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Running Thoughts: Fear And Setback

25 August 2012


I’m writing this post while Evelyn attends a “Pump It Up” party. Excuse me if my thoughts make little sense, it’s approximately 50 degrees in here and the dance music is blaring.

I ran 3.11 miles this morning at a 9’35″/mile pace. It was a shorter run than what I had wanted to accomplish for my second run of the week. My second 5-miler is tomorrow morning so I decided not to push the distance too much. Lack of sleep and the 6th grade breakaway to Victory Ranch prevented me from running on Thursday or Friday as I had originally planned.

As I was running this morning, I thought about what happened yesterday at Victory Ranch. During the first activity my homeroom tackled the Giant Swing (not my favorite) and the Pamper Pole. While I found the swing physically painful, it was not difficult nor scary. However, the Pamper Pole was both. The pole is basically a telephone pole with climbing rings along the side to assist one in climbing the 30+ feet to the top. Once there, the challenge is to stand up atop the 10-inch diameter of the pole then jump out and grab hold of a trapeze suspended in the air a few feet out of reach.

After catching my breath from the giant swing, I made the climb up the Pamper Pole relatively easily. Standing up was a bigger challenge, but I was able to do it. Then, I froze. My knees locked up, and fear began to strangle me. The trapeze waited well beyond my reach, and the activity facilitator had one of my students move it further away! Paralyzed from the neck downhill, I shouted that they needed to move the trapeze closer. I was beginning to think I was never going to get down. (Normally, I’m not that fearful of heights unless I’m suspended upside down.)

Seeing that I was becoming somewhat panicked, one of my students came to my rescue. He called out, “Don’t worry, Mr. Cummings! You can definitely do this. I’m going to count to three, then you are going to jump. Ready?” Before I could argue, he started counting and I knew I had no choice. I took a deep breath. As he shouted, “Three!” I jumped out and snatched hold of the trapeze. Fear was conquered, and I was soon back on the ground.

Fear is a strange sensation. It paralyses. I’m continuing to think about how to redesign my reading class to mesh with my work from the John Hunter Master Class. Honestly, I’m terrified. I have no idea how to do what I want to do, and the dream is far beyond my comfort zone. However, just like I yearned to conquer the Pamper Pole, I long to see this dream become a reality. What will it take to overcome the fear? Will my students once again coach me through it? I’m not sure I have an answer to this, but I don’t want my fear to win.

The second activity required climbing a rock wall to the top of the Diamond Tower in order to ride the 700-foot zipline to the bottom of the hill. I watched as several of my boys clambered to the top. Then, I strapped on a harness and took my turn determined that I could scale to the top, too. I started strong climbing rather easily halfway up the wall. Then, everything changed. I couldn’t seem to get a strong grip on the wall. My forearms burned. My quadriceps and gluteal muscled screamed at me, but I wouldn’t be deterred. I reached, grabbed, and pulled myself another 6 feet up the wall. I was panting heavily. My energy spent. I reached out to grab a new notched in the wall, and I slipped. My left hand couldn’t hold on. I lost my footing and fell rappelling to the ground.

Embarrassed, I immediately wanted to try again, but I couldn’t. Boys were waiting in line for their turn, and I knew I really didn’t have it in me. I’d slept little all week, but even if I’d been rested I’m not sure I could have climbed the wall. Was it a failure? Perhaps. Something in me cringes at the term. It feels so definitive, so final. I prefer the term setback. True, I failed at climbing the wall, but I will rise to climb again. I’ll do some strength training. Get more sleep. Failing to climb the wall won’t define me. Instead, it’s a setback from achieving what I want. I’ll be better prepared next time knowing better what to expect. Failure would be not trying again.

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