Prompt: Describe an experience in which you overcame an obstacle to experience success. This may be something you achieved that at one point seemed impossible. Tell the story in a way that helps the reader understand why this experience had an impact on your life.
Before the summer of 2011, I had always been afraid of heights. For most of my life, even the idea of climbing a mountain would give me butterflies in my stomach. That was the summer I turned 16 and achieved something that profoundly influenced my life. On my birthday that year, my mother and I successfully climbed to the summit of Mt. Ranier in Washington state, and it remains a peak memory in my life. Our ascent to the peak was filled not only with dramatic views but with many obstacles both physical and emotional. The experience was a tremendous test of our physical ability and our skill in committing to a goal. Our grueling months of preparation eventually paid off, and I"ll never forget the rush of feelings I had when we reached the top. It was so overwhelming, I almost forgot about my fear of heights for a moment. However, there were many times during the process when I was certain we'd never make it.
When my mother and I first made the decision to train to climb Mt. Ranier, my knees actually shook with anxiety. First of all, we had read that only half of the climbers who attempt to summit the 14,500 foot high peak actually make it. Most turn back due to weather, exhaustion and even injury. Further, I was so scared of heights I couldn't even look over the side of a bridge. The day we made the decision, I was only 15, and we had a year to train for our trek. I'll never forget the expression of pride on my mother's face when I said, "yes, I'll do it." She looked at me and said, "we will just commit to doing our best and supporting one another. The process is what's most important." At the time, I didn't truly understand what she meant by that. The daunting year of training ahead would turn out to be filled with challenges and pitfalls I couldn't possibly have imagined.
Surprisingly, much of the preparation for climbing a mountain takes place indoors. We never expected this part of our journey! Together, my mother and I attended training sessions at a local climbing gym which included everything from running to lifting weights. Because of my fear of heights, I had to learn to climb up a wall to ten, twenty and even fifty feet above the ground. I also had to learn to trust in the ropes as I rappelled back down the wall. So much of climbing involves teamwork and developing trust. Many of our drills included myself and my mother learning how to spot each other and encourage each other. Our extensive reading on the history of mountaineering also took place indoors and we often stayed up late at night reading about the nuances of this exhilarating sport. Spending so much time indoors to prepare made us crave the "Great Outdoors" even more and we couldn't wait for warmer weather to arrive so we could do our first training climbs on the actual mountain.
It was finally time for our first outdoor climbing practice and the butterflies in my stomach had certainly multiplied. "Don't let the butterflies get the best of you," my mother advised me as we set out on a ten mile training trek. "Try to enjoy the feeling and turn the anxiety into anticipation." She was always full of kind words, but could I apply her wisdom in time for the day of our final climb? As it turned out, our practice excursion proved trepidating. Though it was May, the skies were grey and menacing on the southernmost face of the mountain. Near the halfway point, I lost my footing and fell backwards down the trail, slightly twisting my ankle and earning a tough bruise on my right forearm. Our guide was worried I may have sprained my ankle, and immediately applied a wrap and some ice. Though I was sore, I kept going for another mile or so, but I had to give up before we reached our intended target. The guide stayed with me while the rest of the crew continued to the destination. I felt deflated and discouraged that I couldn't even reach the top of our practice hike. How would I mange on the actual hike, given this setback?
Although I didn't succeed on our first practice hike and suffered minor injuries, I was able to recover in time for our planned summit climb. Thankfully, all the hours of practicing in the gym and reading about mountaineers who overcame pain to succeed had paid off. I had, over time, gained the physical and emotional strength to recover quickly and come through adversity even stronger. The breathtaking views along our climb no longer distracted me with fear but compelled me to follow through with my goal. I had not overcome my fear of heights, but I had made peace with it to the point where I could remain inspired by my own achievements. There is something transcendental about facing one's fears, an experience that's even more beautiful when supported by loved ones. My mom and I were among the last in our group to reach the flag at the summit. Finally standing there was proof that we had completed a process of preparing and persevering. We were above the clouds, but our feet were firmly on the ground, ready to take on any future challenge life might present.