One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

You’ve heard the expression one step forward and two steps back. It’s almost always used in a negative way. Like you made progress and then had to start over again. But it’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes you have to go backwards to move forward.I had a major milestone rock climbing. I climbed my first 5.12 from top to bottom without falling or hanging on the rope at all. Many of you will not be familiar with rock climbing ratings so I’ve included a kind of silly look at the rating system if you’re curious about it.

I’ve spent three years working toward this goal. However, my success came at the end of a major setback and was so unexpected today that I didn’t even get any pictures or video despite several people standing around almost on top of my cellphone watching me climb. The picture above is from one of my warm-up climbs.

About 5 months ago I injured a couple of my fingers. With the amount of hand strength required in rock climbing, this injury made it a bad idea to climb anything remotely challenging for a couple months. Even after that I had to be very careful because a slight misstep was incredibly painful and would just make the injury take longer to heal. I actually just started climbing back at my level a couple weeks ago.

It was super frustrating at first because there were a lot of good climbs at the time and I was just starting to work on 5.12’s. Many of ’em, I was absolutely dying to try. But I got smart, a side effect of getting old and having broken myself a lot I think, and decided to turn the injury into an advantage.

I completely reevaluated my climbing style. I had always been a very powerful climber and used it to my advantage to power through places that gave me trouble. I couldn’t do that with injured fingers. Instead I changed the way I grabbed the holds to train my grip to be more efficient rather than strong and to minimize injury risk.

I paid more attention to how I moved on the wall. I wanted to try and climb easily rather than muscle up the wall. In truth the injury was a blessing because it forced me to take a couple steps back and fill in a few gaps in my climbing technique. I’m sure I would have finished a 5.12 before long without this delay, but I am a much better climber now after the injury.

I’m still a little bummed at all the challenging climbs I missed while I was hurt, but I’m very happy to have had this little setback to help me improve my climbing. I’m not sure I would have done it without the injury!

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