Archive for the ‘Climb’ Category
February 20, 2013
I have had the great good fortune, because of the hard work and dedication of our staff and board members, to get to spend a month paddling on the West Coast. Before I tell you about it, I hope you’ll humor me and go first to the scene of a climbing program a couple years ago.
Here’s the scene:
A tall, lanky young man is about two to three body-lengths up the wall. He climbed there quickly and elegantly. Now, though, he’s stopped. He curls into himself and begins to shake. He starts to look down, and we can see that he’s crying. A chorus of shouts, coming from every last person on the floor of the climbing wall, demands “DON’T LOOK DOWN!”
He makes himself as small as he can – squeezing his arms to his chest, squeezing his legs together, squeezing his eyes tightly closed. Multiple shouts erupt now. “Don’t look down!” “You can do it!” “Put your right foot on the blue hold!”
He’s stuck there a while longer. Then he wrenches his head upwards, (we assume he opens his eyes), and this time, he climbs to the top of the wall.
* * * * *
Fast forward a few years to San Francisco Bay, just last month.
We’ve “gone out the Gate,” as they say – which means we’re on the ocean side of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m in the water next to my boat. After watching three other students, I clip my tow line to the deck line at the bow of my boat and swim toward the cliff, my boat following on tow. There’s a ledge above the water, and another one below it that gets covered and uncovered with the swell. I watch the water go up and down; and eventually head in to the cliff, put my hands on the cliff wall above me, grasping it ever so lightly because of the mussels attached to it. I put my feet on the lower ledge. As the swell comes over the ledge, it lifts me gently to a standing position, my hands on the cliff wall at chest level now instead of over my head. I step up to the next ledge, and then one ledge higher. When the next swell comes, I discover I’ve successfully landed on a cliff face two feet above the swells.
I spend some time watching as the water rises and falls below me. Eventually I jump back into the water, swim my boat out from the cliff, and get back in. I have to get one of my fellow students to un-clip my tow line because I’ve left it clipped to the bow of my boat where I can’t reach it!
Steve, one of the coaches, moves us along to the next challenges. We paddle as close as we can to powerful dumping waves (a dumping wave releases all of its power at once, straight down in a powerful wall of water; these aren’t the gorgeous spilling waves that release their energy gradually over both time and distance, somewhat forgiving if you happen to get yourself in the impact zone…). We paddle as close to the cliffs as we can, in and around rocks, look for the perfect timing for runs in slots between rocks when the swell will carry us through, over rocks that will be exposed 30 seconds later when the swell has passed.
This Midwest girl falls behind, unable to quickly read the interaction of Pacific swell and rock. Steve and the other coach Jen have a short conversation while I watch a few swells come through the next slot before I run it. Jen paddles back to me to tell me that the rest of the group is going to go on and we’ll spend the time I need to watch the swell at each feature – to find me crying after successfully running the slot. I’m having an amazing time; in a month’s time the Pacific has changed my soul with its swell, its salt and its wildness. But it’s just too much information, too much stimulus that I have to respond to, too much new experience to process in too short a time. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed, and poor Jen finds herself confronted with a student who’s tearful for most of the rest of the afternoon.
Like the young man on the wall, I’m at my limit. Like the group of other young people on the floor of the climbing wall, Jen gets me past my limit and beyond. When we launch from a nasty dumping beach after lunch, several people get caught by the sucking of the waves racing back to the sea into the wall of water of the next wave. I time it right and use a good strategy; when I’m past the break Steve remarks, as I drop from my back deck to the seat of my boat, that I had a better launch than he did.
