When they handed me an eight-pound bundle sixteen years ago, I remember looking at her and thinking, “Whoa. Who the hell are you?” I’ve spent the last sixteen years finding out, watching her grow from baby to toddler to children to adult, and I’m still as fascinated by this whole process as I was the day I met her. The adult is even more interesting than the child was, and that’s saying something. Recently Katherine said to me, “How do I get to post something on your blog?” I responded, “You write it. Then we edit it. And I post it.” So this is Katherine, rock climber, runner, and now writer, with her take on discomfort in sport and how that bleeds into the rest of life.
(And while I’m at it, a huge thank you to her amazing coaches at Wallnuts Climbing Centre, Ben Winstanley, Erin Boyd, Hudson Myles, Sarah Spurrell and others I’m sure I’m forgetting. You have taught her about more than just climbing….)
There’s something funny about being hit by a car: the way your mind and body try to protect you from the inevitable pain before you hit the ground. The absence of fear. The walk away from the accident scene, all limbs still (very much so, thank you) attached. The numbing sensation that shock leaves you with, how your leg doesn’t hurt even though you’re limping. You’re suffering physically, but you recognize it as a friend; you’ve been here before.
My name is Katherine, I’m an athlete and the daughter of two other athletes. It’s not hard to guess by now that I was recently hit by a car. It happened on a cross walk just outside my high school. I did not face serious injuries or broken bones which I blame on my bendy ligaments and copious amounts of spite. Dealing with the mental aspects of it have been the most challenging part.
Rock climbing has been my main sport for six years or so. I’m so thankful to be a part of the Provincial Youth Performance Team, and I love my coaches and teammates. Over time, climbers develop an astounding sense of body awareness and trust in discomfort. Your shoulders and forearms get super pumped in the midst of a good training session, your fingers sometimes bleed, there’s probably chalk up your nose. Needless to say, it’s one big ouch.
I spend many hours of my week thinking about how my brain reacted to the trauma. Being sixteen is a wild ride on its own, but crashing up against your own mortality adds to the trippy high school experience in more ways than one. The layers to my emotional self in the heart of the accident boggled me for a long time. I felt extreme anguish while flying through the air directly after being hit; not fear, just grief.
But what was I grieving?
The answer to that took months of questionable sleep patterns, physio (for the muscle damage to my leg), and working my way back to climbing, pushed by the undying urge to feel like an athlete again.
Discomfort is where athletes thrive. Take for example, distance runners such as my dad. He’s described to me reaching the point of lactic acid coursing through your legs during a long run so much, that you feel like you can run forever. He’s uncomfortable, but he’s still running; it’s his way of life.
I, in the depths of second semester burnout, decided to pick up running as a way to get stronger, decrease stress, and feel like a more well-rounded athlete. As I’m running, I can’t help but wonder why the hell I put myself through cardio, but in the deeper parts of my brain I know that it’s because I’m comfortable here. Athletes love controllable suffering, and as I’ve learned, it makes the uncontrollable suffering easier to handle.
When I was hit by the car, I was reminded of my most painful climbing sessions, in a sense. The reason I was able to walk away, was because I rolled with the punches (quite literally, my climbing instincts kicked in and I tucked to do a proper bouldering fall).
Athletes know what it’s like to engage in human struggle; they know how to live not to be comfortable, but to be resilient. They realize that comfort has its limitations. They walk into the gym knowing that what they’re about to do will hurt. That resiliency and those instincts got me through fairly intense trauma, and they’ll get me through so much more in the years to come.
However, I’ve still left a question unanswered:
What was I grieving? Why was I sad?
Moments before I hit the ground, I thought I was about to die. I was grieving possibility. I wasn’t ready for death yet; I hope to never be ready. You can’t control when you die, you can’t control some of the pain or discomfort, but you can use it to build a life that you’re proud of.
Because that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?