Finally Reaching the Top

How often do we face a physical or mental feat that we’ve always wanted to do, but never seemed to be able to complete successfully? I had a physical feat that I wanted to do my entire life, and this year, at age 56, I finally succeeded. I can still picture my junior high gym class. Lots of other people could do it. Why couldn’t I? They didn’t seem to be in better shape than me. They didn’t seem to be stronger than me. In fact, many of them were smaller and weaker than I was.

I participated in a Spartan race last weekend with my kids. If you are not familiar with a Spartan race, it is a race through the woods while traversing obstacles, wading through chest deep water, and crawling through mud (under barbed wire no less). There was a lot of mud and some of it is still on me a week later.

As I came around the corner, I saw it. The obstacle of my night mares was looming ahead of me. This time I was determined to conquer it.

I took part in this same race last year and failed five obstacles, including this one. I didn’t want to fail it again and have to undergo the punishment.  Thirty burpees is the penalty for failing an obstacle.  A burpee is dropping to touch your chest on the ground and then standing and jumping into the air.

As I approached that first major obstacle, I looked up at the bell at the top of the rope climb. It was my nemesis. I could never seem to get more than a few feet up the rope before dropping to the ground. I also worried that if I used all my strength to reach the top, I may not have any strength left for the descent, and wind up in a heap at the bottom of the rope. Ouch! No one else fell from the rope so I don’t know why I was so concerned about falling.

Last year when I failed this task, I also failed all the other tasks that required grip strength. I didn’t have enough grip strength to hold up my bodyweight long enough to complete the tasks. So, over the last year, I worked on my grip strength. By the date of the race, I still didn’t think I had enough grip strength to complete the obstacles. Race participants are encouraged to be able to hang from a bar for a full minute before race day. I could only hang for 30 seconds. I thought I was doomed.

When I walked up to the rope, I felt like this was my year. But was my grip strength strong enough? My son Keith climbed the rope next to me using only his hands. He’s a beast. I would need my legs.

I mounted the rope. Having watched videos teaching the technique of using your legs to climb like an inch worm, I began inching my way to the top. When I was about a foot from the top yearning to ring the bell, I felt my strength giving out, I only needed to make one last inchworm move. That’s when I looked down and saw Keith cheering me on. He yelled up “one more time. You can do it.”

I took a deep breath and took one more pull up the rope and hit the bell. I had done it! After 56 years, I had rang the bell at the top of the rope climb. I was so excited. But I was exhausted and I still needed to get back down. I started sliding down the rope with my legs wrapped around the rope and walking hand over hand down the rope. When I reached the bottom I was on cloud 9. I rang the bell. I finally did it.

We all go through things like this in life. Some challenges are physical, some are mental. Mine was both. What does it take to reach these lofty goals?

1: Understand what is required of you.  I learned the first year that my grip strength was not strong enough. If I was to succeed, I would need better grip strength.

2: Strengthen your weak spots.  For a year I had been doing wrist curls, squeezing balls and hanging from bars. I was trying to overcome my weakness. I knew I could gain better grip strength and I did.

3: Play to your strengths.  My legs are much stronger than my arms. I could not climb that rope using just my arms like Keith did. I have different strengths. I used my legs and succeeded where my arms alone would have failed.

4: Find a cheer leader. We all need encouragement. Find someone who is encouraging to you. I’m not sure if I would have done that last little bit if Keith had not been cheering me on. I was spent. If the rope had been a foot taller, I might not have made it. When you come to a time that you are ready to quit, you need someone to give you a little push. Pity to the man who falls and has no one to pick him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:10)

5: Do whatever it takes. There were many times I did not feel like doing the hanging needed to improve my grip strength. I did it anyway. I wanted to climb that rope.

6: Have a backup plan. If I were to fail, it would mean doing burpees. Last year I had to do a lot of burpees and it was killing me. Keith, being a great team mate, helped me knock out my burpees. So this year I practiced burpees so I would be able to do them all myself if I failed an obstacle.

7: Never forget that if at least one other person has done it, so can you. I have watched a lot of people climb that rope, so I knew it could be done. I Knew I could do it too. The only requirement was to prepare.

8: Break the task into small manageable steps.  I did not have to climb that entire rope all at once, I only needed to inchworm my way up one foot. And then another foot. And another. Eventually, I reached the top.

So this year I was ready for the obstacles. I completed each and every one eliminating the need to do burpees. I did not need my back up plan. I only wish my ability to run was better, as I ended up walking a lot, but so did many others in the race. I’ll work on my running for next time.

What about you? Is there something in your life that has been defeating you? Is there something you have been wanting to do but, as of yet, haven’t successfully achieved. Things like trying to lose weight, quitting smoking, ending a drinking problem, becoming a vegetarian, riding your bicycle a 100 miles, finishing a Spartan Race, running a marathon, or maybe becoming debt free.

Figure out how you can apply the principles above to your situation and start conquering your goals. If other people can do it, then so can you.

So, how did the race end? Our six person team took our time while having fun helping each other through the race. We did not finish last and we did not finish first. Sometimes my teammates waited for me and sometimes I waited for them. I completed every obstacle, one with some help, and finished the race 35 minutes faster than last year. For me, the race was a success.

Now onto the 500 mile walk my wife and I will be conquering next summer, the Camino de Santiago in Spain. We’ve got a lot of preparing to do. Wish us luck.

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14 thoughts on “Finally Reaching the Top”

  1. Wonderful story and storytelling! I did the tough mudder with my husband once and I absolutely had no grip strength either. You’re inspiring me to train up and give it another shot. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I did my first spartan sprint this past wknd 9/22/18. I could not do the monkey bars, twister and the rope climb (I was a ruler away from hitting that bell). Like you, I have no upper body strength. I’d give anything to hit that bell, it was my nemesis too!! I will work on my grip and upper body strength.

    You inspired me! 🙂

  3. You continue to inspire me Cory.
    I’m just a few years behind you in life and it is great to see what could be possible in a bright future ahead. To heck with the rocking chair. Look out Spain, Spartan races, and Route 66. Love it!

  4. Wonderful family, simple and yet extraordinary story, we all have weakness: Identify them and work on it. I am trying to convince my wife to do “El camino de Santiago” also, so far looks promising.

    • Luis,
      I hope you can convince her. I’m still a little intimidated by the task. But if 175,000 other people can do it this year, then so can I. We are walking 3-5 times a week. Usually 1-2 hours. We tandem listen to audio books while we walk so we are both hearing the same story. It makes the walk more fun and interesting. Then each week or two we go on a long walk, 3-5 hours. Two weeks ago we hiked 5 hours around Jenny Lake in the Tetons. It was beautiful. When we started training for the Camino, I could not do a 5 hour hike, and now I can. Best of luck to you and let me know how the Camino goes. I’m sure you will hear my story about it.

  5. Congrats Cory, that really is a remarkable achievement. And awesome for conquering your demons.

    Funny how the lessons of this obstacle course can be applied to everyday life.


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