Keep Your Head Up

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Gentry Haukebo (right) and Phoebe DeVos-Cole

By Gentry Haukebo, Moreno Valley High School

Editor’s Note: During the Angel Fire Rotary Club meeting Wednesday (Oct. 21), Moreno Valley High School students Gentry Haukebo and Phoebe DeVos-Cole shared their experiences at the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) camp, an intensive week-long training camp held every year the last two weeks in July at Manzano Mountain Retreat near Mountainair, New Mexico. in addition to leadership camp also focuses on overcoming challenging physical obstacles. Haukebo shared the following experience with members of Rotary.

I had already jumped off the 40-foot pole once. I got harnessed in and began the climb to an emotional collapse for the second time. Step by step I made my way up the teetering pole and finally reached the two-foot platform on top. To be among the treetops is incomparable. Despite being physically elevated, I had never been so grounded and humbled.

What a view! I can see the clouds, the mountains, the bird nests… and my trembling teammate down on the dirt. She was terrified of heights, and petrified of falling. The other girls in our Sparta Cabin at camp RYLA were chanting and encouraging her to “climb on” after her harness had been checked, checked again, and checked once more. Her first step was completed. 12-inches off the ground and I could hear her racing heartbeat echo through the valley, but even more so, I could feel her radiating determination.

“You got this!” they shouted,  “Keep going!” “Keep your head up, girl!” “Don’t look down!”

Which, of course, made both of us look down.

After two attempts, three attempts to quit, and three more to continue, she reached the top.

I pulled her onto the platform (seemingly for one person) and we held on tight to each other. Her nerves shook the entire pole, only making it worse. The belayers signaled that it was safe to jump. The goal was to jump and grab the pole 10-feet in front of the platform, but for my friend it was only to jump.

The tears were coming-partially from complete fear, and partially from facing it.

“Sing to me!” she shouted to girls on the ground, then turned to me and asked, “Am I going to die?” I replied, “One day of course, but today is not that day…unless you die from complete happiness after jumping.”

That one line gave her a smile that translated to courage.  “3. 2… 3. 2… wait…. OK… 3. 2. 1… AHHHH wait! No. OK, now I am ready… 3. 2. 1!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and we jumped.

Dangling in the air we high-fived and I felt as happy for her as she was for herself. The Sparta cabin cheered and when we returned to the much-appreciated feeling of firm ground beneath our feet, she squeezed me as hard as she had held the pole while climbing it.

I had known this girl for four days and I helped her overcome her weakness.

That is the beauty of RYLA- in one week you see every side of the girls in your cabin, and at the end of it you walk out not only with leadership skills and an exhausted body, but with friendships that will last a lifetime and memories that shape who you are and who you will become.