Column: How mountaineering helped me love myself

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I feel a quick breeze on my face as I turn my head and scratch my nose against the cold stone. I readjust my left toe and distribute my weight on the left side of my body. When I look up I see that I don’t have much to do, and when I look down I feel my heart stop inside, which feels long but is only a brief moment.

The distance is far and this is all too new to me. I hear a soft voice inside say, “Don’t give up, you’ve come this far.”

I move my fingers and hold onto the rock tighter. When I raise my hand to the sky, I see that I’ve been sweating from my chalky hands. I turn my body and put my hand in the mountain of powder in my chalk sack attached to my side.

As I prepare for my next step, I listen to music from below. It’s a happy Bruno Mars song and just the right motivation that I need.

I hold onto the left handle I have and push my right foot up. I use my heel to send myself over the boulder and before I know it I have reached the top.

I feel a big smile on my face as I look over the rock mountain I have just climbed.

When I am disappointed, I think to myself, “How did I get to this point?”

Julia Brunette and Austin Stecklein climb the Avalanche Gulch in Montana. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

If someone had asked me a year before that day if I would ever think about climbing, I wouldn’t be sure what my answer would have been.

I’m not exactly afraid of heights, but I don’t take the fear of being seriously injured lightly. Despite my fear of being badly injured, I love the outdoors and will do anything to be outside.

The first time I went indoor climbing, I was concerned, not so much about the physical or dangerous part, but about the social aspect. Being in a gym full of confident and built climbers is very intimidating.

As I continued to go to the gym, I fell in love with the sport. However, with so many people in the gym, I was under a lot of pressure to be good the first time. My stress slowed my growth in sports.

What helped me overcome this fear of the people watching me was understanding that my experience at the gym could be more fulfilling if I were proud of my accomplishments.

While finishing an easy route wasn’t all that impressive for the pro climbers in the gym, it was a huge accomplishment for me. Instead of living on top of my completed routes, I started celebrating the climb that I had made.

I changed my mind and instead of comparing myself to others, I looked back at my progress. I barely managed to get to the wall to complete advanced reviews.

This is something I started dealing with all aspects of my life and I am happier and proud of who I am.

I would encourage everyone to find something they enjoy doing, but more importantly, find something that will make you love yourself.

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