I could see the fear in his eyes. Perched atop a fifteen foot telephone pole, the eight-year-old looked down and asked, “What do I do now?” In a very reassuring tone, I told him that everything would be just fine and that he’d be safe. He was starting to lose his balance however, and I wondered how much longer he could last. Several minutes went by and finally I yelled, “Just jump already!”
At this, the young boy held out his arms and leapt for the yellow handkerchief hanging just feet in front of him. The force of his descent pulled the rope taut. I held onto it tightly and began to slowly belay him, handkerchief in hand, to the ground. This “Leap of Faith” is one of the activities I supervise as a “high ropes and challenge course specialist.”
For the last two years I have worked with children from ages eight to fourteen at a summer camp. Due to the risks involved, to become a High Ropes Specialist I had to undergo a series of training and certification programs. In my first orientation, I was shown how to climb a tree and set up the, “Vertical Playpen” (a vertical obstacle course). I had never been more afraid than when I reached the top of the tree, hooked myself onto the cables, and was told to let go. It was the only real way for me to get a feel for the equipment I would be using daily. I had to transform my fear into confidence in just a matter of days.
Each day of the summer I put on my harness and “lobster-claws.” I climbed the twenty-five to thirty foot trees and set up the various cables, pulleys and spin-statics. Throughout the day I was responsible for putting harnesses on the kids, and supervising and assisting them through the different activities. We would scale the rock wall, walk the high wires, fly down the zipline, and swing on the “Flying Squirrel.”
During the eight weeks of camp, I was pleased to see the kids progress and become more confident, not only in themselves, but in me. They actually started to trust me when I told them to do crazy things like jumping off telephone poles. I enjoyed teaching the kids and seeing them overcome the different physical and psychological challenges. There is nothing better than seeing the smile on an eight-year-old boy who finally reached the top of the rock wall in the last week of camp, or hearing a scream of triumph from an eleven-year-old girl, no longer afraid to jump off the “Leap of Faith.”
Each summer brings a new set of kids along with new responsibilities and challenges. Eight weeks and innumerable grunts, jumps, screams, tears, and smiles later, the summer comes to an end. Now I take the lessons I learned on the high ropes - responsibility, confidence, patience, and empathy - with me into my senior year. I sometimes find myself asking the same question as the eight-year old, “What do I do now?” I could also answer it myself, “Just jump already!”