It’s Scary Out There!

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The other night on the news there was a story about a young man out west who just climbed the famous cliff face, El Capitan, without ropes or any kind of aids. I know next to nothing about climbing, except that it is another risky, dangerous thing my Arizona kids and grandkids enjoy, but my impression is that climbers use some kinds of hooks they nail into the rock and some other things they can attach to those hooks. But there on the tv screen was this guy 3000 feet up on the sheer face of El Capitan. With no rope or crampons(?). Yikes. I had to leave the room because just seeing the image of that man up so high made me feel as if I were going to be sick.

I just do not understand why people do things like that. Is it the glory of being the first person ever to do something that made him risk his life? Is it a drive to overcome odds in the struggle of man vs nature? Or is it just a desire to get publicity?

There are many people I could name who have done things I consider crazy. Mountain climbers, long-distance swimmers like Diane Nyad, and even Kenny Capps who ran the whole Mountains to Sea Trail this summer: Manteo to Black Mountain. At least Kenny had a great reason. He was bringing attention and raising money for a cure for Multiple Myeloma, a disease he is fighting himself. I simply do not have a risk-taking gene and I live inside my head. (I do take risks, but they never involve possible death or injury). Also, I am such an urban person that I get nervous when I am in nature. To me a hike is walking from 42nd Street to 59th Street to go to Bloomingdales.

I do not participate in sports of any kind, nor am I interested in watching others doing so. Football on tv? No thank you!  I did attend my children’s sports events and I could yell encouragement, but once they were not competing in soccer or lacrosse, my interest in those pastimes disappeared. However, even then I must admit that my attention was unfocused at best. When Natty was in Little League he asked members of the English Department to come to his games. My friend Chris Martin asked him, “Doesn’t your mom attend your games?”

“Well,” he answered, “She attends, but she doesn’t pay attention.”  He was right. I used those long, long games to grade papers. When I heard other mothers yelling Natty’s name, I looked up and joined in the cheering. Didn’t think he noticed…

To address my fear of the outdoors I have recently worked with a physical therapist in Black Mt., the amazing Cliff Shulman, to teach me how to walk without falling down. Before Cliff I managed to navigate from point A to point B, but I was never sure where my feet were going to land, and I did lots of weaving and crashing into walls, not to mention falling. I literally could not put one foot in front of the other.

When I worked in juvie the boys loved to make fun of how I walked. “Why do you walk that way?” Big laughs.

What way? They would lean back and swing their arms behind them. “I don’t walk like that!” I would insist.

“Yeah you do. And why do you wear shoes that are too big for you? They look stupid.”

There was no good answer to any of these questions, so all I could do is stumble and fall, proving them right.

Cliff taught me exercises to adjust my gait, and he showed me the proper way to stand, leaning my trunk slightly forward over my feet, pushing my butt out. I have been practicing like a mad woman, looking probably like Frankenstein as I move stiffly up Cherry Street.

So here is another reason I enjoy working at Chifferobe: I have a good reason to stay indoors and turn down invitations to go hiking. Sometimes I walk up to the bank or the hardware store, so it’s not like I don’t get exercise. And I still participate in the exercise classes for Seniors at Lake Tomahawk. It’s there, watching a couple of clumsy exercisers, that I can tell myself that I am not the most uncoordinated person in the world.

Maybe there are folks out there who would call me crazy. Folks like Diane Nyad.