Balancing.

I spent a lot of time dancing with Brett Palm on Wednesday.

It wasn’t at a frat party. Instead, we were on wires and logs suspended thirty feet off the ground.

In order to balance, I found myself putting my hand on his shoulder, and sometimes we’d take up a waltz position.

Some of us were skeptical when it was announced that we would be completing Dartmouth’s ropes course. We’d miss our usual Wednesday practice, a 2 or 3 hour rollerski which increases endurance and gives us a chance to work on our technique.

Sure, it would be fun, but what was the point? Shouldn’t we be doing something that would help us ski faster?

(l-r) Sophie Caldwell, Development Coach Martin Benes, Eric Packer, Alice Bradley, Sean Jones, and John Gerstenberger prepare for a challenge. Photo: Ruff Patterson.

We ran out to Oak Hill and counted off to divide into groups of 7 or 8. My group was half boys and half girls, and also half upperclassmen and half freshmen. On solid ground, we practiced watching and checking each other as we transferred our carabiners from one wire to another.

After climbing up a cargo net, our first challenge was traversing four wires with a few square wooden platforms scattered in the middle. Each one could comfortably fit three or four people, and was a diagonal leap from the one before.

After we unsuccessfully tried to develop at strategy for the challenge, Brett Palm jumped out onto the first platform.

I was excited to get started and not intimidated by the height. Using Brett’s arm to stabilize myself, I moved onto the platform. As I landed, it tilted and wobbled back and forth until we had moved to balance our weights. I felt like with one wrong move, I might slide right off.

We huddled into one corner to provide a landing spot for Minal Caron. Then Brett leapt for the next platform.

We tried to keep two or three people on each platform as we moved across,  so that they could use each other for balance while moving.

But at one point, after Brett and I had already reached the other side and were on solid wood, Erika Flowers was left alone on one of the wooden squares.
She looked terrified. “Someone has to come get me! I can’t stand here by myself!”

Our teamwork, frankly, sucked. Looking around, we saw that the other groups had already finished their first challenges and were partway through the next ones.

Rory Gawler, an alumni now working for the Outdoor Programs Office, was our guide. He asked us to think about how we could have done the challenge better; by working together, we could have finished much more quickly.

We did improve over the course of the afternoon. Our breakthrough challenge was one with two large logs, a few feet apart, swinging back and forth.

The first pair to cross, leaning across the void to each other’s shoulders, was Steph Crocker and Wiley Dunlap-Shohl, both freshmen. Steph is over six feet tall, and Wiley is very small. Wiley was nervous and didn’t want to commit to leaning forward; his hips were back and he pulled Steph towards him, almost off her log.

“Put your hips forward!” We encouraged. “It’s just like skiing! Hips up, hips up! Come on, Wiley!”

Despite a few tense moments, the pair made it to the midway station on the other side.

Brett and I went next and we sashayed across the logs in about half the time they had. College athletes are competitive – but more to the point, we’ve known each other for four years and we trust each other.

After Rosie Brennan and Erika followed our example, there were two skiers left on the far side of the obstacle. Without any teammates to support them, Minal and Alex Schulz needed to trust-fall to lean on each other’s shoulders.

Minal was convinced that they couldn’t do it. So Rosie and Erika – who had been so scared before – scampered back across the logs and assisted the boys.

Steph Crocker lends a hand to Rosie Brennan and Wiley Dunlap-Shohl. Or was it the other way around? Photo: Ruff Patterson.

By the end, we were moving faster than some of the other groups.

In athletics, being the best is exciting – but being the best because you have made enormous improvements is even more satisfying.

Do I still think we should have rollerskied on Wednesday? I will admit that I’m nervous about losing those hours of training, but I know that we learned a lot when we were using each other to balance 30 feet off the ground.

Yes, it sounds cheesy, but you can’t be an athlete by yourself. I’m surrounded by fast skiers who have the same goals as I do. If we work together, we can all get a lot faster.

This attitude has been a constant during my time on the team. It makes our team unique and fun – and also one of the best teams in the country.

(more photos can be found here)

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