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.

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Comments (6)

  • Meg 6 years ago Reply

    I always figured there was a method to climbing rope, even as a kid. It’s just one more strike against jocks and jocky gym teachers that they let us all think we were incapable instead of educating. As a kid, I was a total monkey outside of gym- climbing trees, climbing jungle gyms, swinging and flipping all over the place. I couldn’t climb a rope or throw a ball to save my life. Unfortunately, my monkeyness didn’t gain me any respect in gym.

    No, I’m not bitter, why do you ask?

    molly mogren katt 6 years ago Reply

    HA! Sometimes JUST DO IT is not enough information!

  • Melissa Joulwan 6 years ago Reply

    I’ve still never climbed a rope, but… I did learn how to kick up into a handstand against the wall few years ago, and it’s one of my most cherished accomplishments. I still try to do handstands every week so I don’t get afraid of them again. I also tried parkour once, and I was SO scared the whole time. But when I let myself suck at it, it was kinda fun.

    I took a beginners gymnastics class at my CrossFit gym once, and I TOTALLY started crying when I had to do a somersault on the mat in front of everybody. I have a LOT of tramautic gym memories. Anyway… I’m blubbering and trying to work up the courage to do the somersault, when one of the assistants helping us said to me, "It’s OK to cry. That’s just your cells letting go of bad memories."

    That was one of the most perfect moments of my life.

    I wrote about handstand day here: http://theclothesmakethegirl.com/2014/08/27/upside/

    molly mogren katt 6 years ago Reply

    Just googled parkour. Yep, intense!

    I’ve been working on my handstands for a while and am terrified of kicking up into one while NOT against a wall. Being upside down can be very scary. It’s a good to continue reminding yourself that you know how to do things… like handstands. Or waterskiing! That’s my big one.

    Love the somersault story. More proof that fear is subjective.

  • JR 6 years ago Reply

    Kind of amazing what stepping in to a gym does for a person. After working out for a while, many of those lies have melted away. I too can now climb the rope after not being able to do it in junior high. That is just one of many. Next up. some of the remaining lies…

    I wish everyone would figure out how powerful it is to work out. And it’s not just the body. Maybe more so the mind…

    molly mogren katt 6 years ago Reply

    I always say my psyche, not strength, is my biggest hurdle in the gym!

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