Rock Climbing

On the first day of summer vacation, I went straight to the rock climbing gym. This is the place where I had first conquered my fear of heights, and where I had done my first pull-up. This is where I go if I ever have some spare time and $5.50 on my MetroCard. Whenever I had to walk across the gym, I would always notice it, and whenever I noticed it I kept walking. I acknowledged it, but always kept a distance from it, the ten-foot red paracord with green lines going through it, stained with chalk. The first day of the summer is always the day that I set goals for myself. The goals I set today were more ambitious than ever: climb a v4+ level boulder, learn to lead, climb a 5.11b wall, and last but not least, learn how to tightrope. The hardest one of these was definitely the learning how to tightrope. This is because tightroping usually takes many months to learn, and from what I’ve seen at the gym, there are only a few people who can make it to the other side while keeping a steady pace.

Now that I had finally decided to confront my bête noire, my journey toward becoming a funambulist, a tightrope walker, had begun. On the second day of summer, I came back to the gym. I remember this day very clearly because this was the day that I would walk on the tightrope once more. My “first steps” on the tightrope, and my first steps toward the abstract graffiti painted by artist Jana Liptak, the faux brick wall that it was painted on, and the carribinner holding the end of the tightrope that my eyes were fixed on.

This day was also special because I had met Vlad, my best friend from middle school’s dad, at the gym. We had never really talked before, just exchanged looks when I would come to my best friend’s house, so little did I know that this would be the start of a new friendship, one that outlasted my friendship with his son. Vlad was a yoga master, tall and athletic. He was able to do poses that I always thought were impossible. The one that impressed me the most was the firefly pose: balancing on just your hands with your back facing the ground. This requires a lot of arm and core strength, and even more balance.

“Balance is very good for brain, you know,” Vlad said to me in his good but slightly broken English with a Russian accent. “Your goal to walk down tightrope is good one.”

From what he told me, I inferred that he had been going to the gym for years, long before I had ever opened the rusty metal doors to the gym myself. Because of the experience that Vlad had in the gym, on the climbing wall, and on the yoga mat, I assumed that he would be a tightroping master. But I was wrong. He, like me, had spent most of his time at the gym climbing rather than training, so when we would cross paths at the gym and I would show him what I had learned on the slackline, he was impressed.


We exchanged phone numbers, and because he lived near me, he would give me a lift to the rock climbing gym whenever he was headed there. On the way to the gym, we would talk about Israel, Russia, food, or whatever came to mind. Whatever we talked about, Vlad always had an interesting story to tell, and by the time I got out of the car, I felt like a totally different person. One day he told me about the vacation he took to Israel about 10 years ago. He told me about why Israel is such a religious landmark for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. At 7:00 he would pick me up, and at 12:00 I would be back home, hungry and ready to eat the okroshka — or sometimes borscht — that my parents had made while I was gone.


From the first day Vlad had begun telling me his stories, I began to spend hours every week on the tightrope. Every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I would wake up at 6:00 AM and head to the gym — either on the train or in Vlad’s 2012 Toyota Prius with stained seats and a broken sunroof locked in the closed position. Almost every day, I made at least a little bit of progress, and whether it was learning a better way to begin or taking one more step than the day before, I was always very happy with what I had accomplished. To me, every day was worth the hour round trip on the B train or in Vlad’s Prius. I liked taking the train because it reminded me of the tightrope — long, narrow, and hard to stand on.


Then came the halfway point of the summer — August third. I wasn’t yet able to make it halfway down the slackline, but I had found a great way to start, and was consistently getting about a third of the way down, something that usually took people months to achieve. I could get past the halfway mark on some days, earlier in the morning, but this was not consistent, and therefore was not what I was going for. By learning how to tightrope, I did not mean to simply make it to the other side, because that by itself would be possible with a few simple leaps. What I meant was to learn how to properly tightrope, so that I could consistently get to the other side. August third is a day I will remember for another reason as well, because this was the day that I was noticed, and this was the day I was helped. Danny, an employee and personal trainer at the gym came up to me and showed me what I had been doing wrong, and what I could improve on.

“Dude, you don’t have to start like that,” he said to me in his big, deep voice with just a splash of New York accent. He showed me how to start, and how to move my feet as to not shift my center of gravity, always keeping it right above the slackline. “Yo, let me show you how to dance upon the line of slack,” he then said in his hipster-y voice. Then he showed me his routine, first walking across once, and then coming back around to show me a circus-full of tricks. He proceeded to jump, flip, and do a dozen more tricks on the tightrope.


As a young child, I had believed that nothing is impossible, but as I grew older and gained experience at the things I did in my spare time such as table tennis and rock climbing, I really stuck to those things and didn’t try new things out as much. So, I began to discredit the idea that anything is possible. This is why I think I had stayed so far away from the world of slacklining, because I was too scared to try. I am happy that I set this goal for myself, because ever since the first day of summer, I began to try more new things out, and if it weren’t for the goal I set, I never would have went on the journey that I did. The hardest part about slacklining was putting my feet on the slackline for the first time. For me, the joys of rock climbing come from getting stronger and making it up that wall on the 100th try.


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