A couple of months back I was bouldering in Magic Wood, Switzerland. I jumped off a boulder and landed totally normally onto relatively flat mats. As I hit the ground I heard a little snap in my leg.. It was broken. 3 months off spent training, a month just climbing on rope and I am now back bouldering.
Its been a hard journey and it's still not over....
I thought I was back, I thought the whole leg thing was over and it was time to get on with climbing…
Coming back to climbing after breaking my leg was so exciting. I was anxious yes but I was always on the end of a rope and before long I was confident enough to go for dynamic moves and push myself to my limit. I have been back climbing now for about two months.
Last week I got the okay from my physio and coach to start bouldering again. It had been almost 5 months since I had bouldered. My emotions were so mixed, fear and excitement were battling away in my head. It wasn’t long before fear took over and this lead to frustration. I then got really upset due to my lack of control over my head. I had been feeling so good climbing on a rope, pushing myself and enjoying climbing but I am a boulderer. It’s where my passion lies, it’s what I do. Everything used to click when I bouldered previously. The once familiar composed state of control was no longer accessible.
When I pulled on boulder problems easily within my capability a fear would come over me, the words ‘I’m scared’ would instantly come out of my mouth and I was grabbing the nearest jug; as the realisation of my unconscious actions sunk in so did the frustration. This wasn’t me. I felt like someone else on the wall. I hated climbing. I couldn’t move freely. I couldn’t think.
If it wasn’t for my coach this session would have ended very abruptly and on an extremely negative note. An emotional roller coaster is the easiest way I can explain my climbing experiences recently. I was reluctant to continue climbing. Since I very first started, climbing has always been about fun and enjoyment. I wasn’t having fun and I wasn’t enjoying it. Reluctantly I continued to climb and progress was made even to a point where I was falling off. It was in a very controlled manor but it felt good to try hard again, to pull on really bad holds and do moves at my limit. After getting to a point of frustration that brought me close to tears I was now feeling psyched and motivated to work on the barriers that were such evident psychological flaws in my climbing. I had gone through every emotion possible in about 2 minutes multiple times throughout the session. I was mentally exhausted at the end.
It was a week before I climbed again and my second session back was much better. I was definitely still on the emotional roller coaster but the highs and lows were less extreme. I completed a few problems I had backed out on the week before and the progression was obvious but I felt so far from where I had been before my injury. This new mental state I found myself in when climbing was totally foreign to me, I was terrified of never finding the blissful natural flow again.
One of the most irritating things was whenever I pushed hard off my right leg I got a pain, similar but less extreme to the feeling when I broke it. This pain would cause me to hold on as tight as I could and instantly stop any motion, causing me to get tired fast and created lots of knots in my back. I was booked in to see my physio the next day to see if the pain was something to worry about or just part of the healing process. I also thought it might have been slightly psychological. In fact the pain was VERY real. It was scar tissue, soft tissue and nerve damage (healing pains). Nothing too extreme and it wasn’t to prohibit running or climbing. It did however require some rather unpleasant and tearful deep tissue massage… all part of this lovely road to recovery eh.
At this point I spent a lot of time reflecting on my two bouldering and the experiences both physical and mental. The feeling of trying something really hard and pushing myself was something I had missed. A campus board just doesn’t quite give the same satisfaction. Towards the end of the second session I was going for moves I expected to fail on, pushing past where I thought my limits were and beginning to explore the new strengths I had gained from the past months of training.
I know I am not at my fittest right now, but I am much stronger than I was before I broke my leg. Having an increased ability combined with a decreased mental ability was insanely confusing. As an athlete you become very aware about your body’s and mind’s strengths and weaknesses. Everything for me had changed, I no longer know where my limits are.
I had bouldered twice on plastic, begun to fall on hard dynamic moves and begun to try hard again. The weather was good and it was time to face up to bouldering on rock again. I guess it seems a bit crazy considering I was still so scared but I was also so psyched and so motivated. I wanted to beat this fear, sort out my head and get back on it! We went to a small venue, Pantymwyn. A steep strip of limestone next to a cute little river amongst lots of trees. It was a really fun day out in the beautiful crisp, autumnal setting. But… I got scared and the venue is far from high. I had a spotter right behind me constantly and always a good pad set up. However, as soon as my foot was anywhere but below me fear would prevent me from moving. If I could lock off and reach with my feet below me then a problem was possible. Otherwise the this mental barrier was too much. I got angry at myself for being so pathetic. Frustrated at my ridiculous mentality and generally disappointed in my climbing.
That night I was asked by coach to spend some time reflecting on my fear. I sat with a brew trying to make sense of it all. At first I got very frustrated. Why was I getting so scared on stupid things? Why couldn’t I control it? Would I ever be able to get over this? It sounds silly to think that so early coming back to climbing but this is my life, my passion and my job. The fear of not overcoming this barrier was almost as terrifying and the barrier itself.
The very next day we were off out to the gritstone. I was aching all over. I had pulled SO unnecessarily hard the day before that my fingers and core were aching. From steep polished limestone it was over to the slabby sticky grit. It was another crisp afternoon, in another beautiful location. Time to embrace those things on the end of my legs and give the arms a break from pulling. Trusting my feet was not something I wanted to do but paying around of a few easy boulders was so much fun it didn’t seem too scary. I had a mini break through and managed to gain some momentum in my climbing that had been missing. There was one boulder that I watched a friend climb, he climbs flawlessly on gritstone, it’s incredible and inspiring to watch, he climbed this boulder and it had a really cool release, stand up and catch move in. I watched him climb it and thought wow I wanna do it, despite it looking scary. I jumped on and got to the stand up release, I was scared, my leg was shaking and my head was fighting hard the urge to jump off. I went for it! I missed the hold due to me not actually looking where it was before I got on but I went for it, I tired, I fell. I tired not knowing if I would make the move or not. I committed to uncertainty. I was so shocked, relieved and psyched all at the same time. The move was so cool and I really wanted to do it and next go I did. I went for it again, a move totally out of control and I actually went for it.
I am far from where I want to be. I feel strong physically but I am not yet sure how strong I am. I am still dealing with frustration and anger but I have now decided to embrace the recovery process once again, learn from it and continue to make conscious efforts to ensure this journey to recovery that I am on continues to be positive.
I had not expected this transition back to bouldering to be so difficult. With out the people around me I think it would be a very different story. I have been surrounded by support and patience. The progress I have made in such a short amount of time is all down to some amazing people… THANK YOU!
I have also begun to help a good friend with a project of his ‘Climbers Against Cancer’. Read his story HERE! You will be hearing much more about Climbers Against Cancer – CAC in the near future, it’s going to be big. Be ready!