Thursday, 22 February 2018

Keep calm and climb on

Drops of tears trickled down my cheeks as I took my finger out of the bucket of ice water.

When I look back at the past 23 years of my life, I realise that I have never actually committed to a particular hobby. I sing in the shower, I dance in front of the mirror now and then, I used to doodle a lot, I won some trophies in the international chess tournaments in primary school, I did some cheerleading and played some netball in secondary school, I passed the Grade 7 piano exam, and I used to run a lot (until I joined the army and starting hating it). Yes, I did a lot of things; and I'm decent at most of it. But there wasn't anything that I felt could be a life-long hobby. There wasn't anything that made me earnestly want to get better and better (except for maybe chess; I genuinely loved the checkmates). I guess that made me a jack of all trades, master of none.

Two years ago, I started rock-climbing (bouldering). Initially, I did it to accompany Marcus since he had no one to climb with in Manchester. For a whole year, I would go to the climbing gym with the intention of 'keeping fit with my boyfriend in a rather fun way'. To put it another way, it was just another sport that I didn't mind spending 3 hours of my time on every week. To my pleasant surprise, I improved exponentially. And as my strength increased, so did my interest for the sport.

Climbing has made me do things that I never expected myself to do. I hate competitions, especially when I'm not utterly confident. Even though I'm still too apprehensive about competing in Singapore (where everything is just so much more competitive than elsewhere), I have climbed for my university in the UK. It was pretty dreadful, but it was a great experience. But that's not the most shocking. What marvels me, even till today, is the fact that I climb alone at least twice a week in Cambridge. Before I started climbing, I used to ask Marcus why on earth would he climb alone. I guess I've always seen climbing as a social sport. It seemed silly to climb alone. I was wrong. Yes, climbing is a social sport and the gym is always filled with groups of friends - laughing, chatting, and cheering each other on. But it is also a place for students and workers to go, by themselves, in the middle of their breaks or after work to rejuvenate. More than that, I've started to proselytise about how great the sport is; and the joy of bringing a friend who has never climbed to the gym is unspeakable.

All these must definitely attest to how much I've grown to love the sport. My Instagram explore page is littered with climbing videos. A quarter (probably even more) of my conversations with Marcus is about climbing (although we can probably attribute it more to him than me). We even talked about building a climbing wall in our home in the future! And I've started to do 'silly' #climber things like hanging on a board and chasing numbers on a wall. Until a month ago.

I've had this dull ache in my ring finger for a couple of weeks but my excitement to complete the next 6C+ route at the gym caused me to close an eye and 'allez' through it. It was a bad, very bad, decision. I hope someone could've warned me about my stubbornness. As I spanned across the wall to reach for the pinch on the right, I heard a loud 'POP' in my left hand and immediately let go of the crimp I was holding on to. I landed on the mat with a thud, staring at my left ring finger, as it went completely numb. I had pulled a tendon in the finger.

That was five weeks ago. I remember desperately Googling for answers (as I always do). 'How long does it take for a pulley injury to recover?' It depends on the severity of the injury, said Google, but typically for a small tear, it would take two weeks to a month before a climber can resume light climbing. I was relieved to know that.

I went to climb yesterday, expecting myself to be able to complete at least the 6As (and thinking that I've seriously lowered the bar). Oh boy I was wrong. I did a dyno to a jug and pain seared through my ring finger as soon as it touched the hold. Clearly, my injury was worse than I thought. If you're a climber and you're reading this right now, you're probably thinking I'm an idiot. I don't deny that but to be fair, I was very very hopeful. And hope makes you do stupid things.

Today, as I did my ice therapy, it struck me just how unfair this setback is. I don't know when my finger would fully recover. I don't even have the confidence to say that it would - that I would be able to crimp as hard as I used to when it hurts to even hold a jug right now! I was so discouraged that I told Marcus that maybe climbing isn't a thing for me anymore. I have been religiously doing my ice and heat therapy, and recovery stretches and exercises every damn day since I pulled my tendon but it seems to have had been to no avail. Every time I go to the gym thinking 'maybe I'll be able to climb a decent route today', I leave disappointed and frustrated.

But then I suddenly remembered one of the biggest setbacks in my life - my A Levels. I remembered how I shut myself in my room and sobbed for the entire day, as I reported my score to the scholarship board knowing that the overseas scholarship would be taken away from me. And I remembered how, despite of the huge setback, I managed to eventually get to where I have always aspired to be - here in Cambridge. I took the longer (and bumpier) road; but I am here.

So I will not stop climbing. I will probably be frustrated when I climb again this week, next week, and the week after. And more. But I won't stop climbing. I'm not an exceptional climber, and I don't aspire to be one. But the least I can do for myself is to not throw away this sport that I have grown to love just because of a tiny setback. I wiped away my tears and began my finger stretches.

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