Facing your fears

Published 9:28 am Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“I can’t do it,” she said. “I just can’t go any further.”

“Yes, you can,” I said. “Just take one step at a time,” I coaxed in the calmest voice I could muster. “You are almost there.”

We all have fears. Sometimes we meet them face to face with limited choices.  In different times or circumstances, we might quit. Sometimes we muster the courage to move through those fears and in doing so we get to experience the tremendous satisfaction of doing what seemed impossible.

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Crystal Light is the unusual name of a trainer for Hardee’s Food Systems. For a number of years she has taught classes to our employees, helped open new restaurants, and trained our own trainers to do a better job.

Part of Crystal’s job is to challenge people to do better; to excel at what they do. Who would have thought that Crystal would meet her own challenge 30 feet above the ground, hanging between two pine trees deep in rural Georgia.

Our company’s General Manager Retreat was held last week at beautiful Callaway Gardens.  Every store manager, along with dozens of vendors, company and corporate personnel joined to celebrate the past year and set goals to meet the challenges of the coming year.

One of the events available to participants was the relatively new Tree Top Adventure. It is an extraordinary course of zip lines and other challenging segments of ladders, wires, logs, discs, netting and other suspended surfaces.

With zip lines extending up to 210 feet, they can be an exhilarating experience. However, it seemed the other high balancing acts stretched between the trees were the events that challenged participants the most.

A forty-year-old man just ahead of our group froze in the trees at only the third station. Two staff members had to climb into the trees, strap the man into a harness, and lower him to safety.

We lost several of our group at the halfway mark, where there was a ladder down to the ground. There was no shame in taking this exit. It is extremely physical and as one of our group said, “I have proved to myself all I need to prove.” Good for him.

But Crystal and five others pressed ahead. There were four men and two women pushing forward. Daaron Vanstone, my son-in-law, scampered along the tightropes, swings and challenges with ease. Those on the ground were teasing him about scooting along the ropes like a rat. He easily finished first.

Melissa Womack, the other female in the group, also pushed through the course with ease. She admitted she had always been a tomboy and seemed to be having a great time in meeting challenge after challenge.

Shawn Yorks, Chris Brown, and Joe Tanner were the other three men that finished, with various amounts of ease. Make no mistake about it, this course isn’t easy for even the most physically fit men, but these three made it to the finish line to claim their prize of saying to themselves, “I did it!”

It was at station 15, slightly more than halfway through, that Crystal faced her fears. Naturally afraid of heights, she had chosen to participate anyway. That is a victory for anyone afraid of heights. Several of our group conquered that fear together just by signing up.

This particular challenge was a series of non-connected swings. Imagine stepping from a swing high in the air to another swing with nothing to hold onto but the rope of the next swing. It appeared to me to be the hardest of them all.

About four steps into the challenge, Crystal froze. There was no real way to turn back and yet to move forward seemed impossible. Through the zoom lens on my camera I could see the fear in her face. She wasn’t afraid of not finishing the course; she was afraid of moving at all.

It was at this point that all around her began to encourage Crystal. Those on the ground shouted encouragement. Even as the line of people began to grow behind her, they encouraged her to take her time. Those ahead of her stopped and waited, holding out their hands to encourage her to take the next step.

Slowly she moved forward. One slow painful step at a time. She gripped the ropes as tight as her hands could squeeze. There wasn’t an eye from the air or ground that wasn’t trained on her effort. Friends and strangers participated in her struggle with encouraging words, cheering as she reached the halfway point, then closer and closer to the last step.

My camera, with its long zoom lens, was clicking over and over as I realized I was capturing one individual’s battle to overcome their own fears. I documented the entire battle including her triumphant, beaming smile as she stepped on the platform. All those around her broke into a spontaneous applause realizing what Crystal had done and the battle she had won.

The rest of the course went easily for Crystal Light. There was no barrier left that could stop her now.

That evening at our awards dinner we recognized all that had completed the course, giving a special tribute to the efforts of Crystal and her battle to conquer her own fears.

Crystal later told me that she didn’t think she could have finished without my encouraging words from the ground below her.

“You’ll think this is crazy, but it was like my father’s voice below me, telling me that I could do it”.

I don’t think that is crazy at all. Congratulations, Crystal.

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@ponderenterprises.net