Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The School of Hard Rocks

It has been four days since I stepped off of the South Kaibab Trail and completed a successful Rim to Rim to Rim crossing of the Grand Canyon – and words still fail me. My six year old informed his teacher that, “My Mom always hikes the Grand Canyon,” and it occurs to me that in his mind – he’s right. Since he was four – I’ve trained, hiked, recovered, trained, hiked and now recovering from making this second venture into the canyon.  So why do I do it? I think there are numerous answers to that, but mainly they all involve lessons that I’m continually learning.

I’ve learned teamwork
Twice a year Project Athena Foundation’s Robyn Benincasa, leads a group of strangers in to the Canyon and emerges with a solid, unified team. So how does a group of 20+ strangers not self-destruct under the harshest conditions most of us have ever experienced? The lessons I have learned on these treks can also be applied to life. There is an expectation that if you are having a strong moment, you lend that strength to someone that is having a weak moment. Magic occurs during that connection. It is a synaptic spark that travels across the group as the person who was once weak or struggling recovers and is again strong and well-positioned to help another person when they are in need. This process repeats itself throughout the day in a variety of events from sharing water, distracting with a joke, distributing food, giving pep talks, pulling tow lines, pushing from behind, taking on more weight to relieve someone when they are tired or even scrambling to the river to cool off clothes and gear. If this level of teamwork and concern for the success of teammates would be replicated in everyday life – businesses and people would enjoy far more success.

I’ve learned humility
My success was facilitated by so many throughout this endeavor. I’m keenly aware of the preventative efforts to keep my body from becoming the heat-induced train wreck it was during the previous year. And trust me – holding my head high while wearing an umbrella hat, ice pack in my bra and cold wraps around my neck – is a testament to swallowing pride and doing whatever was necessary to stay ahead of the ill-effects of the heat. Also – I completely agree with Robyn’s philosophy that accepting help is truly a gift to the giver. I’ll admit this year’s team was blessed with my generosity of letting people help me a lot.

I’ve learned strength
I am physically stronger than I was last year which was a stated goal. You can’t enter the Canyon and expect to successfully exit without physically preparing your body for the climb out. As exhaustion sets in, the ability to keep moving is so important. But it isn’t just about muscle strength. It takes so much mental strength to not crawl under a shaded rock and hide there forever. Mental fortitude is as important as physical – perhaps even more. I watched numerous teammates dig deep and deliver results despite exhaustion, illness, frustration and fear.

I’ve learned weakness
The sun and heat of the Arizona desert in June are too much for this gal. You can’t strong-arm heat. The sun doesn’t care about front squats and push-ups and wall balls. The sun just absolutely takes me out and knocks me around like a rag doll. I’m so grateful for the strength that I do have – for without it I would likely be selling lemonade at Phantom Ranch for the rest of my life. But I’m also grateful for my weakness, because I learned so much about myself through that as well.

I’ve learned trust
When you know you are in a situation that you cannot survive alone, you learn to depend on the ones surrounding you. My PAF nickname is Baby Bird, a name I answer to proudly. I earned this name by my willingness to listen and follow instructions. I drink and eat exactly what I’m told, and if the leaders saw me struggling, I listened and followed their advice. Perhaps I looked silly from all the preventive measures in place to protect my body from the sun and heat, but I never got sick. Considering I was sick three hours into day 1 last year, this is an enormous testament preparation and trusting the experts.

I’ve learned leadership
Successful leaders aren’t standing in front barking orders and demonstrating their strengths. The trail angles were all accomplished endurance athletes. Any one of them could have ran those trails in ½ the time it took our team to hike. Not once did any leader make anyone on the team feel like they were failing by their struggles. Instead they took on more weight, saw to nutritional needs of others while also encouraging and teaching us. True leaders facilitate the success of team members, and this is another canyon lesson that can be applied to personal and professional lives.

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