FEAR. It’s a four letter word and worst than the rest. Since injuring my back 5 months ago, there has been a lot of fear in my life. I was afraid I would never run again. I was afraid that the pain wouldn’t go away. I was afraid that there was something seriously wrong with my back and I’d never be the same again.
The fear was oh so heavy, weighing down on me day and night. The worst part was I began to accept it as normal, to forget that a fearful outlook wasn’t my “normal”.
Last weekend I finally recognized my fear and quietly ignored it.
I have climbed quite a few mountains since moving to Colorado. My first mountain I climbed was Longs Peak. I knew nothing about the mountain besides it was 14,000+ feet and that someone in my Groupon Rock Climbing class had made it to the summit before sunrise. I convinced my mom and sister to fly out, we hired a guide, and we climbed Longs over two days. At the time it was the hardest thing I had ever done but I’m also glad I went into it blind because I don’t think I could have convinced my mom to do it if I knew what we were in for.
Since that first summit, I have climbed countless mountains, some of them multiple times. I’ve had many joyous summits (Mt Powell being the one at the forefront of my memory) and not so joyous summits (San Juan Solstice with a stress fracture in my hip and fire shooting down my leg being the most painful). Needless to say, a straight-forward hike along a well defined trail shouldn’t have caused me a second thought.
I arrived at the start of the Pikes Peak Challenge knowing absolutely no one, not even the people from my company who were on my “team”. I walked from group to group asking if they were part of Team Booz until finally someone said yes. It was pitch black so the introductions didn’t mean much. I remembered the guy who looked like a trail runner, but he quickly took off apart from the group and ended up being the second person to summit for the day.
As we started up the trail, I chatted with a woman who joined the team after convincing her husband, who works for my company, to participate. She was keeping up a good pace that seemed sustainable, but after stopping to let some runners pass us I quickly lost her in the darkness. She ended up being the first woman to the summit.
Then I started talking to Rachel and we ended up staying together all the way to the summit. Both of us were out to enjoy ourselves and not push too hard. We were looking for a sustainable pace that would allow us to soak in the beauty of the trail and the joy of meeting new people. Rachel had never climbed a 14er before and I secretly hoped that focusing on getting her to the summit would distract me from the fear that I wouldn’t make it.
From about mile 2 until the treeline, we made it our mission to help two other members of our team, the Jeremys, make it to the summit. One Jeremy wasn’t much of a hiker and was only doing the challenge because his wife wanted to do it. She thought he wouldn’t make it to the summit and was planning on meeting him back down in Manitou Springs. The other Jeremy took off with the faster group at the start of the hike and was paying the price when we caught up with him. We decided that we would get them far enough up the trail that they wouldn’t want to turn back because it would be more work to turn around then to make it to the summit.
At treeline we caught up with another group from our company and stuck with that group all the way to the summit. The group had a couple of people from Colorado (one who is very high up in my company and the other who is trying to get hired by my company) and the rest were from sea level. We all had our own struggles but pulled together to help each other. With less than a mile to go, we shared snacks and extra water.
After almost 13 miles, 7,500 feet of climbing, and 8 hours on my feet, we finally crested the last climb to the summit. At the top were brain injury survivors who have directly benefited from the support of the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado, which I raised money for by participating in the Pikes Peak Challenge. One man came up to us with tears in his eyes, thanking us for raising money for an organization that has made such a positive difference in his life. It made the summit that much sweeter, knowing that I had not only conquered my fears, but I had done it for a worthy cause.
After all, as Sir Edmund Hillary said, “it’s not the mountain that we conquer, but ourselves”.
The Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado uses the funds raised from the Pikes Peak Challenge to provide case management services, support groups, adventure camps and recreation programs, and conferences and workshops from traumatic brain injury survivors. For more information, visit pikespeakchallenge.com or biacolorado.org.