What's it like to start all over again? Beth Tremaglio shares her story of starting again, dealing with fear and finding new strengths as an older climber.
People have asked me, “Do you have a death wish?” I honestly don't. Climbing is the only thing that releases me from myself. It pushes me beyond the limitations of my mind. It has shown me where my biggest battles lie, within myself, battles against fear, insecurity and unsettled emotions, which had become my worst enemies and biggest obstacles. Oddly enough those have also turned into my biggest motivation. There's a balance to it all. It's the way the rock humbles you, takes you beyond yourself and brings you back again.
I was 45 at the time. I hadn't climbed in years. I’d gotten lost in the routines of life, work and unexpected circumstances. Was it even possible to begin again? Would I be able to recreate my life and recondition my body? Or would my absence prove to be too much to overcome?
After six years I walked back into the local climbing gym, Prime Climb. So much had changed in those six years, what was once so welcoming had now become overwhelming, but my desire to begin again was stronger than all that had changed.
I trained in the gym’s cave for 5-6 months. I began with the lowest grade possible. I worked routes over and over again, my body and mind in the worst shape possible; intimidated by my age. Even fear felt different. I wanted to quit several times. My doubts overwhelmed me and ultimately limited me.
With torn skin, strained pulleys and countless bruises, it was easier to become my doubts than continue. It was then that I made a vow to myself. I was going to continue even when everyone else had left. I knew that in those moments when I had wanted to quit, when everything seemed so beyond my reach, that I had to push harder and stay longer.
My first outdoor climb was at Ragged Mountain and I failed miserably. Unable to climb above 10 feet due to fear, I left feeling discouraged and believed every excuse my mind presented. It was there that I understood my biggest obstacle wasn't the rock but with what I had come to believe about myself. If my relationship with myself didn't change then every climb would end the same way.
I returned to the gym and trained between the cave and 14-15 foot bouldering wall. I worked routes over and over again. I incorporated the hang board and campus wall into my training. I realized at that point that progress isn't necessarily in the big moves, it's in hanging off the board two seconds longer than the last time. I continued to strive for progress in the smallest of things for two months before returning outdoors.
Pinnacle Rock would be my home for several months. While walking a trail to the bouldering area I spotted a 25 foot rock. This rock become a type of redemption for me. This was where I would learn the most about myself as a climber, setting routes, battling through my fears and doubts. I would begin to climb this rock, work towards 10 feet and then anxiety would hit. In that moment if all I could do was move my hand to the next hold that's what I did, until I ascended that 25 feet.
The route was easy to start. As I climbed effortlessly towards the top off, my right hand grabbed a slopper. I could feel my hand slipping. I strained to hold on. I could feel my heart racing and the last thought I had before my chest hit the rocks was; “God don't let me die here!"
The right side of my body took the impact. I sat there for a minute. Sharp pain radiated through my chest and arm. I was too far away from other climbers to call for help. I managed to get to my car and drove home. I learned the most about fear there. Fear taught me more than any article I had ever read. Fear kept me safe, protected me and brought me healing.
It was there that my relationship to fear changed. I stayed at Pinnacle Rock for months, worked every route, pushed myself beyond my mind’s limitations, learned to believe in myself and this became my most liberating moment.
In October of 2014 Connecticut had their first climbing festival and bouldering competition at City Climb. I remember when I walked through the doors to take part in what would be my first competition. I worried about being the oldest one there to the point where I distrusted myself but I knew if I missed this opportunity everything that was meant to be in the future would never happen.
They called my name and lead me to the first route. Weighed down by anxiety and with everyone's eye on me, I thought to myself, ‘One reach at a time, this could be the only chance you have to experience this.
I stepped up and began, every moment of training, pushing myself for the next hold, all the progress came to light that night, everything fell into place with one sweeping motion. My progress could be seen and felt as each route was completed. I fell on the fourth route and placed second. It meant so much more than placing in a competition, for the first time since all this started I felt accomplishment.
I had been chasing a passion no one could see but me and here in this one moment for the first time people saw a climber, not my age or a mid-life crisis. It was at that moment that other people became inspired and vowed to change their own lives.
I plan to start training for the bouldering competition in October of 2015 and one to follow in January of 2016. I’m currently pushing towards more extreme heights and working on my continual battle with fear. I've reflected on that fall at Pinnacle Rock and I've come to embrace fear, its companionship and teachings. Fear leads me to higher sends on the rock. Without fear I would die on my first attempt to top off. I'm learning to embrace fear’s guidance.
Many people have asked me, “How are you doing this at your age?" I say to them, "I daily stay away from what's comfortable for me."
I no longer focus on my age working against me, I now look for ways to make it work for me; and for me that's found in what's most uncomfortable.