* * * * *
Fast forward another two weeks, and I’m back in Chicago listening to my priest and fellow paddler Bonnie Perry talk about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Rabbi Heschel tells us that people must experience wonder, they must have mountain top experiences, in order to develop the passion and stamina to work for social justice. I look at my hands, with their already-fading but still distinct drysuit tan lines – the bottom of my hands pale where the sleeves of my waterproof clothing covered them for a month of paddling, the rest of them tanned brown and cracked. It’s a visceral, kinesthetic reminder of the mountain top experience I just had. And mountain top it was. I paddled with migrating gray whales in San Diego where I watched one just yards from my boat repeatedly lift its massive head out of the water and dive deep; in Baja California where one swam right under my boat, so close I could see the barnacles on its back; and in San Francisco, where one came right in under the Golden Gate Bridge, playing in the same ebb current we were playing in. I paddled in Mexico through little slots between rocks, across overfalls that you have to time to ride with the swell or get stuck on the rocks that create the feature, among huge sea stacks with giant Pacific swell. I saw gorgeous, long period waves breaking at Point Loma at the entrance of San Diego Bay; and waves jacking up to huge heights out of nowhere against the ebb current, breaking in slow motion all the way across the shipping channel under the Golden Gate Bridge. I paddled at night in San Diego Bay with the city lights as the backdrop, successfully finding the spots Jen had set us to find – including the dock at the restaurant where dinner and a beer were waiting. I saw beauty in some of its wildest, most inspiring forms; and at its most serene. And I landed on a cliff wall.
* * * * *
I am reminded of that young man who stopped on the wall, came down multiple times, kept getting back on the wall, cried and shook and squeezed himself up as small as he could get – and then climbed to the top of the wall. I’m reminded of other young people in our programming who have mountain top experiences; who do what they thought was impossible. The young man who describes seeing the whole of Chicago from the top of the outdoor climbing wall; the young woman who describes watching the “water just open out in front” of her kayak.
The mountaintop takes courage. To get there, you have to risk not being good enough. You have to risk falling or failing, or just falling behind. You have to risk fear. You have to risk depending on someone else for help.
When you get there, it delivers joy. It holds a mirror to your finest, bravest, most joyful self; and demands that you live into it.
The best part of my job is watching when this happens for our young people. As one young woman said, “I have learned to be a better person at home in the streets and everywhere else I go.” Rabbi Heschel is right. The mountaintop demands our best self; our best work. Just as for that young woman, my own mountaintop demands that I be “a better person at home in the streets and everywhere else I go.” It demands that I continue to work to make this city safer for our kids; that I work to make sure they have access to the resources they need regardless of their race, their socioeconomic status, their sexual orientation, their national origin or any of the other factors that make life so unfair and treacherous for them. That I keep bringing Chicago youth to their own mountains and periodically remind them not to look down until they’ve reached the top.
The mountaintop demands that I, like it, see these young peoples’ best, bravest and most joyful selves; and that I help hold the mirror so that they and the world can see the same.
I have no idea what the mountaintop will demand of each of them.
I do know that whatever the demand, it will make this City and this world – its streets, its homes and everywhere else – a better city and a better world. These young peoples’ best, bravest and most joyful selves are a force to be reckoned with. They will show us what this world can be.
Steve Maynard is a Level 5 British Canoe Union Coach and the head paddling instructor at SUNY’s Expeditionary Studies program in Plattsburgh, NY.
John Carmody is also a Level 5 British Canoe Union Coach and the owner of Sea Cliff Kayakers in Boothbay, Maine. John was the primary coach for the 5 Star training in San Francisco where this post comes from. On the day of the vignette I share, I was with the half of the group working with Steve and Jen, so John doesn’t make an appearance in the story. If you’re a paddler and you have an opportunity to work with John – YOU SHOULD TAKE IT!
Jen Kleck was the first North American to become a Level 5 British Canoe Union Coach. (I was in great company in San Francisco!) She is the owner of Aqua Adventures in San Diego and the coordinator of the Baja Kayak festival in Baja California. You should go to Baja Kayak Festival, the first ever Baja Rock Garden Symposium, if you have the opportunity – April 11-14, 2013; and April 10 – 13, 2014.
Bonnie Perry is the rector (senior pastor) of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Chicago – and the 4th woman in this country to earn her BCU 5 Star Award.
Over the next 2 weeks, you get to meet Chicago Adventure Therapy’s interns! They’ve been with us for almost a month now, and have already made their mark on our organization. We are so thankful for their work and dedication, and thought you’d like to witness their awesomeness for yourself!
First up: Alyssa!
Name: Alyssa Yokota-Lewis
Previous/Current Occupation: EVERYTHING. Specifically, Climbing Instructor, REI Customer Outfitter (my name for it), Nanny, Tutor, Former Lead Educational Outreach Coordinator
Childhood Ambition: Librarian or Circus Performer
3 Words that best describe me: Passionate, Perceptive, Open
Proudest Moment(s): The moments I realize I have learned how to share.
