Discovering life beyond the barbell / by Dana McMahan

Clear and present danger

I rushed my way through powerlifting, anxious always to add more weight. Nothing could throttle my unbridled enthusiasm, not even injury. That was before I knew I wasn’t invincible. I’ve been talking with sport psychologist Eddie O’Connor lately for some articles I’ve written, and feel better that I wasn’t alone in that naive belief.

I clearly remember the day I learned I wasn’t invincible; it was eye opening

he told me.

It was never that I thought I couldn’t get hurt. It was that I didn’t think I could get hurt. There’s a difference. Now I know very, and painfully well that I can be hurt. And that thought is with me all the time, whether in  my garage gym when I take weight off a bar (which kills my soul) or when I’m about to take a dive onto a slip-n-slide at a friend’s Fourth of July bash and I have to remember I can’t just fling myself onto the ground — I have a permanently jacked-up back (that still causes pain every day of my life) to consider.

Side note: am I bitter, as someone recently called me? Of course I am. Of course I am! I would love to have the kind of maturity and grace it would take to move on from such a devastating experience with complete equanimity. Maybe it takes time, maybe age. Maybe I never will. But the worse sin would be to wallow in bitterness and regret and not learn from it. I’m trying to learn.

I look serious because I’m taking his safety talk seriously!

Therefore I’m approaching what I really think will be my next sport – rock climbing – with a great deal of caution. It’s maybe no coincidence that I’m attracted to a sport with such a clear and present danger. One mistake can cost a climber her life. Certainly trying to climb  beyond one’s abilities could lead to serious injury, if not death.  The flipside to this danger is a certain element of safety. I’m protected from myself, from my tendency to try to do too much. The worst thing (I thought) that could happen to me in powerlifting was failing a lift and my spotter would take it, so I had no fear.

But fear is healthy for any being with a sense of self-preservation.  So I’ll practice in a gym, I’ll climb with a guide, I’ll continue watching videos (and even though the how-to DVD was painfully hokey I paid close attention), I’ll study, and I won’t move up to the next grade until I’m ready. And when it comes to lead climbing, which I hope to eventually do, I’ll proceed even more slowly and with even greater caution.

I’ll never be a champion climber; I’ve started decades too late. But it’s not about that. Each climb is about discovering and proving to myself what I’m made of. Yes, I’ll want to set goals and progress from a 5.8 to a 5.9 and maybe eventually to a 10, but the real point this time is not the numbers. And the ever-present danger will rein me in so that I don’t have to lose another sport.

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