This past Tuesday was the Send and Social at the Bouldering Project. This basically means that the gym is a little more crowded than usual and there’s free beer up on the balcony. I went with a handful of friends and we both sent and socialized, as expected. At one point we were sitting down in the far corner of the gym watching people work on two problems, a V4 and a V5, I think. (They were red and blue—the Bouldering Project is switching off of labels and into a color banded system.) I was feeling sort of tired and just watched for a while before trying the red one. While I sat there a girl kept trying the same problem and she and kept getting farther and farther along but couldn’t finish it. Still, you could tell that she was happy and each move higher was the best she’d ever climbed. I overheard her talking with her boyfriend about it—and watched her watching other people climb it, puzzling out how to finish the final few moves. I jumped on for my try—it’s a fun corner route, and up my alley as far as a climb that plays to my strengths. I slipped at one point but caught myself and finished the route cleanly, but stayed in the corner to see if the girl was going to try again. She was next up and as I watched I started to cheer her on a little—come on, you got it. Go for it. Nice. Come on. I didn’t know her name, but it was fun watching her get past where she’d fallen before, and then hit the next move. She finished the route and you could just see how excited she was—she hung for a second off the top of the wall and looked around, probably trying to find her boyfriend. He hadn’t been watching—or at least, she didn’t seem to find him. She came down and walked over to me. Was that you cheering me on? She gave me a big hug, we chatted for a little bit and then she ran off to find her boyfriend.
I’m competitive to a fault. I go for something that’s supposed to be an easy jog around the lake and end up sprinting in to make sure Random Guy doesn’t pass me at the end. I want to be better, faster, stronger. This has spilled into climbing a little bit, but in general, I climb with people who are much stronger than me. It’s also a little difficult to “compete” in something that’s so individual. That said, cheering the random girl made me think about one of my favorite races in college where competing switched over into teamwork. I am always the girl cheering my own team on while I run, but in this particular race I was running along the final 800 meters without any teammates in sight. There was a girl near me that I kept trading places with and eventually we found ourselves running shoulder to shoulder as the finish-line came in sight. There was a stretch along a fence line before the course took a left turn into the final stretch and I don’t remember if she started it or I did, but we began talking to each other. Come on. Let’s go. Let’s finish this. We were stride for stride, and we hit that moment you can find where you are working alone, together. Come on. I felt her fall back and I remember turning my head, come on. Get up here. Let’s do this. She said, go, you have this, and I took off. I tried to find her afterwards to thank her, but I just knew she was a girl, in a uniform, with darkish hair in braids— not a very unique description at a cross country meet.
I don’t think I would have finished that race as well as I did without the random girl I ran beside. I don’t know that the girl I cheered on Tuesday would have sent the problem if she hadn’t heard my support. I know just thinking someone is watching and supporting me gets me to try that move I’m scared I won’t make, to risk just a hair more, to pick up my feet a little higher and power in to the finish. I love this—we are better together. I don’t think it’s about proving anything, necessarily. I know very well that it doesn’t matter to anyone else what I am capable of. But, thank you for watching. Let’s do this, whatever it is. We are stronger when we are side by side.