What It's Like to Conquer Something You "Can't" Do

I think I can't... I think I can't... wait. That's not how that story goes.

I think I can't... I think I can't... wait. That's not how that story goes.

Who remembers climbing the rope in gym class?

I don't, 'cause I never did. 

I do, however, remember this:

I recall Mr. Miller, our gym teacher at Lily Lake Elementary, taking down the ropes annually for our gymnastics unit. There were four ropes, and we got graded on how high we could climb, denoted on each rope with masking tape. Six-feet was the "Monkey" club; I think 10-feet was the "Orangutan" club; if you made it all the way to the top, you were in the "Chimpanzee" club. If you could swing from one rope to another and climb it all the way to the top, you won the "Tarzan" award. 

I only once made it to Monkey status because I was finally tall enough to jump and reach all the way to the tape, barely. I think I was 11. I'd always look on as Nick Asmus, who weighed about 40 pounds soaking wet, flew to the top-- as though he had rockets attached to his feet. Ugh, jealous!

For the next two-plus decades, I believed I could not climb a rope. Quite honestly, I didn't have many opportunities to prove myself wrong. When was the last time you had an opportunity to climb a rope? Elementary school, right? 

A few weeks ago, I walked into the gym and saw them: Four ropes dangling from the ceiling.


I weigh about sixty pounds more than I did at the end of elementary school. So if I couldn't climb the rope then, how was I going to do it now? 

We were devoting the first 15 minutes of class to rope climbing. A few people flew up the rope a la Nick Asmus (my husband included).

Then, it was my turn. 

Before I started, our coach Teddy demonstrated the proper rope climbing technique. I was unaware such a thing existed, but in retrospect, this makes sense. Clearly, there are easier ways to accomplish anything. 

Apparently, for a traditional rope climb, you do basically all of the work with your feet, not your hands/arms.


The idea is to bend your legs, pinch the rope with your feet, then extend your body up toward the ceiling, grabbing the rope. Then you pull your legs up again, pinch the rope with your feet higher, extend your legs.... why am I explaining this?Just watch this dude for a second.


Equipped with a new technique, I stepped up to the rope. I pinched the rope with my feet, and went for it.

And wouldn't ya know it, I made it to the monkey club. 

Made the monkey club.

Made the monkey club.

Then, with little effort, I was an orangutan.

I am at least three feet off the floor. 

I am at least three feet off the floor. 

And 15 seconds later, the rafters were almost within reach.

Don't look down!

Don't look down!

Boom. Chimpanzee club.

Holy crap, I did it!

Holy crap, I did it!

I did it! I climbed the rope! And it wasn't even hard. I just needed to know the right technique. I WON!!!!

As I looked at the 15 feet of air between me and the floor, I realized I didn't know how to get down. Luckily, the hubs was there, coaching me inch-by-inch back to the floor. 

Getting back to earth was, as always, the hardest part.

Getting back to earth was, as always, the hardest part.

In less than 90 seconds, I accomplished something I'd spent the last 20-plus years believing I couldn't.

It made me wonder: what other lies do I tell myself?

* * *

Since we're on the subject, what's something you couldn't do as a kid that you'd be willing to try again as an adult? Any gym class experiences that scarred you for life? Share in the comments.

PS Here's something I actually can't do: take naps. Though I did take one last weekend and it was glorious... until I had to get up and try to make myself useful. No dice.