Monday, October 26, 2015

Coming back from a break.

A split second before breaking my leg.
On April 9th I fell from the top of Futebol (a boulder problem in Fontainebleau) and broke my leg.  It was an unfortunate accident and left me in pain, immobile and very bored for the following few months.  Whilst it wasn't a major injury, I was very shaken up by the incident and wondered how it would change my future desire for climbing.  Maybe it was a sign... Maybe it was time for climbing to take a back seat and time to focus on something new.  I wondered whether I'd ever regain any composure and whether I'd now be petrified when climbing.

A few months of inactivity gave me lots of time to think and consider whether climbing and I would still have a future together.  After all, I'd reached a lot of personal milestones and had had some incredible times with amazing people. Perhaps it was time to move on...

After 3 months I began to tentatively climb again - albeit mostly sideways and close to floor!  My leg was still a little painful and certainly prevented me from falling too far.  Little by little, things improved and I could fall slightly further without much discomfort.  I was very fearful of re-injury and this inhibited my climbing, and limited my enjoyment.  I started to train again and was initially very demoralised by how much weaker I'd become. 

My leg continued to improve over the next months - I could fall from a little higher and was starting to get some strength back.  However, I felt like I was just going through the motions and no longer loved what I was doing.  I was still very fearful and this greatly inhibited my enjoyment and desire for the sport.  I used to love climbing for so many reasons and the intense fear of injury was overshadowing all the positive emotions that I'd usually draw from climbing.  I had to do something to tackle the fear... I needed to get back on the metaphorical 'horse'.  Not just any boulder, but I really needed to tackle the fear by revisiting the site of my accident and climbing the boulder problem Futebol... 

I booked a trip to Fontainebleau for October and started to contemplate how I'd get myself to the top of the boulder.  The main problem would be mental and emotional, but I certainly couldn't underestimate the physical challenge.  When fully fit it should be a reasonably straightforward challenge to climb, however, I was unfit and nowhere near strong enough to climb it.  I continued to train at the wall and worked on getting my fitness back. 

I went to Font two weeks ago and set about remembering how to climb in the forest.  It was a shaky start - I was very nervous on even the lower top outs.  However, things improved and I rediscovered my movement, composure and desire to climb again.  All things considered, I was actually feeling quite strong.  I climbed a lot in the first week and climbed many boulders that I found quite difficult, but not at my limit.  

We were in the second week of the trip and I knew I needed to contemplate when to revisit Futebol.  We visited Gorge de Houx one day and parked in the same place as for Futebol.  The parking was 1km from Futebol, however, I found it very emotional to be back there.  It really surprised my how much it upset me - it brought back the memories of struggling across the road with sticks and the painful 'collapse' into the car.  I certainly couldn't imagine visiting the boulder, let alone climbing it again.  We only had 5 days left and my goal of 'getting back on the horse' was feeling far out of reach.

I spent some time thinking about why I climbed and why I wanted to keep climbing.  I decided that I loved climbing too much to let it go yet.  Some element of fear and risk gave me a buzz and (sorry, this sounds very cliché) actually made me feel alive!  I really wanted to re-discover my desire and needed to face up to my fears and climb Futebol.  I needed closure...

We were leaving on the Saturday at 3pm, and in true last minute fashion (add lashings of jeopardy!) I decided to visit Futebol on the Saturday morning.  It would’ve been a day or two earlier, but the weather had conspired against us and soaked the forest.  We pulled up at the parking and I felt apprehensive, but positive.  I didn’t feel overcome by inhibiting emotions and instead felt ready to conquer my fears…

Ben and Beccie had come for moral support and to help carry in the all-important crash pads.  It was a beautiful day and not too hot, the sun was veiled by thin clouds and a gentle breeze eased the yellowing leaves from the trees.  The forest was ablaze with colour and looked incredibly beautiful.  We walked briskly to the boulder and I partially relived the painful one hour hobble from my accident.  I spotted the boulders on which I rested and gathered myself to continue the 1km stagger to the car.  Boulders began to appear on the right and I spotted Futebol rising up through the fiery bracken.  It still looked like an amazing and beautiful line and, although apprehensive, I still wanted to climb it.

I cleaned the top of the boulder, warmed up and we placed the pads under the problem.  It was slightly worrying as we had slightly less pads than when I’d broken my leg, however, on this occasion I had one extra spotter and it would be possible to field a fall from either side of the boulder.  I ensured that the offending rock was well covered, although I was still a little concerned about the stepped landing – it would be down to the spotters to ensure I landed on the flat areas of the pads.   

I began to try the moves and was already feeling the correct movement.  I quickly recalled the correct footholds and felt strong and in control on the lower moves.  I had a quick push through the start and tried the final moves to the top sloper.  I held the top sloper and tried placing my right heel on the arête.  It was this heel placement that had slipped and caused me to spin off and break my leg.  I planned exactly where to put my heel, jumped off and began my preparations for finally climbing the problem.

Placing the toe-hook
I checked the position of the pads, brushed the holds and prepared for an attempt.  I chalked up, took some deep breaths and pulled on.  I stuck the first move, moved my feet and placed the toe-hook – the climbing was feeling OK, but I was understandably nervous and overpowering the moves.  My movement was tense and I stuck the top sloper, but it wasn’t right…  I was holding the sloper incorrectly - I nervously brought my heel onto the arête and felt extremely insecure.  I had flashbacks of the accident and felt very scared - I removed my heel and jumped off.  It wasn’t good to be in that position again – could I make myself commit and risk falling again?  ‘Yes!’, I thought to myself, but only on one condition.  I would only be able to commit to the insecure heel move if I could get the holds perfectly and place my heel perfectly.  I would only commit if I could execute the setup moves and the heel rock-over flawlessly.

Placing the perfect heel
I rested and mentally prepared to go again - I visualised the moves in detail and replayed them in my mind over and over.  I visualised every detail and imagined watching myself in the third person.  I visualised every aspect of each move – the foot placement, tensing my core and feeling the texture of each sloper through my fingertips.  I visualised the move to the top sloper and how it would feel to hold it – the hold would feel perfect and I would be able to hold it securely and with confidence, there would be no doubt.  Then I visualised placing the heel perfectly and consciously checking it is in exactly the right place.  I would check the heel and trust it completely – I would weight it with 100% confidence, rock over and climb to the top.

I pulled on and executed each move exactly, my breathing was deliberate and controlled, the top sloper felt exactly right and I carefully placed the heel.  It felt right, I was cautious, but had no doubts in my mind – I felt completely in control and wasn’t going to fall.  I knelt on top of the boulder and put my head in my hands.  Happiness, relief and calm swept over me – I wasn’t really bothered about the ‘send’, but facing my fears meant so much to me.  I’d fallen from this boulder and broken my leg – now, 6 months later, I’d climbed to the top and ‘closed the circle’.

An emotional finish to Futebol
Last, but not least, I like to say thank you to everybody who helped me.  Thankyou Claire for being so wonderful and looking after me in my time of need.  Thank you to all the friends and family who helped.  And, thank you to Beccie and Ben who supported me on the day I finally climbed Futebol.

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