Written by Field Instructor Ruthie Cartwright.
Hands and feet hit the rock wall before names had even been exchanged. Rock climbing, a sport which can often intimidate even the most versatile athletes, was clearly a welcome new adventure to the youth from the Sims-Fayola Foundation. Bodies were flying up the wall, and even clinging to overhangs, before we had been given our introduction to climbing by a lovely guide from The Spot, Emily. It was hard to get folks to come down off the wall for the opening circle, and as soon as we had finished, it was immediately back to climbing for everyone.
This was just one workshop of fifteen in a program called the Fayola Man Leadership Academy, which is a leadership camp for young men and boys of color. Sims-Fayola is collaborating with multiple nonprofit and for-profit organizations, including Cottonwood Institute, on the series. By completing the program, the young men will be able to better advocate for and facilitate their own improved academic, social, and life outcomes.
On this March day, Emily coached us on how to follow a route to “complete” it, how to read a route and know what counts as a start and a finish, and how levels of difficulty are rated at the gym. We practiced how to fall on her count, tucking and rolling as we landed on our feet after letting go of the wall. And then it was time to play, to climb whatever route we wanted, to explore a part of the gym known as “the cave,” or to play foosball to give our arms a break. The Spot also graciously gave us chalk to help us stay on the wall longer, which was a much-needed assist, especially as hands became raw and arms got pumped (tired).
Although we spent much of our time spread out across the gym exploring the variety of routes and testing our own individual limits, we came together to play a sensory awareness game on the open mats in the gym. One student sat blindfolded in the center, acting as the “dragon” guarding their “jewels” while the others sat in a large circle around them, attempted to leave their spots, steal a “jewel,” and return to their spot undetected, and without being “pointed” out by the suspicious dragon. It’s a game that requires concentration, attention, body awareness, strategy, creativity, and, of course, tuning into what you hear, feel, and sense. After a few rounds and a lot of laughter and smiling, we had worked up an appetite and decided to stop for lunch.
It was over lunch that we finally had the chance to discuss the reasons for why we were at a climbing gym together, and to introduce climbing as simply one option among a myriad of opportunities that a person can pursue within careers in the outdoors. There are so many different ways to be an instructor: you can focus on climbing, environmental education, adventure education, mountaineering, backpacking, kayaking or canoeing, trail work, or even wilderness therapy. And there are so many outdoor jobs other than just guiding! We discussed biology field work jobs, professional athletes, and forestry and park ranger positions, to name a few. While it might not have been everyone’s top choice to work outside, it was clear that if they have the desire, there are many directions to take it, and they have not only Green Pathways as a resource, but a free day pass and sliding scale membership at The Spot to keep climbing towards whatever futures they see for themselves.