Until I started doing Crossfit last year, the sum whole of my experience with rope climbing came from books and movies. In particular, Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones comes to mind. In that book, a character believes she is finally climbing the rope as she closes her eyes and tries, but she is just sliding up and down the same length, much to the derisive amusement of her classmates.

There were no ropes in my gym classes, not in grade school or high school. The gym at my college might have had them, but I don’t think they did. And even if they did, I never used them, or contemplated their use. Rope climbing was not something that I could do.

When I did start Crossfit, I viewed the ropes hanging up in the back with trepidation. I was sure it would be yet another thing that I would need to do a “progression” for, rather than the full exercise. I do pull ups with the assistance of bands and step ups instead of box jumps. Light weights instead of Rx.

And when I first tried rope climbs, I couldn’t do them. I ended up doing the progression, which involved shorter ropes tossed over a pull up bar that I used to simulate climbing with my feet still on the ground. It wasn’t easy for me, especially since I had to do 5 progressions to equal 1 rope climb.

But then, a few weeks ago, I went to a Crossfit class where rope climb was to be worked on as a skill. And the coach worked with me and helped me discover that somehow, now, I can do it.

Where before, my arms and hands refused to hold on to the rope, now I could cling, as long as I had my feet locked in place properly. And I made it all the way to the top a couple times that first day. And again, the next time rope climbs were a skill.

But I had not yet faced the hardest test. Not until last week did I get to attempt the rope climb in a MetCon: 8 rounds – 1 legless rope climb, 10m handstand walk, 4 burpees

I can’t even do a single “step” of a handstand walk, so I had to do progressions for that (a combination of wall walks and kick up to handstands). And I can just barely climb a rope with my legs – legless was out of the question. And the progression ropes were set up as well, in case I couldn’t do the full climb.

The 1st round, I made the full rope climb. 2nd round, I tried, but couldn’t get more than two feet off the ground. I finished that round on the progression ropes. But then the 3rd round I made it back to the top of the real rope. For the 4th round, I tried again and failed again, so I did progression climbs to finish it. Then I decided to do progressions for the 5th, 6th and 7th, so that I could give it one more try on the 8th and final round, determined and somewhat rested.

I was getting close to the time limit of 20 minutes. I ran to the rope and forced my rubbed-numb hands to cling as I hitched myself up on bruised feet.

I finished the workout in 19 minutes and 41 seconds, chivied on by my fellow Crossfitters and the coach.

And I can climb a rope.

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