By Tina Dirmann
staff writer for BCBSLA Foundation
It’s a long way to the top, but you can do it, girl!
You want me to climb what?
That was pretty much my reaction when I stood at the base of the 45-foot climbing wall at Centenary College in Shreveport. You’ve probably seen these structures before, a wall with small rock-like slivers stuck to it, there for desperate feet and hands to claw at on that climb to the top. Still, standing at the base, no doubt this was going to be a daunting task.
But that hardly phased the nearly dozen or so teenagers taking part in last Saturday’s Youth Corp challenge, put on by Healthy Green and Into the Outdoors (a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant supported partner, focused on health education and projects serving North Louisiana).
And when 16 year old Sarah Ebarb flashed an exuberant smile, moments after scaling up the wall and repelling down again, her confidence was soaring. “It was difficult,” Sarah said, “but exhilarating!”
Exactly, team leader Mark Poole later agreed.
“It really lets them know they can do this stuff,” said Poole, who helped the kids get harnessed-up and prepped for the roughly 15 minute climb. “It shows they can get an adrenaline rush, and they didn’t get it through drinking or drugs or whatever. And when they are done, you see the confidence in the kids really coming through. After they’ve done all the activities we put them through — a ropes course, wall climbing, kayaking — we see a real difference in confidence.”
Poole should know. As he spoke, his own son stood at the top of that wall, encouraging the teens as they reached the top and lending a helping hand should they want to climb all the way up to stand beside him. Eric Poole, now 24, began wall climbing through a similar program when he was in high school. Now a pilot who flies B-52s in the Air Force, Eric jumped at the chance to return to help the kids coming up behind him — the ones just starting on a path to find out who they are and what they are capable of accomplishing.
These days, Eric and his dad love to travel, in search of actual mountains to climb.
“He believes in this program,” the elder Poole said. “As a kid, he’d never been exposed to a lot of this stuff. But since then, we both go out to Arkansas and climb. We would have never done that before.”
Tammie Harris, HGO Youth Corp director, has seen the transformations, too. This isn’t simply a momentary physical challenge. A push and an inner drive gets nurtured. And when you nurture that in a kid, anything is possible.
Last week’s HGIO Youth Corp Ropes Course.
“They come in, not sure what they can accomplish,” Harris said, “then they get up that wall and repel down, and you just see a level of confidence and pride come through that they didn’t even know they had.”
The week before, HGIO sponsored a ropes course lesson for their Youth Corps kids. Next month, it’s a mountain
biking and kayake trip.
“We really want to introduce them to something they may adopt as a life sport,” Harris said.
But not all kids made it to the top on Saturday. It’s real life, and the climb was really hard. The climb up, which I can tell you from personal experience, since I joined in on the challenge, took physical strength (arms, legs, hands). And inner strength (I can do it, I can do it, I can do it….).
Maya Porter, 15, gave it her all on Saturday — for the second time. But stopped just short of the top.
“I was almost there,” Maya said. “My arms got tired. But I’m going to try again. I’m going to get there one day!”
Atta girl, Maya. We know you will.