Why CAT?: Because I believe in the therapeutic power of guided kinesthetic challenge. And because that belief and a passion to help youth find their own inner strengths is wholeheartedly felt throughout this organization.
What have you learned so far in your internship?: That we learn from each other as much as or more than from any independent pursuit of knowledge and experience. And that by acknowledging and celebrating the unique qualities of each individual (leaders and youth included) we can grow stronger as a group. No group exists without its individual parts.
What has surprised you about CAT/AT?: Given the incredible consideration, room, and access to nature it gives for an individual to grow by their own definition, I am surprised that there are not more Adventure Therapy organizations like CAT in areas where so many youth struggle to fit into their rigid and distracting urban environments.
Welcome to our new Chicago Adventure Therapy website and blog!
I don’t know just what to say in welcome. When I don’t know what to say or where to start, I usually start with the here and now. Right now, I’m sitting here on a sunny, blue-sky January day, with a cold front coming through tonight to bring us 6 inches of snow.
Corny as it sounds, the warm sunny day with its impending Winter Storm Watch brings me to what I’d like to say today.
Because the weather is at once a profound equalizer and a harsh reminder of the difference that privilege and circumstance create. We’ve all gotten to keep our winter coats in waiting; we’re all gonna get dumped on. The weather doesn’t play favorites.
But we’ll all take the news of snow in so many different ways. If you’re a paddler and you’ve been enjoying the extended Chicago paddling season, you might be disappointed. If you’re a skier, you’ll be pleased. If you’re harried with the everyday work slog, you’ll be annoyed to have to get up a half hour earlier to clear ice and snow from your car…
Personally, I’m hoping that the snow comes early, and that I can play hooky for a few hours and go paddle on the Chicago River. I think the River might be at it’s prettiest in the snow.
When I paddle on the River, I’m reminded that there are those who experience the River as a means of survival, not recreation. I’ve learned which bridges have dwellings under them; where there are people who want to be quiet and unnoticed, and where the guys are who will give me a hard time; whether it’s a make-shift dwelling with beer and a pile of clothing, or a well-designed shelter made by someone with solid campcraft skills.
My point is this. Chicago’s resources are like the weather. They are at once a profound equalizer and a harsh reminder of the difference that privilege and circumstance create. We all experience them. We’ve all got the River, the Lake, the parks, free days at the museums. But those resources mean such different things for each of us. The River is a recreational treasure for me. For the people living along its banks, it’s a means of survival.
The youth we serve experience Chicago’s resources radically differently than most of us reading this blog. When I paddle by a shelter along the Chicago River, I find myself thinking about the youth we work with at The Night Ministry – youth who sleep at friends’ houses, at shelters, outside – wherever they can find a place. I hope with everything in me that while they’re still young, we can help them develop the personal resources they need so that as adults they won’t be living in one of those shelters.
But it’s not just personal resources they need. They need access to our city’s resources.
I want to digress a moment to tell you about a friend of mine. I’ve known him for maybe 7 years. “Joe” grew up in the Lathrop Homes. He’s got a history riddled with violence, mental illness, substance abuse and heartbreak. When I met him, he lived along the River. When he gets lonely or his heart breaks, he thinks about going back there, because he doesn’t have to deal with other people when he’s under the bridge.
“Joe” and I once had a very long conversation about the guys in the gang prevention group we work with. I asked “Joe” for his advice and insight because as a boy and young man he was successful in the Latin Kings. I asked him to help me to understand the realities of a life so far removed from mine.
The next day, “Joe” called me. He told me it was really important. He said
I have to talk to you about the kids you work with. You just have to love them. That’s what you have to do. You have to love them.
I don’t want our youth to have an adult life like “Joe’s.” Our hope, our job, our dream, our mission at CAT – is to make a difference in their lives so that their adult life is different than “Joe’s.” We look everywhere we can to figure out how to make that difference.
- Our first program evaluation is almost complete
- Our staff has been working hard to develop and define out Clinical Frame
- I talk to “Joe” fairly frequently, to try to get a better understanding of what life and this city really is for our youth
- We look to Best Practices in the field of Adventure Therapy, recent brain research, and a variety of clinical theories and practices in our program development
- We try to give our youth access to the amazing resources this city has to offer
The most important point underlying all of this is to follow “Joe’s” advice – to build authentic, appropriate relationships with our youth.
