You used to be good at climbing, and then something happened. Maybe it was an injury, maybe work or school. Most likely it was because some cutie was spotting you and you released an unfortunately-timed air biscuit, only to immediately disappear behind a cloud of chalk, never to be seen again. You took some time to lick your wounds over a period of months, possibly years, and you’re finally back. Now, if you’re really careful, you can probably go to the bathroom and come back without anyone noticing that you had your harness on upside down. You’re off to a great start.
The gym has all new staff by now and here you are, forced to prove yourself all over again. With the righteous indignation of someone that used to crush, you hop on your warm-up route and it finally dawns on you: you are not good anymore. In fact, you suck. Some people are better than others at adjusting to the fact that their muscles have atrophied and they now have soft, supple baby hands. If you’re not handling it well, every part of you is going to want to climb the nearest skyscraper and scream, “I WAS AT LEAST ABOVE AVERAGE, MAYBE EVEN ADVANCED!!!” while swatting small planes from the sky. Don’t worry, you won’t make it that far; you suck now, remember?
The self-loathing may begin to set in around this time, but it’s fine because no one at the gym cares. While this can be a hard pill to swallow, it’s a liberating dose of nihilism. Rock climbers are a chronically chill breed, and if you feel like someone is staring at you it’s most likely because they haven’t seen those shoes in a while, not because they’re internally laughing at your inability to pivot your hips. No one cares if you were good before and no one gives a rat’s ass when they see you scrambling up a V3 now. It’s time to throw on those horse blinders and crush that V2.
Don’t try and sprint back to the glory of your OG self or you’ll just get re-injured and put out of the gym yet again. Start taking yoga classes on your rest days* and work on some opposition training so you don’t pop another feeble tendon. Of course you’d rather only be climbing (it’s an objective truth that actually working out stinks) but you lost that right when you went and tore your rotator cuff. You were strong before, you can get strong again. In the meantime, don’t start crying when an 8-year-old flashes your project.
*If you sleep on your back, remember that you have the added bonus of walking out before savasana and announcing to your instructor that you’ve already mastered this pose, as you practice it about 6-8 hours daily.
Jackie Voltz is a computer science student in north Texas. She was introduced to trad at age 7 through cleaning her stepdad's routes. A Benjamin Button of climbing, she now works at an indoor gym and frequents both top rope and bouldering competitions in the DFW area. Outside of school and the gym she enjoys reading, harassing her friends online, and listening to the radio on mute.
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