Dangling from atop the mountain, wondering how I was going to get down, I began to hyperventilate. I heard commands from below, “Just grab the rope with both hands!” This seemed counterintuitive to me. Wouldn’t that mean falling? Ok, truth be told, I was not outside and this was not a real mountain. There were mats below that provided so much cushion I almost fell walking across them, which could have caused a twisted ankle or even a sprained wrist depending on how I tried to save myself. Still, that didn’t alleviate my fear from about 30 to 300 feet up. Fear is perception, so I’m going to stick with 300.
To the team of workout-nuts that I have infiltrated for this reality show, from below I seemed surprisingly agile on that wall. I had scurried up in about three minutes. My forearms throbbed each time I gripped the awkward polyurethane “rock” to pull myself further up the faux structure. I hate heights. Falling is not something I find exhilarating. I like to avoid climbing ladders, I will never ever go on those amusement park rides that free fall, and I will not be parachuting from any plane. If my plane is going down be sure I will chug the last of my ten dollar drink and then punch myself in the head until I fall unconscious. The actual crash into the ground is less scary to me than the fall leading up to the crash into the ground. As such, I moved quickly up that wall to keep from looking down and to be able to return to the ground quickly. To the team this was athleticism. Fear is perception…
Throughout my childhood and adulthood, not once did anyone consider me an athlete. I was a short, squat kid. Because my mother loved shopping for the deal, fast food was frequent and items like bagel-dogs were bought in bulk leading to the bulk in my stomach. At a young age, I fluctuated between chunky and not-as-chunky until I was in high school and thinned out for 25 years. But I in no way inherited nor sculpted a body prompting a team captain to point to me proclaiming, “Him! That magnificent Herculean stud! He shall be playing for me!” However, and this is not meant to pump myself up, I was a decent athlete. I could hold my own in most sports and actually excelled in a couple. I spent the better part of my teen years playing travel soccer and I could easily compete with any of my friends in a tennis or racquetball match. Though I wasn’t a good baseball hitter, I could shag down a fly and make diving grabs seemingly at will. Competing against those who took their sports ultra-seriously, my butt-whoopings on the court or robbing of home runs often led to great agitation that was only compounded by my outward appearance as a non-athlete. Oh, well. Whatever.
As a participant of the show, these feelings of inadequacy and athletic judgement have risen their schlubby head. I understood from the beginning that my friend, Micky, had cast me for several reasons: (1) my ability to help shape a story, (2) my sometimes irritating desire to dig deep into a person’s backstory and motivations, (3) my hypochondria, (4) my phobias, and (5) my lack of athletic grace. When Micky introduced me to his crew and his fellow producers (aka money-men), I was billed as “the victim.”
However, Mickey neglected quality (6) – I will attempt any challenge, no matter how stupid. I’m like Marty McFly who doesn’t want to be called “chicken.”
I don’t particularly enjoy exercise. I know it’s relatively necessary for health reasons, but I just hate it. This doesn’t mean I don’t like being active. I love hiking, golfing, playing sports with the kids, etc. But the whole cardio and fitness routine I just find incredibly dull. I much prefer a crossword puzzle. A really tough crossword puzzle. A crossword puzzle that takes tremendous fortitude and mental resiliency. A puzzle that can pull a muscle in my brain.
Yet, here I was on a rock wall, high above the ground as part of this crazy, extreme exercise excursion where the other members of the group like to test their abilities and flex their accomplishments. I just wanted to know how to get down. “Just grab the rope!” I was told. Grab the rope? I did not want to let go of the wall. Releasing my grip might mean falling. At least I knew that holding on wasn’t falling. I could tell the difference. Finally, I grabbed the rope and was lowered to the ground. Breathing hard, the others congratulated me and couldn’t believe how quickly I was able to reach the top, a backhanded compliment for sure.
One of the producers stepped up and questioned whether I’m the “victim” Micky made me out to be. Am I the insecure neurotic that is supposed to be failing miserably? Neurotic, insecure…sure. Fail miserably? What am I chicken? This is reality. I’m being me. I’m being honest in my neuroses. Does that equate to failure? It doesn’t have to. And it occurred to me that not only was I being superficially judged as being unathletic, I felt as though I was now being accused of being too athletic for someone who looked like me. “Your honor, people that look like him shouldn’t be able to play sports or climb rock walls! People like him need to fall on their faces for our amusement! And they should have names like Eugene and Harold and be ill-groomed!”
When I finally was able to catch my breath, I looked over to one of the other members of our team – “Junior.” Junior is a very heavyset young man trying to better his physique and himself. He was dangling practically upside down after only being able to scale a few feet. As we pretended to hit Junior like a piñata, I realized they certainly don’t need me to fail for their amusement.