Sunday, 15 February 2015

(Not so) low rope

The Low Rope. Cr: CyberPioneer

Everyone who has been through National Service (NS) – or has associated with someone who has been through NS – would have heard of the infamous Low Rope. The bottleneck of the Standard Obstacle Course (SOC). The make-it-or-break-it station that pretty much determines whether you pass or fail the combat fitness test. The thing that I was most apprehensive about prior to enlistment day. If I had to name one thing that I absolutely lacked, it would be arm power. I couldn’t even win my younger sister at arm wrestling. The thought of lugging my entire body up that rope with my bare hands was frightening. Impossible.

Just look at my non-existent arms

True enough, on my first attempt of mounting up the rope, I barely lasted for 10 (pathetic) seconds – in which I failed to go pass my first loop. (We were taught to make loops with our feet in order push our body further up.) It was disheartening. I had expected myself to fail on the first attempt, but I had no idea that it would be that difficult. Still, it was all right. Our motivating Physical Training Instructor (PTI) assured us that it comes with practice.

In the subsequent days, I religiously executed my daily push-up regime in bunk to increase my arm power while practising the looping technique with the ropes in Company line. With consistent practice, my confidence started to grow.

It was finally the day of the official SOC test. I wasn’t absolutely sure that I could overcome the Low Rope but I was hopeful, with all the practice that I had. I uttered a prayer under my breath just before it was my turn, earnestly holding on to the faith that I would be able to hit the pole at the top of the rope and shout my Company’s name – just like everyone else who had made it to the top. I stepped pass the starting line, going at a slow and steady pace, strategizing to save every ounce of energy for the Low Rope. This is it. I garnered all my energy and leaped off the ground, grabbing the rope as high up as possible. I tucked in my knees; ready to make my first loop with the bottom of the rope. One, two, three, four, five... Five good seconds went pass and I somehow still couldn’t get hold of the rope. I was panic-stricken. In my practice, I had mastered completing a loop within a second. What was happening?! My mind went blank as I waved my legs around aimlessly while the energy in my arms started wearing off. “CALM DOWN!” The thundering voice of my Platoon Commander (PC) snapped me out of my panic attack. By the time I recomposed myself, I had lost the ability to hang on to the rope. My arms were shaking and blisters were starting to form on the inside of my palms. Against my will, I let go of the rope and landed with a thud – that echoed into my heart. We were given 2 chances at each station. I tried it once more but my arms failed me. I was among the few who failed the test even after weeks of practice.

Although I had mentality prepared myself for the worst, like I always do, the disappointment was inevitable. Even the inspirational words of our PTI failed to bring me comfort. There wasn’t much time left for me to pass the SOC before graduating from Basic Military Training (BMT). I, still, hadn’t even gone pass the first loop of the Low Rope. How on earth was Low Rope low?

Immediately after the test, the SOC failures were called out to train for the retest. There weren’t many of us and as much as I yearned to escape from the group of “failures”, I didn’t see how it was possible. There was just too little time left. We lined up for our turns to practise with the ropes. When it was my turn, I concededly grabbed the rope and started looping. I'll just do my best; it's okay that I don't succeed. To my surprise, I moved on from my first loop to my second loop, and my third loop. I was actually progressing up the rope! In that split second of realisation, the hope that seemed so distant came crashing over me like a sugar rush. All of a sudden, I knew, I knew, I knew that I could do it. Loop by loop, I climbed up the rope with determination. “PEGASUS!” The sense of accomplishment was astounding. I was on the brink of tears as my platoon mates cheered and applauded. I wasn’t going to fail the test after all!

As I got down the rope with satisfaction brimming from within, it dawned upon me that it was in the absence of pressure that I had succeeded. Sometimes, when failure is unrelenting despite you having given your all, all you need to do is to take a step back.

Ever since then, I have come to love the Low Rope. Even though it’s not an insurmountable obstacle, I take pride in the fact that I can do it. As my PC said, the key is to “CALM DOWN!”

POP LO!!!!

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