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A Rock Climber’s Worst Nightmare – Part Three

Climbing my way back up.

The pain made it impossible to sleep, so I had a lot of time to think, "If I ever did climb again, would I get back to the level I was at before?" "Could I continue as a professional climber?" "Would I ever want to climb anyway?"

I decided that climbing is something I do for myself, because I love it. Climbing is a tool to trigger my own potential, a place where I can strive to be my best and I can always do that, no matter how hard I climb. I also realized that I had to distinguish between who I am, and what I do: I'm not a climber. Climbing is something I do. Even if I lost climbing, I would still be me.

All this clarity created an inner calm and confidence amidst the fear and uncertainty. I decided to accept the condition I was in, think positive, and face what as ahead. This triggered a kind of power - a sense of defiance and determination.

I asked for a weight so I could start training the one hand that was still working. This was gold. I got some blood circulating and kept some of my muscle tone, but importantly it helped me remember who I was.

I had additional surgeries in Norway and then and spent months in hospitals and rehab centers confined to a wheel chair. I gradually started the rehab process. At the start I couldn’t weight my legs, so training took place in slings and with passive stretching. My brother brought me some volleyball knee pads so I could crawl around on the floor, and I did that a lot too.

And after about 10 weeks it was time to start bearing weight on my feet. I began to weight my feet while hanging in a harness over a treadmill. I trained weights, rode a spinning bike, swam, and stretched 6-8 hours a day. Every step of the way I realized that I was getting paid back for whatever I had done beforehand. All that crawling on the volleyball pads had given me the core strength to get upright sooner.

The biggest challenge was and still is the pain. I would use pain as a reference point for when I worked out too hard, but the pain now is constant. I know I have to charge through it for it to get better, but I also need to know when to rest. I've also learned that pain causes fear, and if you listen to that fear it begins to limit everything you do. One day, my physiotherapist asked me to jump 40 centimeters up onto a squishy foam pad. I didn't want to hurt myself, and the idea of jumping with my bad ankles was terrifying. However, I had to make a choice, so in action and attitude, I jumped. I still remember his words: "If you don’t do this, you’ll try to find ways around your limitations. But to know your true limits, you have to get in over your head, and more often than not, you'll realize that your limits are far higher than you ever thought."

When I finally got out of rehab, I began to work with the coach of the Norwegian climbing team, Stian Christophersen. He helped me with a fresh approach to train for climbing. He knew what I wanted and he helped me to find the way to attack it.

In late October, we were back in the USA. Nathan and I headed to Utah to celebrate the 6 month anniversary of the fall -- so we went climbing. We wanted to spend some time on Moonlight Buttress, a big wall that goes free at 5.12+. This is a route we both have been dreaming about forever and I wanted to scope it out. Work distribution was simple: Nathan did pretty much everything. I had enough to manage with just myself.

The whole trip I felt like I was dreaming and at the same time, I was totally aware that I was as alive and as awake as I could possibly be. I tried to top rope every pitch, and despite hanging here and there, I realized that freeing the whole thing on lead after the accident is very possible.

After another month of rehab, I headed to Thailand to spend the winter in a warm climate. It was there I got my payback for all the hard work I had put into previously. On my 8 month anniversary, I climbed my first 8a, and went on to finish the trip with two 8a+'s, three 8a's and a 7c.

These days, the continuous pain is tiring. Sometimes climbing and hiking takes more that it gives, and it makes me question what I’m doing. I have to dig deep, and find ways to handle it. I have to remind myself to be grateful. I try to remember situations in the past, when I would hurt after an epic day in the mountains. That sort of  pain was deeply satisfying. Now, I try to relate pain with satisfaction and accomplishment.

It's been a long journey and it's far from over, but it's reinforced the fact that you have to get after it and chase your goals and your passions. Be sure you create your definition of success, not what someone else made up for you. Dream big and work hard for it, because doing so takes you places -- not always where you want, but often way farther than you could've imagined.

 


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