Sometimes it sounds a little silly to me to say that we’re changing our youth’s lives by taking them paddling; or making the city better by climbing with our youth.
But I believe it 100%.
Imagine our 4 weeks paddling with a group of 15 girls from Alternatives, Inc. The first week, many of the girls were scared to put their toes in the water. They were scared of fish, sharks, drowning, barracuda, getting their hair wet… Stephanie had bruises on her arm at the end of the first day because one girl held onto her arm so tightly the entire time – in knee-deep water. The next week, we went into water that was over their heads, to many screams and squeals and shouts of “I’m gonna die!” The next week, we went into water not only over their heads, but deep enough that they couldn’t see the bottom. This was when several of them, including the girl who bruised Stephanie’s arm, got out of the boats and learned to swim. The last week, we paddled beyond the pier at the south end of Montrose Beach. If you know that beach, you’ll know that when you round the pier, you lose sight of the beach. And you get about the most spectacular view of this city’s skyline that you can find anywhere. These girls got that view on a perfect summer Lake Michigan day, when the water has just a touch of movement to it, and a color that rivals any Caribbean beach.
Here’s the exciting part – memory and emotion are stored close together in the brain. The neurons activated in each are close together, so they spill over into each other a little. The emotion that goes with that day and that view – the magic that is a combination of accomplishment, wonder, satisfaction, camaraderie – that emotion is tied to that view of Chicago; it’s one piece of their experience of Chicago. They literally, concretely saw this city as they’ve never seen it before.
Chicago for them is just a little bit changed. — And it’s theirs.
I love the warm weather we’ve been having. And I can’t wait for the winter beauty that comes with fresh snow. I hope that both will remind me that we’re all in this city together; and also that this city treats people very differently based on race, ethnicity, economic status, gender expression and sexual orientation, access to power, and a lot of other sad and unjust reasons. I hope that you’ll join me, our staff, our board and our volunteers in the momentous adventure of changing life for our youth, and changing this city for them.
We’ll keep you posted on the adventure, and how you can be a part of it.
–Andrea Knepper, LCSW
The whole group did a great job with these goals, and Michael and Jeremy were no exception. I especially appreciated their willingness to help that first afternoon. I had never kayaked before, and was learning some basic skills- paddle strokes, maneuvering, wet exits, and my favorite: the cowboy self-rescue. All 5 youth had experience paddling, so each helped me learn what I needed to know out on the water.
I especially remember Michael and Jeremy helping me learn the cowboy reentry. If you aren’t familiar, this self rescue has the paddler re-enter their boat by ‘swimming’ up onto the deck, scooting around until she’s straddling it, and then pulling herself forward until she can sit herself back into the cockpit. Not only did I need help learning the steps- which the brothers patiently led me through- I also needed help finding the motivation to jump into the chilly water. They were pretty convincing, and pretty funny, as they tried to come up with reasons for me to jump in. Alas, I took the cold plunge and didn’t regret it!
The rest of the weekend was challenging, fun, and pretty impressive. On the first night, we weathered a nasty storm, which blew over 2 tents, a pop- up, and had us all outside at 3am, reconfiguring sleeping arrangements. Our youth were pros, though, and dutifully helped come up with a plan to get everyone dry, warm, and back to sleep.
When we wrapped up the weekend of kayaking and climbing over pancakes and bacon on Sunday morning, we asked each of the youth what they would take away from this experience, with an emphasis on what they learned about leadership. Michael and Jeremy both chimed in with thoughts about always having a Plan B, having the skills to adapt to a new situation, and being able to help a group reach its goals.
As a clinician, I would say all 5 of these youth already had the skills they needed to make the trip a success. I think, though, what the trip really did for each, especially for the two young men, was give them a new experience in an emotionally safe environment, where they could practice those skills around a group that completely understood and believed in their ability to step up. They weren’t out there to prove to Andrea and me that they could be strong leaders, they were out there to prove it to themselves. And once they did, they were ready to go back home, with some pretty great stories to share, and fit those skills into their every day existence.
— Grace Sutherland, MSW
*names have been changed for confidentiality purposes