Breaking my ankle whilst climbing was not my finest moment. Climbing has been part of my life for just over a year now, having been introduced to it by my ex-boyfriend. Climbing regularly gave me a great insight in to being a beginner at something again, which you can read more about here. As well as that, I managed to find myself a fantastic group of friends. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived lockdown without them! Speaking of which, those very same friends were who I travelled down to Portland (Dorset) to meet, and climb with, on the stunning cliffs of Portland – a climber’s dream. The day started well, I was feeling strong, and confident. The routes were challenging but doable. Swapping between climbing, belaying and keeping an eye on the kids meant that we all had a good enough break between climbs to keep our energy levels up. Leading, for those of you that don’t know, means that you climb up a little, attach yourself to the wall, climb up a bit further, and clip yourself to the wall again (repeat until the top). This means that when you are about to attach yourself to the wall, your belayer needs to give you a little slack so that you are able to attach yourself to the wall in the correct manner. It also means that this is the point in which you have the most amount of rope, and therefore the longest fall – should this happen. My last climb of the day, was probably more suited to a taller climber, but two of the boys had been up it so I was determined to give it a go as well. As I started to reach the top of the cliff, I was beginning to feel quite exhausted. I had been told that the last stretch was the hardest, and I could definitely confirm this fact! I had my feet in a fairly stable position, but was struggling to reach the place I knew I would be able to balance with my hands. There was no where else I could see to put either of my hands, and I began to feel quite terrified. The thing is with lead climbing outside, is that you don’t have the security of the gym. You don’t have the nice flat walls to bounce off. You have hard limestone, and jagged edges, in which there is very little guarantee in your landing. Nevertheless, I could see the hand hold, and I knew I was just a few inches away. Standing on my tiptoes, and reaching as far as I possibly could, I could feel myself shaking. Trying to ignore it was becoming more difficult as I willed my arms to stretch a tiny bit further. My right hand touched the hold, and I felt safe for a millisecond. As my left hand went to grab the hold I missed and my whole body came tumbling down. I put my feet out to the rock to break my fall but the jaggedness of the rock meant that my foot slipped on landing and I ended up just hanging on the rope.
This was the point that my stubbornness took over. Having tried the top of the climb and realised how hard it was, I could have just stopped and come down safely. My belayer did offer me that option. I declined. My stubborn, pig-headed brain had taken over and NOTHING can get in its way. Not even my logical brain. I decided to try again. Taking a moment to breathe, I told myself I had to complete this climb, and stop at nothing to get there. My head filled with confidence, and calmness. At this point, I totally one hundred percent believed I could do it. Finding my grips back on the wall, I started to make my way back up to the last place I had felt comfortable. Climbing back up felt easy, but there was one move left to reach the top. Knowing what I had to do to complete the move, I took a deep breathe. Full of confidence. Ignoring the shaking. I wasn’t scared, I was exhilarated. I went for it. Falling felt much worse this time. I’d believed I could do it and I hadn’t expected to fall. I put my feet out to prevent my face from smashing in to the rock, but again the jaggedness of the rock prevented a smooth landing. My left foot drove straight in to the cliff and it was immediately AGONISING. As my belayer lowered me down, I could feel the throbbing in my ankle increase. The pain was brutal. Trying to suck it up was not an option. Several people from the next pitch down came to help, and recommended that I get airlifted to hospital as it was clearly broken. The stubbornness came back: NO. That will not be happening. I will get myself up the cliff. I will get myself home. I sat for several hours wondering if I should be angry with myself, but decided that I didn’t regret re-trying the climb. I would have far more regret by not having tried it. As with everything in my life, even if it’s a stupid decision, I would still rather make it and stick to it, than not make it and regret not having tried. For anyone who hasn’t been to Portland, the walk/scramble down to the climbing spots is actually harder than some of the routes. I’d put this to the back of my mind, but when it was time to leave I suddenly remembered how difficult it had been. Luckily some of the others picked my bags up for me, so at least I didn’t have them to contend with. The ten-minute walk down, turned into more like a forty-five-minute journey of hopping, crawling, and piggy-backing back to our cars.
Arriving back at my car felt momentarily relieving, until I remembered that I still had a two-hour drive to get back home. The group were dead against me driving, and even offered to put me in their hotel for the night. I declined, and began the journey home – my stubbornness rearing its ugly head yet again. One of the guys kindly followed me for the first twenty minutes of the drive, just in case I fell in to any problems, but actually whilst I wasn’t weight baring, the pain had far lessened. Although coming off the motorway, and using the clutch again was a rude awakening – I did finally make it home in one piece. As I pulled on to the driveway, overwhelming panic set in. How on earth was I going to get from the car to the house? I’d had so much help getting me to my car in Portland, but now I was all alone in the dark.
Actually, I began to feel thankful that it was dark, as I crawled across the driveway and in to the house. Thankfully, I had a pair of crutches from a previous accident on hand so that I was able to make my way around the house.
My single-mindedness came through again, as I convinced myself that my ankle wasn’t broken. Despite the multicoloured bruising, I was sure that it was just a sprain. I could sort of move my toes so it couldn’t be broken, right? There was no way I was going to sit in A&E for four hours to be told to go home and RICE it.
My friend asked me why I felt so apprehensive about visiting the hospital. The truth is that it was long before Covid that I was scared to go to the hospital. He wanted to know what was holding me back. I explained to him that visiting the hospital made me feel weak. It made me feel out of control. I felt that people would look at me and see someone vulnerable who was incapable of looking after themselves, let alone other people.
He told me I was crazy (not the first time I’ve heard that phrase) and that there was no possible way I could be seen as weak, as I had just climbed up a cliff and driven two hours with a suspected broken ankle.
Forty-eight hours after I had arrived back home, I was using my crutches to get to the kitchen. Misjudging the corner caused me to bump my foot on the wall and it sent violent shock waves of pain through my body. Finally, I admitted that I might need an X-ray.
Mum drove me to the hospital, but wasn’t allowed to wait with me. As predicted, four hours later I was taken to have an X-ray. However, what I hadn’t predicted was the result: Fractures in the fibula and talus. Reluctantly I admitted that the hospital visit had been a good idea.
Whenever something drastic happens, whether good or bad, I always believe there is a reason for it. Not that the reason is always clear, but it’s always there. Since breaking my ankle, I have thought long and hard about how I really feel. Unexpectedly, I’m not angry with myself, in fact if anything, the opposite. I feel very calm about the whole situation, and ready to learn from it.
During lockdown I trained almost every day, so as to maintain my normal training schedule. Breaking my ankle has absolutely forced me to stop. Since then, I have been working on all I can: My upper body strength. I’ve been using my pull up bar for various different movements, pulling, holding and balancing to try and increase my static strength.
I’m still not absolutely certain which particular lesson I was supposed to learn throughout all of this, but I feel very lucky that I have had my business to focus on, and friends to keep me distracted.