, and will be, so much more. And every day I am grateful for my health and the ability to do what I love in this life where nothing lasts forever.