Friday, 28 December 2012

On the Ropes.

My climbing is in a bad place at the moment. I’m floundering. Like a prize fighter struggling to compete in a mismatched bout I’m stuck on the ropes; guard held high, weaving and ducking to dodge the blows as they rain around my head. Each successive jab drains my resolve, my psyche. Swollen knuckles, tendonitis, awful skin, muscle pulls and arthritic joints all leave me punch drunk, waiting for the sanctity of the bell; treatment and rest. I scrape through each session, each round, doing enough to stay on my feet, but at what cost? The physical price paid on overhangs, roofs and boulders has always seemed worth it, but now it feels like I’m in trouble; my luck is out, the knockout blow is closer than I ever anticipated. I question my motivations, my drive, my future. Could it be time to throw in the towel?

One thing you have to understand is that I have never had class. I don’t want to be a contender, I don’t want to be somebody, and unlike Eddie in the film “On the Waterfront,” I’m quite happy being a bum. I have always competed against myself in climbing, not my peers. To win was to climb new problems, to go toe to toe with what seemed like an impossible sequence, using guile, persistence and training to knock it down, count it out and move on to the next problem. With youthful elasticity I used to float like a butterfly around my chosen arenas, chest puffed out, buoyed by the arrogance of enthusiasm and devotion to the arts of powerful dynamic movement.

Like all fighters who hang on to their dream, I have made the transition from cocksure challenger to battling journeyman, training harder than ever to stay alive in the ring. Roads are pounded; kilometres drift by in an oxygen-deficient haze. Calories are counted as the need to make my fighting weight takes on an obsessive quality. Hours are burnt on the Beastmaker and campus board, locking ever decreasing holds, throwing further and further to rungs that languish in the aspirational abyss, sparring on plastic indoors hoping to gain a bit of knowledge that might help me undo my next opponent. Constantly driven on by the mantra “What would Jerry do?” The answer to that question is simple; Moffat would train harder and get stronger. He still stung like a bee in the arena of dreams into his forties despite debilitating injuries in his career. Facts like these help when the psyche is beaten out of you, but more is needed to motivate.

Unlike Moffat and Mohammed Ali before him, I don’t have the belief or the drive of a champion. I need something else to drive me onwards through testing and challenging times. For me the thing that has driven me on is the line- that one climb that is on the edge of your current ability, too hard to be sent quickly and yet so tangibly close that it feels like it could go at any time. A worthy adversary, who will give a good clean fight until the last round, an opponent that will draw out all of your physical resources stored from years of training, a nemesis that will grind you down until all that is left is the desire and hunger to succeed, no ambition, no pretence, just you, your fingers and hope.

So here I am again, sat receiving treatment in the corner waiting for the bell and the next round. Split tips are moisturised, glued, and taped, the seconds tick by and the adrenaline begins to flow. I gaze at the might of my opponent looking for a weakness. I need to use my height, my reach- my only advantage in this pound for pound match up. I assess the powerful moves on razor holds in the roof, and the bicep ripping swing to get out of it. I visualise the quick dancing feet needed to get established on the headwall and the left, right, left combination that would lead me to the knockout I so sorely need. The noise of the waterfall behind me and the climbers I share this venue with today disappears into the background as the ringside bays for blood would in the ears of the boxer. Time slows, fingers crack and the tendons flex, the bell rings and it’s time for yet another punishing round.............

Knock out, or knocked down, who knows what will happen in the next round....

Cheers Owen

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