Three years ago, I had a rock climbing accident. I was at an indoor rock climbing gym participating in the sport of bouldering, which is a version of climbing in which you don’t wear a harness, and you climb shorter walls with crash pads to break your fall. I’d been bouldering off and on for years, and was a pro at taking falls from all heights and angles. There’s an art to falling — there needs to be a bend in the knees and a looseness to the body – and I was a pro at falling.
At my strongest, I was regularly bouldering V.6 routes. That will mean nothing to anyone who isn’t a climber, but will mean a lot to anyone who is. While pro female climbers probably warm up on V.6 routes, the average female climber won’t usually hit those levels. But I was dedicated, and I truly loved the sport. I loved everything about it. I loved the callused hands and the chalky clothes and the climbing lingo and the feeling of exhilaration when you finally finished a project you’d been working on for weeks.
Every climbing session at the gym involved failure. That was the point. You climbed to your absolute limit, until you failed. In bouldering, failing meant falling. We laughed at failure. We videoed each other failing spectacularly. We knew we’d be all right because we knew we were good at failing.
On the night of my accident, I was pumped because I was just getting back to my previous skill level after moving to a new city. I was winding down for the evening when I decided to give a V.5 project one last try. I was fatigued by the time I lunged for the top of the wall, but I didn’t mind giving it my all because I knew there was a crash pad beneath me. What I didn’t know was that a random guy had come up behind me, acting as a “spotter”. Spotters are necessary when bouldering outdoors because they can prevent you from falling off a mountain, but in the gym, they aren’t needed. When I fell, instead of hitting the mat, I unexpectedly hit this guy. I bounced off him and hit the floor, feet first, hard. Way too hard.
The pain had me doubling over and holding my breath. After the first thirty seconds of intensity, it reached a manageable level and I could take stock of the situation. My ankles were swelling rapidly and I couldn’t walk. There was no way I could drive myself home. I declined an ambulance and called a friend instead.
Mrs. B came to get me. She was my surrogate mom in this new city. I’d met her at shul and we’d hit it off. She was a coffee addict, like me, so I’d go to her house every Shabbos morning for coffee and cake and we’d catch up on our week. A climbing friend carried me to her car and she drove me home, while trying to refrain from saying things like, “This is what you get for doing such an extreme sport!” Before dropping me off at my apartment, she swung by my sister’s house, where there were crutches and a cane already waiting for me, borrowed from a friend who’d had surgery earlier that year.
Back at my apartment, I crawled up the stairs and settled onto my couch, where I’d spend quite a bit of time over the next three months. I needed to take stock of my situation. I was, quite literally, the most helpless I’d been since I was a child. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like asking for help. I like to be independent and it was incredibly hard for me to be this needy, even though I couldn’t control the circumstances.
Let me tell you a little bit about how the frum community rallied around me over the next twelve weeks as I waited for my broken foot and six torn ligaments to heal. Two different friends provided me with transportation to and from the doctor. This included a 5:30am MRI, for which my friend slept over at my apartment so there was no chance she’d oversleep. Multiple women from my shul brought me meals and groceries, including the Rebbetzin, who didn’t ask if I wanted her to bring dinner, but asked when I wanted her to bring it. One friend with two little children stopped by almost every morning to bring me iced coffee from Starbucks, because she knew it was practically necessary for my survival. She’d often bring me a homemade, gourmet breakfast along with my drink.
Two different g’machs provided me with wheelchairs until I found one that was a perfect fit for me. This gave me back a lot of my freedom, but stairs were still a challenge. Two different families hosted me for a whole Shabbat, and at both of their houses, they made a makeshift bedroom in a room on the main floor so that I would be more comfortable. And that wasn’t all. I spent every day on my couch with my legs in two orthopedic boots, elevated as much as possible. I kept the door to my apartment unlocked and had visitors throughout the day, which helped tremendously. I’m an extremely active person so I really struggled with being so still. Friends stopped by with more iced-coffee, with their children, with balloons, with ice packs, and, of course, with more food. I was taken care of in a way that was touching and humbling at the same time. And I haven’t even touched on how my own family took care of me.
There were little things along the way that made a huge difference. I was given an activity basket from a g’mach that normally provides them to women on bedrest. They told me I qualified. When I was wheeling myself home from shul one Shabbos, struggling because of the ice on the ground, my friend’s husband insisted on pushing me the whole way. Some friends literally carried me on their backs so they could transfer me to the car and take me on outings.
I tell you all of this because I want to acknowledge how amazing the religious community can be. They sure know how to rally around you when you need it the most and that’s not something I can take for granted. This is on my mind because I’ve noticed a trend; when someone who is no longer religious points out areas of improvement within the religious community, they will be told that they are “bashing” the frum community. Someone within the community can point out the very same areas of improvement and their words will be received very differently.
I have no desire to bash the frum community, even though I’m no longer a part of it. I have benefitted greatly from being raised as an Orthodox Jew, and my situation where I was wheelchair bound for a few months is just one example in my life where the frum community carried me through a difficult time.
I don’t want to be ungrateful. I don’t want to be unnecessarily critical. I simply want to be honest. And my plan is to do just that. Going forward in my writing, I’d like to spend just as much time addressing the areas of improvement as I want to spend time highlighting the wonderful people and dynamics that exist within the community. Hopefully with that blend of information, we can eliminate some of the gap between those still in the community and those outside of it, and recognize that we are all really on the same side.
Just for kicks, here’s some photos from that saga.
Warning… some people would find these hard to look at.
The left photo is my ankles, at the gym, right after the fall. They began swelling immediately. The photo on the right is several months later, after I started learning to walk again. I lost about 10 pounds of leg muscle from lack of use.
The bruising was spectacular. This was months later, after the swelling had subsided. In addition to the break and torn ligaments, I had significant bone bruising.
I discovered that my bowling score in a wheelchair is virtually the same as my bowling score when I’m on two feet. I think I’ll stick to rock climbing…