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I don’t know who I’d be today if it weren’t for one particularly hot day in the summer of 2014. After exhausting all other options for summer activities, my siblings, cousins and I, in an attempt to eliminate our boredom, decided to go rock climbing. We were all a bit spooked by the thought of climbing up so high and only being secured by a rope, but we were desperate to try something new, spend time together and get out of the sweltering Texas heat. So, rock climbing seemed like the perfect solution.

The two types of climbing that I regularly do are bouldering and rope climbing. Bouldering is made up of problems that do not require a harness or rope because they are short in length. The heights of bouldering walls vary, but they are typically around 10-15 feet high. The taller walls, which are often 50-60 ft tall, are where climbing requires a rope. At both of the gyms I go to, these walls include auto-belay mechanisms, where you don’t need someone to take in the rope for you as you climb, top rope, where having someone belay you is a must, and lead climbing, where you take the rope up with you as you climb and clip into the wall as you go. I recently started learning how to lead climb, which has been a goal of mine for over a year.

At first, I was intimidated. Rock climbing doesn’t seem too difficult from the ground, but once you get your hands on those first few holds, you learn that all of your suspicions were false. It requires strength, focus and determination. At the very least, it requires bravery because it is inevitable that you will fall. Some are naturally better than others, but this goes for every sport or physical activity. There are certain qualities that can help with climbing specific types of routes, such as flexibility, but it isn’t a requirement.

My cousins and siblings didn’t enjoy it at all. Meanwhile, I was absolutely enthralled and couldn’t get enough. It took some easing into, but I eventually fell in love with the sport and all that it entails. The gym we decided to go to in Grapevine, Texas, has become one of my favorite places, and I am counting down the days until I can climb in my home gym once again.

Years of rock climbing have taught me more than just how to maneuver myself up a wall or flash a boulder problem; belay-ve it or not, I’ve also picked up quite a few climbing jokes to crack people up when things get tense.

More than anything, climbing has taught me numerous life lessons and has helped me learn more about myself than I ever could have anticipated. Through rock climbing, I have made the most incredible friends, challenged myself in ways I never thought possible and learned to evaluate issues through a different lens.

Friendships

Climbing is a great sport for bonding with others, whether you’re climbing with a team or your best friend. To me, there’s nothing more exciting than watching someone conquer a wall they’ve been projecting or flashing a boulder (completing a boulder problem on the first try). Personally, I love cheering people on and encouraging others both on and off the wall. Practicing with the UF Climbing team brings me a unique type of joy, and I love the version of myself that is revealed when I am with my teammates.

When I’m climbing with my best friend, we challenge each other to do our best and push each other in the best ways possible. The hours we’ve spent at the gym together have brought us closer and helped us both fall more in love with the sport. We love to try things out of our comfort zones when we’re climbing together because it’s easier to do so when you know your best friend will be there to catch you if you fall.

Trusting myself and others

Climbing requires trusting yourself and your abilities, which is something I tend to struggle with sometimes. When it comes to tricky boulder problems or hard top rope routes, I doubt my strength and often consider quitting. Sometimes, I just need to take a moment and remind myself that I am, indeed, capable of doing anything I set my mind to as long as I work for it.

When it comes to some routes, height can be a huge advantage when holds are very far apart. I’m just barely 5’1”, so these routes are often the most difficult for me, but they are also the most fun. In these cases, I have to maneuver myself up the wall by using the holds very creatively or by playing to some of my other strengths, like my flexibility. Jumping to the next hold is also a common occurrence with these routes, which is always scary for me at first, but it feels incredibly rewarding once I let go of my fear and complete the route.

When you’re climbing top rope routes, there’s typically someone belaying you unless you’re using an auto-belay mechanism, so it requires a lot of trust between you and the person belaying. I always make my friends get re-certified if they haven’t belayed in a while (sorry, y’all!), but it’s for the best because they’ll typically end up mentioning that they had forgotten how to do one step after all.

Lead climbing requires even more trust between the person who’s belaying you because it’s a bit more dangerous, and for part of the route, you climb without your rope being clipped to anything. They have to be able to catch you if absolutely necessary, which is not something the average person may be able to do. Many climbers I know are certified to lead climb but not certified to lead belay because it’s pretty different from regular belaying.

Resilience

This goes hand in hand with the last point that I made, but I have become a much more resilient person since I started rock climbing. I used to be intimidated and put-off by challenging climbs, but now they excite me and make me work harder to achieve my goals. I don’t always succeed, but this is another lesson I’ve learned: being successful all the time doesn’t make you better. We have to fail sometimes in order to keep ourselves in check. Failure is a natural part of life, and as a climber, I have encountered my fair share of failure. Sometimes, I leave practice with hands that have been shredded by a route I spent an hour projecting still not having finished the route in mind. Other times, I try routes out of my comfort zone and flash them. It’s unpredictable, but so is life. I have learned to apply this kind of mindset to every aspect of my life, and I’m no longer as afraid of things I know will push me to work hard and truly challenge me. Whether we’re talking about rock climbing or taking an overwhelming amount of math classes for your major even though you may not be a “math person,” it’s important to remember that there’s not just one way to solve a problem – be it a boulder problem or a math problem.

Looking ahead

As I mentioned, I’m excited to go back to my favorite gym this summer and climb harder than I have ever before. During the semester, I’m not always able to make it to practice due to assignments or exams that fall on the same day, so being able to climb over summer break is always one of my favorite activities. I’ve been doing it nearly every summer since that day in 2014, and this is the first year that I’ve climbed consistently. I’ve seen positive changes in myself – an increase in strength both mentally and physically, and a more positive and outgoing demeanor overall – and I hope to continue climbing for the rest of my life. It’s the one and only sport that I’ve ever truly loved, and I can’t get enough of it. I love taking my friends climbing and teaching them the ropes. Although it can be discouraging for some people to see me able to do harder routes, I am always quick to remind them that I was in their shoes once. We all have to start somewhere, but it’s the journey of getting to where we aspire to be that really counts.

Rock climbing can be an amazing outlet for you to not only get some physical activity in but to completely transform the way you approach your everyday life. If you ever have the opportunity to try rock climbing, I highly recommend it. Channel life’s stresses into a mentally and physically productive activity and see how much you can grow in the process. 

Jessica Hernandez is a University of Florida Senior doublte-majoring in Economics and Sustainability Studies. She has a heart for activism, is an avid reader, a lover of vegan food, and a member of the rock climbing team at UF. She can often be found reading books in her hammock or trying vegan food at restaurants in Gainesville.
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