On April 27th, we set out on a family challenge to climb the CN Tower. The initial thought was to get our children involved in goal setting, charity and doing something physically challenging. Our daughters are 8, 10 and 13 years old.
The goal was laid out: climb the CN Tower (a challenge over 4000 people a year undertake). The charity was a wonderful lesson for the children as it required they learn about the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and then approach teachers, friends and family and “ask” for their support. For the physical challenge, the children were excited and ready to climb the 1776 vertical steps from day one. I had envisioned climbing the steps together, all of us sticking together urging on the slowest climber.
It’s interesting, upon reflection, that we all set out with a “team plan” that was
quickly thrown out the window!
Lesson One: MAKE A COMMITMENT AND START MOVING FORWARD
Initially, I thought this would be a great experience for my older daughter Tiffany and myself as a duo challenge to get her and me more physically active. After mentioning it to my husband, he wanted to climb with us. Then the younger girls Gabriella and Cristina didn’t want to be left out. We sat down at the dinner table and explained to the girls that if they were going to participate, it would require their commitment to get physically ready, mentally ready and take the initiative to sign up sponsors for their climb. They all agreed.
This would mean “homework” but they eagerly committed.
Lesson Two: ASK AND BELIEVE TO RECEIVE
Part of our challenge was to ask others to sponsor/pledge for our climb. As the girls set out to ask neighbours for pledges, it reminded me of my own childhood days when I sold Girl Guide cookies door to door. I realized that between the Girl Guide cookies and having a paper route, I had developed a strong work ethic as a child with the ability to “ask” for what I wanted, sell (sometimes in a VERY creative way), handle rejection and spot a lie a mile away (like when I had to collect money door to door and got excuse after excuse and “come back next week”).
If the girls wanted to receive a pledge, they had to be enthusiastic and be able to communicate effectively the “what” and the “why”.
Lesson Three: ALLOW THE BIRDS TO FLY
The morning of the climb was very well organized. We had a light breakfast, talked about “the climb plan” and had an easy drive to the CN Tower with the tunes pumping us up in the car. Once there, the area was well signed and there were loads of volunteers in bright green shirts leading us from space to space right up to the official “time card stampers” at the starting line.
As we approached the time stampers, volunteers were wishing us luck and giving thumbs up and high fives. The closer we got to the start, the more my heart raced. I had assumed that I would be helping pace my children: I couldn’t have been more wrong! As soon as they arrived at the first step, my two youngest daughters took off running vertical like their lives depended on it. It was a bittersweet moment for me as it hit me like a brick wall; I can’t hold them back, I must let my little birds fly. It was a foreshadowing into the not too distant future when I will need to let go and encourage my daughters to take flight in life without looking back, without holding back and without worry or regret. The sweet part was the crystal clear validation that nothing and nobody was going to keep those little birds from flying. They had no idea what they were up against but they took off running with sparks shooting off their heels.
Plan B set in….try to keep up with the kids and let them pace me!
Lesson Four: ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO ENCOURAGE YOURSELF
Initially, my husband was staying back with me, encouraging me like a drill sergeant, goofing off and teasing me. This is not how I am motivated, so I told him to start running and keep up pace with our youngest daughters who were already a number of flights
above. My oldest daughter Tiffany was about 12 steps ahead and had subscribed to the strategy I had given of just keeping the same pace all the way, slow and steady, one step at a time, just thinking about the next step.
As we climbed each flight, there were colourful pictures taped to the concrete walls that had been painted by children. Each picture had a motivational message on it “keep going”, “you can do it”, and 'you’re almost there”. By about the 13th floor, this wasn’t working for me anymore. There were people running past me two steps at a time and people who had stopped on landings between flights to catch their breath. Every couple of flights I would see a paramedic standing there, looking closely at the climbers to recognize anyone in need of help.
Flight after flight, everything started to look the same. Then I passed a paramedic who shouted out “30% done” WHAT? Only 30%, this was harder than I remembered. The last time I climbed the CN Tower was 15 years ago and I was in amazing shape then. My legs were burning but the hardest part of the climb was actually my breathlessness. Even though I kept the same pace, each flight got harder and harder on my lungs. I started to see people who had run past me, sitting down or wheezing on the landings. There were people of all shapes, sizes and ages on those stairs.
I could hear my husband way above us chirping his little love call “woo, woo” to let Tiffany and I know that he was still there. I was calling out to Tiffany on the flight above me telling her to keep going even if she doesn’t see mommy anymore. “You can do it honey, one step in front of the next, just keep moving”. At this point, I’m wondering, who am I encouraging here? Light bulb! I am encouraging myself, because Tiffany is doing just fine. I really wanted to stop and join the others that were on the landings if only just to catch my breath. My throat was as dry as the Atacama Desert and all I could taste was iron.
