Pitch 15


By Mark E. Smith

Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell recently became the first rock climbers to “free climb” Yosemite’s mammoth 3,000-foot granite face, El Capitan. For the climbing community and public, what made the climb a record was the fact that the duo didn’t use any climbing aids – just bare hands griping crevices and climbing shoes pressed on the rock face.

However, the free climb wasn’t what impressed me. Rather, it was a story within the successful climb.

See, on day 8, on Pitch 15, one of the toughest stages, Caldwell zipped right up it. But, Jorgeson failed. In fact, he failed over a dozen more times, adding 7 days to the climb. Imagine the scene. Caldwell perched slightly above the pitch, watching his partner fail over and over, day after day. And, Jorgeson consistently failing to the point where he should have thrown in the towel. It looked to both men and the world watching that it was an impossible feat for Jorgeson.

Yet, despite exhaustion and escalating self doubt, Jorgeson finally conquered Pitch 15 after 7 days of trying. When asked what pulled him through, he replied, “Resolve. I didn’t see any other outcome but to make it….”

We all encounter Pitch 15s in our own lives, those times when we don’t think we can go on, those times where success seems impossible, adversity too looming. I’ve been there regarding living with disability many times. And, what I’ve learned, much like Jorgeson, is this: we can either concede and quit, or we can muster resolve and determination, where ultimate failure isn’t an option. We know the outcome of conceding and quitting – dreams dashed, an important part of our potential never realized. Yet, when we persevere through the seeming impossible, the results are astounding – we succeed.

Jorgeson’s dilemma on Pitch 15 was a unique one in physicality. After all, he’s among the first to free climb El Capitan. However, emotionally and mentally, his plight was universal – keep trying, against all odds, until you make it. Maybe you’re currently struggling in a college class or with sobriety or in a relationship or in your career. Again, you can always just quit tackling any adversity at any time – and if it’s obviously tough, no one will fault you.

Yet, here’s the universal truth when you have the courage not to quit: if you’re brave enough to tackle adversity, you’re brave enough to overcome it and succeed.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

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