There was a bus that bobbed along the city streets, like a bottle in the ocean. It was crowded and filled with people who seemed to be minding their own affairs. The guy next to me was watching an Instagram video of a young girl dressed in a bikini, blowing kisses to the viewer. Across, a darker woman sat with sad eyes, staring out the window to a distant world. Though like any other, the bus ride felt odd, foreign like. Not foreign as in people speaking different tongues, but foreign because I was sitting on this bus with only one piece of luggage and, no child by my side.
I often hear of mothers travelling solo for a week or two to experience an escapade ‘without the kids’. For myself, this is an alien idea and frankly, not an option. But as fate would have it, my sister was free to watch Cedar for the weekend so I embarked on a solo adventure to Calgary for the Alberta Bouldering Provincial’s. It was a strange sensation. Kissing good-bye, the sense of worry and concern conflicted with grounded rationales that she was more than safe. Eventually, my uneasiness disappeared and the feeling of being on vacation exploded within.
Sparing the details of how exciting it felt to be exploring the frigid city streets of Calgary to getting groceries at my own pace, a foreign sensation of being at ease filled me. Perhaps only fellow parents may understand this but it seemed, over years of parenting, something very gradually engrained itself deep within me to the point of not knowing, that is, until it disappeared. Normal daily worries and stresses had somehow lifted themselves.
Upon heading into qualifiers, I recapped goals based on lessons from the comp a week prior: to relax, enjoy, and full commitment on moves. Warm up went badly and concern about my right shoulder grew. Yet, when crossing the line between iso and start time, I absorbed my surroundings. Something within took light. On problem one I felt insecure from the start yet my breath was slow and calm. I trusted my feet and myself. My eyes and breath were relaxed and focused.
Problem two required a bit of a throw. I knew what to do and did it; no hesitating had. Sitting between problems, I was filled with a strange feeling of being relaxed while observing and breathing in the amped environment around me. The realization that I was learning to enjoy the moment, the tension, the stress, pleasantly surprised me. I was relaxing into the energy of competition and enjoying it!
Upon arriving at the top of problem three, the focus of my eyes changed to a darting fashion. The final hold seemed just out of reach. Unsure of what to do, I threw from a most awkward position. My shoulder twisted as it tried to hang on while I headed face first towards the ground, letting out a scream. Realizing all was ok. I laughed at the sketchiness of the fall. Getting back to the top and taking a deeper breath, I realized to reach the finish; all I had to do was turn 180 towards the crowd.
Problem four had a big move which I didn’t get deep enough on the first throw. To my own surprise, I dropped back down, rearranged my feet and threw with more vengeance. The last and final problem was tricky: to balance and move subtly, or to grr and scratch myself up there. I choose the latter which clearly, wasn’t the way. On each attempt I was spit off in a fury but to the surprise of those who knew me, when I fell, I laughed. I was approaching it as a puzzle rather than defeat. :)Ironically, once qualifiers finished, issues normally of a concern like letting go of stress, worries and such didn’t come into the equation. Being so much more relaxed than I’d been in any competition, there was really nothing to ‘let go’ of. The words of Lucas were true. Relaxing and trusting myself worked. I had made progress. After analyzing my first fall, had I stayed relaxed at the top, reevaluating and not rushing the beta, may have worked. As for the last problem, taking a breath, keeping my eyes open and looking around, may have shown me that I couldn’t reach the next hold because my arm was bent.
In the end I did 4 of 5 problems in 5 tries. To my own surprise I qualified in second behind strong lady Stacey Weldon. More importantly, I proved to myself that being in that ideal state was possible. I really did it and seemingly, without trying. This was a huge breakthrough!Then, finals came... Thinking back to this leaves a sour taste in my mouth. With the increased pressure of wanting to reproduce what I did the day prior, the stress came back with vengeance. Tightness constricted my body and mind. No matter how many deep breaths I took, summoning feelings of relaxation felt next to impossible.
Trying to stay optimistic for problem one, the move to the bonus was far. No matter how hard I tried, getting the extra centimeter needed to get my tips around it was impossible. I began fearing the rest of the comp. This impending fear and not letting go of problem one, quickened the downward spiral. I cursed myself for losing it which also didn’t help. As a route setter myself, I left finals with much frustration; the many long moves felt just beyond my reach; I felt there wasn’t even a fighting chance.
Finals were akin to falling back into unhelpful patterns and fearing the unknown. The ironic thing is, in competition, the outcome is always unknown. Really, anything can happen as I recognized in qualifiers. To realize that it was possible to relax and focus on the task at hand was a godsend. My eyes remained open, my breath steady. Each moment, success or failure were taken with stride and easily let go. Climbing was enjoyable and the atmosphere light; it was serious, but unserious. To maintain this relaxed state while standing in the midst of whatever life throws at you whether as a parent, competitor or anything really… now… that would be ideal..!! Like Bruce Lee says, “Be like water my friend.”
(Haven’t I said that before…?) Yes…
Thanks for reading. XX
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Ash Chapman says
I really liked this series of posts. Staying grounded, calm and relaxed is something I have a hell of a time struggling with too. I think a lot of it relates to expectency, be it in my work life, climbing, or whatever.
"I need to do this", "I must achieve that", and "I should do well at this comp" is part of the problem. When we expect things, we remove ourselves from what's happening now and place ourselves into some incredibly tenuous, bias-crafted future.
So, I've been trying to do the same as you. Instead of even thinking about how I can remain more mindful, I'm just going to take a deep breath, and do. I'm typing this on the way to a boulder series in the UK, mind you. We'll see how it goes.
But to either extent, thanks for the reading. It was really interesting, and I'll be keeping my eyes open for more. 🙂
Thomasina Pidgeon says
Thanks Ash. I agree. Hopefully we can both keep this mentality in focus at all times. I hope you're comp went well and that you came through learning something to make it worthwhile. Thanks for reading and your comment. x