As I passed the halfway mark, I overheard the conversation of two men standing on a landing. One was a heavy build and surely this was a big physical challenge for him. He turned to his friend and said “you keep going on without me, it will be easier for me to
quit that way”. Well, I didn’t even hear what the other friend said…my posture got straighter, my lungs opened, my eyes as wide as saucers and I yelled at this man as I continued to climb “DO NOT GIVE UP, NEVER GIVE UP! EVEN IF IT TAKES YOU ALL DAY…DON'T YOU DARE GIVE UP, YOU CAN DO THIS!” As the words left my mouth I felt the surge of adrenaline shoot from the top of my head like fireworks and then down through my body. It felt like my words were played over a loud speaker for everyone to hear and for a moment everyone stopped talking and all that could be heard was the sound of climber’s feet pounding the metal steps.
As I passed the 70% mark, I got into a zone where I started to chant “ohm” then take 4 steps then chant “ohm” again and so on. I have no idea where this came from but it helped to get me (and a number of climbers around me) in a rhythm and keep going.
Encouraging someone who was ready to give up, I really encouraged myself to keep going.
Lesson Five: CELEBRATE YOUR JOURNEY WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT YOUR DESTINATION
I reached the top (144 flights, 1776 steps) a couple of seconds behind my eldest daughter. The last two flights she was stepping faster and encouraging me “come on mom, run, we’re there!”
Crossing the final door out to the observation deck, crowds of people were clapping, cow bells were ringing, sweaty red faced and exhausted people were all around me and I was elated to be done. Navigating through the crowd I was looking for my other daughters and husband. I found them sitting on the glass floor with a clear view to the ground (no fear of heights there) and asking other people young and old what their times were as they shared their achievement. What a moment this was for me, to witness my children being so proud and also congratulating others on their accomplishments. Once I got close, my baby asked me “what took you so long?” I was speechless, so I just smiled and hugged her tight.
Gabriella, our 10 year old completed the climb in 20:35. Cristina, our 8 year old in 20:40, Duarte, 20:44, Tiffany our 13 year old in 24:18 and I completed with a time of 24: 22
The great surprise to me, which made me cry tears of joy and relief, was that Gabriella, our only child to be diagnosed with asthma in infancy, who needed puffers a couple times each day up until a year ago, completed this climb without any respiratory distress at
all! I’m happy to report that the Dr. proclaimed her asthma free a couple of months ago and this climb was a wonderful validator for all of us.
Our times were not remarkable. There were so many people that completed the climb in less than 20 minutes and some that took much longer than us. I'm confident my husband would have easily completed in 15 minutes or less had I not asked him to stick with our girls. But, we were an entire family that climbed. We planned together; we climbed and reached new heights together and individually.
Crossing the finish line wasn’t the most rewarding part. That’s the way it is in life too! It’s our journey that is challenging and it is our journey that we learn from. We celebrate the accomplishment of the journey. Just bearing witness to my own journey and the journey of those I love the most was incredibly powerful. We had a plan and a destination carefully blueprinted with the way we thought things would work that day.
When the plan changed, we all embraced our individual paths naturally and without resistance, knowing that we must do for ourselves first, challenge ourselves first, motivate ourselves first. Through that we are each able to look back on the journey and know that we were part of the successful team or “big picture” by doing our personal best.
Enjoying a feast of Sushi as our reward for a job well done, we talked about our next family challenge. We are looking to go a little further and a little higher next time ;-)
"Isn't it time you stop following your life, and start creating it?"
Tiffany, Cristina and Gabriella at the summit of Mont Tremblant August 2010.
Recently, I was reminded of a family adventure we took about two and a half years ago. What came to mind was just how much we all learned by taking on a challenge as a family that none of us had ever taken on individually.
Back in August 2010, we set out on an 8 hour drive from Richmond Hill, Ontario to Mont Tremblant in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. Our intention was a weekend of relaxation and fun with friends. Two other families were meeting us there so we knew there would be lots of pool time, restaurant group meals, riding the gondolas, go-cart races, late nights, great conversations and company for adults and kids alike!
Lesson One: HAVE A GOAL
The weekend started out to be just what we had thought it would and everyone was having a blast. Now, I must say, my husband and I have never been the type of couple that could just sit in a chair, relax and get a tan and as it turns out, neither are our children. So by the second day we decided that we wanted to climb Mont Tremblant.
Lesson Two: BE PREPARED
At the time, our girls were aged 6, 8 and 11 years old. We tried to enlist the other families to take the journey with us but they gracefully declined. So, off we went determined to conquer the mountain with one bottle of water and 2 granola bars in hand, wearing flip flops to take the "strenuous Path C" climb 6.5 kms upwards to reach the summit at 875 meters / 2871 feet. The map suggested that it would take about 2+ hours.
