PHOTOGRAPH BY BLIGH GILLIES, BIG UP PRODUCTIONS
I got to thinking about great athletic accomplishments and how I’ve reacted as a fan to various, great victories.
Being a San Francisco bay area native, I’ve thought about the San Francisco Giants recent run of World Series’ championships and also the good seasons the Forty Niners have had (and Super Bowl victories of yesteryear).
I thought about the recent Stanley Cup Champions (even though the San Jose Sharks haven’t gotten there yet). The Golden State Warriors have been on a tear this season and so they too come to my mind.
I was also thinking about all the big soccer leagues under FIFA, the regional championships, and of course, the World Cups I’ve followed in recent years.
All those professional athletes are elevated in status and compensation to other-worldly levels by their teams, fans, and thus, by the media too. When athletes compete in any of those sports mentioned above at their elite level, they have most everything taken care of for them: during the season they don’t prepare meals, they don’t clean their gear, they don’t do their laundry, and they get much of their equipment (if not all) for free. They are pampered and attended-to in a manner like royalty, often times.
And then watching Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson complete their historic athletic effort yesterday (“Who?!” you might ask), I thought of the other end of the spectrum.
Caldwell and Jorgeson are two of the world’s elite/professional rock climbers. Yesterday the finished a never-before feat: free-climbing the Dawn Wall of El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park. They summited in the mid-afternoon, winter sunlight, greeted by a couple dozen family and friends who had hiked to the top by trail (most of them, anyway).
It took Caldwell and Jorgeson nineteen days to complete the expedition, during which they camped (I would say “bivouacked”) on the rack face, suspended well over a thousand feet above the ground on a portaledge. Really, it wasn’t just the two climbers alone, but also a small team of logistics personnel that supported them with frequent resupply of food, water, etc. Make no mistake, however:
Caldwell and Jorgeson Climbed every pitch on their own, with only their hands and feet to carry them up the near 3,000 foot slab of granite.
It was after their summit yesterday that I had the central thought I wanted to share here. Victory for Caldwell and Jorgeson is in my view a greater accomplishment than any of the sport championships I mentioned above. Let me be clear, I take nothing away from champions in the NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL, or FIFA (or any other professional athlete in a mainstream sport — think golf, tennis, professional cycling, etc. — where BIG money can be made).
What I want to accentuate is the ADDITIONAL props that should be given to Caldwell and Jorgeson for their accomplishment. There was a picture of the two of them on the summit yesterday toasting with champagne bottles that someone had carried to the top, a very nice way to acknowledge their epic feat.
However, I’d bet a dime to a doughnut that when all the hugging and crying and laughing and celebrating and initial interviews were complete, the two climbers will be part of the crew that will be removing all the gear from that big wall they just traversed. And I bet when they get home, they’ll be cleaning their own gear, doing their own laundry, and getting everything put away until the next time.
They’ll no doubt have many interviews and appearances and re-tellings of their accomplishment. They’ll be rightfully lauded by the climbing community (and hopefully many non-climbers like myself too). They’ll probably pick up some new gear sponsorships to further their future adventures.
Beyond that though, they’ll return to the mundane day-to-day tasks we all face, a couple of regular guys who did something extra-ordinary and epic. That’s where the real satisfaction and good resides. But maybe like the champions of all those other sports, Caldwell and Jorgeson will also experience the priceless feeling of believing in yourself just a little bit more, knowing you achieved your goal, which is the greatest accomplishment of all.
To read more about the climb: