Experiencing the Challenge Course

By Michelle Rogerson, M.S., CPT (Certified Personal Trainer), Challenge Course Level II & Course Manager, Wellness Coordinator at The Meadows

Suspended 25 feet above ground, Becky looks down and tells me she can’t climb any higher. Becky is wearing a bright blue harness around her waist and legs that compliments her blue eyes and brown hair. The harness is connected to the belay rope to keep her safe as she climbs a giant ladder dangling from a log suspended 35 feet up. She’s only 5’3” tall, so each rung of Giant Ladder seems like an almost inconceivable long reach. While the motto at the Challenge Course is, “Challenge by choice,” I can tell that it isn’t heights or a fear of falling that is holding Becky back, it’s her own crushing self-doubt. I sincerely ask Becky if she would be willing to let me help her climb up to the next ladder rung.

She cautiously agrees, and on the count of 3, I drop to my knees, pulling the belay rope down as Becky pulls her self up. It’s a success! However, I see the excitement in Becky’s eyes quickly fill with self-doubt once again as she sees that there’s still one more rung to go. I challenge Becky to keep going. She doubts her abilities, but I assure her that we can work as a team again to make it to the top. On the count of 3, I pull down as she pulls up. Another victory! Becky triumphantly stands and as a signal of her accomplishment, touches the final green log overhead with both hands from 35 feet up.

Soon after, I lower Becky back to the solid ground, unhook the rope from her harness, and congratulate her on her success! She is thrilled and excited, yet at the same time she also feels like she was a burden. That’s when I genuinely thank her for letting me help her. With tears in her eyes, Becky wraps her arms around me in a warm hug and thanks me for helping her climb all the way to the top. It is out here at the Challenge Course that Becky has been able to experience for herself that she is a strong and capable woman in many ways. She is also able to witness the joy that others feel when allowed the opportunity to help others.

Every week I get to witness our patients participate in meaningful experiences on the Challenge Course. Patients are able to learn healthy risk taking, trust, boundaries, and even to have fun in recovery. They can face their fears by climbing a 35 foot pole to a wavering rope bridge, or jump out into midair for a trapeze bar suspended 20 feet above ground. Sometimes it’s something as simple, yet as complex, as asking for help that will make all the difference in their success. I have the opportunity to help reinforce the skills and tools that they’re learning in treatment and hopefully add a little bit of excitement and adrenaline at the same time.

Not every experience out on the course is tearful and overwhelmingly emotional. For most people, climbing 40 feet up in the air and then standing on the edge of the zip line platform becomes quite unnerving. But as you take the first step off, that butterfly-rush hits your stomach (and a scream may even leave your lips); but after that, it’s all smiles. It’s definitely a unique experience at the Challenge Course each day. Who knows, you just might learn something about yourself.

Post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that stems from a life-threatening event or psychological trauma. PTSD can manifest as nightmares, intense remembrances of the event, challenges in falling or staying asleep, feelings of unreasonable anger and constant edginess. Sufferers often avoid situations that may produce thoughts or recollections of the traumatic event.

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