Lesson Three: BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS
At first, all was going easy. By the time we were about an hour in, the sun was beating down on us and we were very thirsty, winded and sweaty. Trying to travel light, we only brought 1 bottle of water thinking this would be a breeze. We were all grabbing for the water like we'd been in the dessert for 6 hours on our first stop. Of course, our girls got to drink and we took only a sip to wet our mouths. As we finished drinking our precious water, we saw a couple come walking down the path. We smiled, said hello and asked about their journey on the mountain. "There are bears on the mountain, be careful" were the last words they spoke as they rushed on. At first we thought they were joking but then we realized they were sincere. They hadn't encountered a bear themselves but told us that a friend had encountered a bear on the mountain recently. Great! Now we had 3 "goldilocks" scared about the 1 bear that we could encounter on the mountain. Okay, okay, I was scared too!
Lesson Four: STAY FOCUSED ON THE GOAL
Onward we travelled and as we did, each daughter took turns whining, complaining and stopping. "my legs are tired", "I need to rest", "I don't want to do this anymore". I tried to keep everything positive and worked hard at painting the most powerful image of what it will feel like when we "conquer the mountain". There were certain points on the trail where it was necessary for us to create a human chain to help each other over, under or around obstacles.
Lesson Five: WHEN THE GOING GET'S TOUGH, KEEP GOING
Then it happened! About 2 hours in, our middle daughter got her ankle twisted under a tree root. OUCH. Then the youngest daughter tripped and hurt herself and decided she couldn't go "one more step". Well, we did what any parents would do, we each grabbed a child and tossed them onto our backs and continued the most vertical climb EVER for another 30 minutes while giving piggy backs. As the girls were on our backs, we were getting very tired and hurting in places we didn't know we could hurt. As we whined and complained, our daughters started to speak words of encouragement and they told us to imagine what it will be like when we "conquer the mountain".
Lesson Six: HAVE FAITH TO BLAZE YOUR OWN TRAIL
Two and a half hours in and we just wanted to get to the top! As we passed a clearing, we saw tall grass and open space. We put the girls down and investigated. It looked like we could almost see the top of the mountain, the air was definitely thicker now! "Okay Pita family" I said "We are going to blaze our own trail to the top". There was no resistance from anyone. We all agreed that we wanted this journey to be complete. As we started walking up the open space, there were no markings, no trail, no foot path and not even disturbed grass. We had to have faith that by walking almost completely vertical (truly) we would somehow reach the goal of the summit.
Lesson Seven: THE HARDEST PART IS USUALLY JUST BEFORE YOU SUCCEED
The vertical "created" path was the hardest part of our journey. The girls could barely make it up the tall grass and uneasy terrain with bugs, burrs, mud and ragweed (which our middle child is extremely allergic to). Every single one of us needed to help each other at this point with our bodies and our words. We were fully exposed now to the mid-day sun bearing down on us with no mercy near the top of the mountain, exhausted and with no water!
Lesson Eight: THE SWEETEST SUCCESS IS SHARED
The most beautiful sight ever was seen at 3 hours into our climb, we all saw the summit! We saw people on the lookout, fluffy clouds sailing across the sky and a beautiful golden sun that looked close enough to reach out and touch. The adrenaline, determination and euphoria we all felt at that moment was equal to that of an Olympic athlete realizing they are about to win a gold metal. We started running for the top holding hands all five of us. As we raced towards the finish line I began to cry, tears of joy, tears of the proudest wife and mother in the world, tears of exhaustion, tears of accomplishment from a woman who was able to share in the sweetest success with her family.
As we got a few steps away from the summit I yelled "stop" and said "let's take this moment in and cross at the same time" and we all casually crossed the line to the summit and embraced each other, holding each other up and all crying. People were looking at us like we had just escaped from captivity in the Congo or perhaps a nut house but we didn't care.
Lesson Nine: HAVE GRATITUDE
We turned back to see how far we had climbed, how vertical that last part of the climb actually was and to praise and thank each other for a job well done with sincere gratitude. Alone, none of us would have even wanted to take this challenge on but as a team, we made it through and each one of us was integral.
Lesson Ten: KNOW YOUR LIMITS
It's amazing that after 3 hours of climbing and 10 minutes of rest at the top, our minds had switched to "I can do anything" and we even contemplated walking back down the mountain. But, even though the mind was exhilarated, our bodies were tired and we had to recognize our limits. We accomplished something amazing together just climbing up...and that was enough.
I'm looking forward to a new adventure this year with my family. Our girls still talk about "climbing a mountain" with great enthusiasm and pride. My hope is that they will have an entire book of adventures to draw lessons from by the time they have their own children.
Helping people to realize their potential, become empowered and start creating the reality they desire is my passion and my pleasure.