Pushed to the Edge

I did something recently that, in a million years, I thought I would never do. In order to do it, I had to push up against a potent fear of heights, distress at the thought of injury or death, and a well established mistrust of my body to function during the anxiety caused by said phobias. I did it anyway. It’s interesting to me, my choice to do this thing. I’m risk averse, prefer being in control, and I have a fair share of strong aversions: flying, heights, the dark, being stuck in an elevator with a snotty-nosed child who’s just been diagnosed with flu, to name a few. Once in a while though, I like to  push myself out of my comfort zone. Like, REALLY push myself. I’ve been sky-diving, paragliding, and even spent time inside a Chuck E. Cheese establishment for a 5 year old’s birthday party! This year, I climbed the Telluride Via Ferrata.  

This via ferrata (there are over 400 world-wide) is a climbing route that precariously traverses rock faces and ledges up to 600 feet above the trees with some sections so exposed that you can only pass by utilizing cables to clip into, as well as iron hand and foot holds. I’m pretty sure I’ve been on things like this before...in my nightmares...naked. This (real-life) time I had all the right gear, an exceptional guide (an expert climber AND a psychologist—jackpot!), and the weather looked inviting.  

It started off as just a little hike—no bigs—until I caught a peek of where it was all headed: the huge cliff drop-offs, the tiny ledges for your feet, and the cables to clip into that were supposed to make me feel safe, but somehow didn’t have that effect on me. It should be noted that I’m not a rock climber so all of this was completely new to me. I was uncomfortable. But off we went, my incredibly patient guide and I, moving at a glacial pace and allowing groups to “play through” and pass us. My stomach was in knots and my hands were shaky as I relied on my guide to clip and unclip my carabiners for me. Eddie, guide extraordinaire/emotional support human, kept reminding me to feel my feet on the ground, to trust the stability I felt in them, and to BREATHE!  It’s astounding how your daily job can revolve around reminding people of the importance of connecting to their bodies and their breath (walk the talk, Donna, walk the talk), but when you’re in a state of anxiety it can all fall to sh*t. So, my unfailing feet took me across those narrow ledges as my fingers slowly started to gain the nimbleness and confidence to occasionally be in charge of moving my carabiners with me. I began to trust the process just a little and my body stepped up to the challenge...until I saw it: The Main Event. 

The Main Event, as it’s called, is a section of complete exposure on a massive rock face with only iron rungs to cling to above and below you (as pictured). This is what everyone tells you about, but you can’t truly imagine it until you see it. Every cell of my being was telling me to stop, to turn back. BIG NOPE! So, we stood still for a while —since I actually couldn’t move. I cried. Well, it was more of a snivel than a hugely audible cry, but still, I wept. We let people gingerly pass us on that narrow ledge for a solid 20 minutes while I tried to legitimately decide whether or not I was actually capable of moving forward. My tears were equal parts overwhelm, fear, and the potential disappointment I would inevitably feel if I were to turn around. I asked Eddie if he thought I could do it; he had promised me he would pull the plug if he thought it wasn’t a good idea for me to continue. He answered with a resounding, “I’m certain you can 1000% do this”. Interestingly, and much like a movie soundtrack, just then the wind picked up and there was a huge clap of thunder. Seriously? But after Eddie’s chutzpah-boosting answer I said, “Let’s effing do this right now because if I turn around I may never come back.” And so we did the thing. If there were no pictures to prove it, I almost wouldn’t believe it happened, as it feels so surreal now.  

After the Main Event, actually the literal moment I finished it, the sun parted the clouds and beamed down as if to say, “You go, girl”. Thanks, sun. My endorphins were flowing, my self-confidence was high, and the remainder (about another hour and a half of similar, albeit less exposed, terrain) was actually FUN—kinda. My hands started to gain the muscle memory and ease to move my own carabiners, my pace picked up, and, most importantly, I had a smile on my face while climbing. The nerves were still there but I felt safe. And it was truly magical to be exactly where I was. 

Would I do it again? I’m not sure. But I am beyond happy that I made the decision to have the experience, to push myself to my edge, and to be bold. This is, after all, the philosophy I try to live by personally, and the one behind starting my business. I am strong from the inside out— thank you, Pilates. I can trust that my body will allow me to do things I didn’t think I could do. AND, I can still push through anxiety to experience life to the fullest and challenge myself.  Sometimes it may look like a via ferrata or jumping out of a plane,other times it may be having a hard conversation or taking a business leap,but pushing myself out of my comfort zone is something I will always do. Pit of baby scorpions, here I come! 

Donna Ligon, Owner and Instructor, Bolder Pilates

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Donna Ligon