We’ve moved into the spring season in Worthington Schools. We’re only a few short months from graduation for the class of 2019 (May 19th.) In the Spring I am sometimes honored to be asked to speak at different awards assemblies and I had the honor to do just that this morning. Here’s what I shared:
On behalf of the Worthington Board of Education and the administration at the Worthington Education Center I want to say a sincere congratulations on your academic achievement. I’m proud to be here this morning with a group of students who exemplifies academic excellence and represents Worthington in a very positive way. Thank You!
I was asked this morning to say a few words and I’ve centered those words this morning around world renowned rock climber Alex Honnold. You may have seen the recently released National Geographic documentary “Free Solo.” It was awarded the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. If you haven’t yet seen this movie you need to. It’s absolutely remarkable on multiple levels.
“Free Solo” follows Honnold as he climbs the famous El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Likely you know that El Capitan is a 3,000 ft granite rock face that is over twice the height of the Empire State Building. Climbing El Capitan in itself is a lifetime achievement for most advanced rock climbers and often takes multiple days for climbers to accomplish.
Honnold on the other hand is famous for his “free solo” climbing. Free soloing is insane. It’s climbing the rock face with no ropes. no gear. No room for error. This is obviously the most dangerous form of climbing; with no safety gear, it is likely that any even minor mistake will cause a fall that will kill you.
I first learned of Alex Honnold when 60 Minutes did a piece on him in 2012. Lara Logan filmed him free soloing in Yosemite and I remember at the time I thought “this is totally crazy.” (That 60 minutes piece is on You Tube if you want to check it out.)
So, the Free Solo documentary is filming Honnold’s climb of El Capitan. The climb itself was thought to be impossible. It’s just too long for a human to climb without muscle failure or without making a fatal mistake. Now, when I was watching this movie I knew that Honnold had lived. Most newspapers covered the ascent in June of 2017 when it occurred and I had just seen him on stage alive at the Oscars. However in this documentary the cinematography is amazing. You see up close just how small a crevice Alex is putting his fingertips in and just how high up he is. Literally I was watching this holding my breath, sweating and stress eating Jelly Belly’s until he was off the wall. The drama is unbelievable and the athletic accomplishment has to rate as one of the single greatest feats in history.
All that said, please don’t climb rock faces without a rope. I’m not advocating for that at all. But I do think there are a few lessons we all can learn from this accomplishment that will help you as you continue your path:
- Success is never a straight line
One of the amazing things about Alex Honnold’s free solo of El Capitan was the climb wasn’t straight up. He climbed the “Freerider Route” and in so doing he had to go up, to the side, down, and back up again.
There was no straight path. It was crooked and jagged and looked insane.
Most journey’s are a lot like Alex’s climb. They look crazy from the observer. Yet they are the best route you could take at the time.
You can’t worry if you shoot straight to the top or not. You have to take the best route you can to get to your destination. Success is never a straight line.
- There is a difference between physical and mental training
Alex had to train in two different realms. The first was the physical. He had to be physically fit so his body could endure the endless climbing he would be doing. This was the easy training.
The difficult training came in the mental training. He had to train his mind to look past fear and nerves. He had to train to be fearless.
Work on both aspects of your life. You need to train your body and your mind. You won’t succeed long-term if you’ve worked on only one of these areas of your life.
- Sometimes it’s OK to bail
The first attempt Alex made to free solo El Capitan, he called off. He was ascending Freerider and said “no more.” He tapped out.
While many may criticize Alex for giving up, he was wise in doing so. By calling the climb, he was able to live another day. And to eventually climb the whole thing.
There’s a lot of bravado in life. We’re told quitting is for losers. However, that’s not always true.
Winners quit when it’s the smart thing to do. They bail. They say no… And they say it often.
They realize what’s working. They see what’s good or dangerous. And they make a choice to bail when it’s the wise choice.
Finally, celebrate and get back to work
At the 2,050 foot mark, Alex took a minute to celebrate. He was two-thirds of the way to accomplishing his goal and he had completed the most difficult portion of the climb.
There was a nice shelf he could walk out on. He raised his hands and celebrated for a minute. Then he got back to work.
You’re here this morning because you’re on the right path. I’m certain your journey has been more difficult than outside observers understand. I’m certain your path has not been straight and you’ve had to make hard choices about how to spend your time, what to continue and when to bail. This morning is a time to celebrate. And, then we get back to work!
Congratulations. Keep Climbing!”
-Trent Bowers, Superintendent