Change of Character for the better

The bottom of the climb had been a fluid experience. The shade of the trees was a comfort and made the ascent more of a pleasure than a chore. The climbing was not difficult, althought the route was classified as Very Severe, a sign that I was at present climbing well. It fealt good, as the relationship between physical movement and my internal control at present was ‘in control’ and classifying every handhold and foothold with an intensity of concentration but creating a fluidity of movement over the rock, which gave a satisfying feeling. At the stance where usually you stopped to change leaders for the final pitch before the top of the cliff, i did pause but just to concentrate and prepare by dipping into chalk-bag and a smoke of calcium-carbonate plumed into the air. I stepped out onto the final stretch and left the seurity of the tree-tops. It was now that I truely felt the heat of the summers day. I had choosen Tremadoc as it was easily accessable to the road as I had limited time on a part day off. I had also had no joy in finding a partner to climb with that day, not that I had looked as I had made the decision to ‘solo’ the route sometime months previously but had not got round to it.

I traversed to the right where I knew the crux was coming and it was now that a small feeling of doubt was creeping in, at this point I should have returned to the stance and safety, but I had choosen to do this route and it was going to be conquered and I was sure I could do it, in fact I knew I could do it as I had lead the route a couple of times before roped. I made the move to the bottom of the final crack, standing on my right foot I prepared to complete the route. But then a block. My doubt had got bigger, which now affected my physical movements. A quick dip into the magic bag of dust usually helped. Both hands were coated in chalk, but it still didn’t make it any better. I couldn’t move up or down! The exposure was beginning to rush in from all angles and decisions were beginning to get cloudy and irrational. More chalk and more confusion, many changes of feet hopping from one to the other. In one moment looking down I had picked my top branch of the tree beneath me. If I was going to fall then it was going to be a controlled effort on my part. I was going to jump before I slipped. Then a switch turned itself on – calm in thought, I had done the route before, visualize the movements needed, calm the breathing, think of the bouldering that you had practiced and make the movements positive. Making a balance to the right and reaching high up with the right hand I was able to reach a ‘thank-god’ hold. The second my fingers curled over the sharp edged handhold it was like every minute previously was insignificant. I moved up with confidence and couldn’t understand what all the fuss had been about. On the descent down to the car I thought about the success and not about the problems I had encountered. ‘One Step In The Clouds’ had nearly been one step too far, but had been a learning experience, that is what I was putting it down to in my youthful exuberant character.

Many years of experience later I had taken the decision to go paddling with friends and collegues on the Upper Usk. I had done the section below here many times before in different water levels all with confidence and ease. I had not kayaked for over a  year on white-water. I had sold my kayak with the intention to get a more updated version. But that never works within a family sometimes. So I borrowed a boat from Mike and had a new paddle which I had bought two years previously and this was the chance to christen it. Moving swiftly down the grade 2 it was a great section and the muscle memory was kicking in and I was feeling pretty good and confident and enjoying the scenary of the Usk valley. We came to a small 2 metre drop and our paddling team came to the bank to assess the drop. It was vertical, not high but the tow-back on the returning stopper was quite strong. Not big white-water but small airiated water rushing back towards the face of the drop. Two of the group took the route over the right hand side of the drop and cleared the tow back. Others of the group had decided that today they would avoid the drop and walk round, thus taking up position of safety cover with throw-bags for those taking the drop. I took a position above the drop choosing to take the drop with the others I fealt that it was easily within my capabilities. My confidence was characteristically smooth on that grade of water. Moving over the lip of the fall I noticed Stuart on the bank to my right and Tom paddling around in the middle of the rapid. As I entered the water I knew immediately that my line was too steep and I was going too deep. In a second I was dragged from my cockpit with the force of the tow-back and circulating water. I was not in control at all and in a second heading deeper away from the surface. I tried to get up but had no joy . I was struggling to think of anything apart from panic and not being able to breath. Then that switch came on, a moment of relaxing and stillness came over me. A thump on my leg, it could only be one thing, my kayak that had left me moments earlier had returned. I pushed onto it giving me enough purchase to get my right hand above the surface hoping that the bow of Tom’s boat would come in to the rescue. It did, straight and strong as we had taught many others in coaching courses. Once my hand had a grip of the bow loop we were heading towards the bank where I could empty the unwanted Usk water from my system. My kayak rescued and a rest up for a while we carried on down the river with much banter of stories of my excalibir moment. Another choice had come to and end and feedback from the others on my descent of the fall giving me a moment to think about needing more river running experience – practice makes perfect! or at least you take less embarrasing swims.

Looking back at those moments they are times when choices have had a finite moment where decision making had been taken away but I had been able to take control again with some inherant skill level . Although there was a another element that had played a huge part in me moving on.

Now years later simply putting a tray of coffee and cakes down on the table that moment had returned to take control again. This time I had not choosen to be in an adventurous environment where there is a chance of danger. I had no control over my body it started with a fainting feeling and blury vision. Moving onto an arm that wouldn’t move and speech that didn’t work. I was on the other side of my body I could see the outside world but had no interaction with it. I knew what was happening my mother had a massive stroke when she was 37 and still has little speech and limited mobility. I was really scared which didn’t help my symptoms. This moment lasted minutes and eventually came back to normal. Hours later after being evicted from accident and emergency with the information that I had  had a TIA, a small stroke. Days followed and emotions very strong gave me a change in character and priority in life.

I had always been involved with teams, making, participating, and leading. But now after this character changing moment I know that family is more important than anything else in the world. When people say that they love work – how true is this? Is this the same as love for your family, course its not, but does it has another meaning? If family is more important shouldn’t we be trying to create a sense of ‘family’ in work rather than ‘team’? I know what I will be looking to create.

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