This week I went to Go Ape in Chessington with Katie and it may have proved to be a little bit life changing. She’s wanted to go since her sister did it three years ago so her excitement was fever pitch by the time we arrived on site Tuesday afternoon. All kitted up and instructions done we were ready to head off into the unknown. Well ok, we knew what we were facing, four courses, 4 zip slides and approximately 40 crossings through the trees.
We climbed the ladder to the first obstacle, reached the start, Katie looked down and froze. “I’m scared, I can’t do it. Then the tears started. I gently reassured her that everything was fine, she was strapped in with the harness and couldn’t go anywhere. It didn’t make a difference, she was adamant she couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. I told her I was scared by lots of them too and that was ok. I believed in her and knew she could do it, one small step at a time, that’s all it was. Eventually, after more tears she took her first small step, then the second and the third. Within a few minutes she’d reached the other side.
“Well done, I’m so proud of you,” I beamed. Her face was etched with emotion, a mixture of relief, fear and pride, mainly relief I think. I gave her a massive hug when I reached her and we headed for the next one. It was a similar story as the first but she made it. By the time we got to the end of the section and reached the zip slide she’d completed 10 crossings, half at which she had a little freak out and half at which she’d put her head down and just went for it.
The zip slide however seemed a step too far. The gentle tears quickly escalated into near hysteria. The idea of throwing herself off the platform and descending over 100ft downwards was too overwhelming. She wanted to get off. I explained that the only way off was the zip slide, there was no ladder down from where we were. One of the guides below asked if all was ok as Katie was holding onto the tree for dear life. I gave a thumbs up and turned to Katie.
“You can do this, I believe in you. You just need to step off, hold the rope and enjoy the ride down.” I gave her a couple of countdowns but she wouldn’t let go. I looked right into her eyes, “You can do this, I know you can. Take a deep breath, step off and I promise everything will be ok.” “3..2..1..,” she stepped off and flew down to the bottom. As she landed she looked at me with a massive, beaming smile and a thumbs up. I reached the bottom and gave her a massive hug and kiss, telling her again how proud I was of her. Her response floored me. “Daddy, apart from swimming with dolphins this is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life!” She explained that although she was petrified at the start of most of them, especially the zip slide, once she started them she was fine and really enjoyed them.
We carried on around the various sections with bigger, higher obstacles and bigger, longer zip slides. She did them all like a pro. Even when she got stuck after getting tangled and had to be rescued she was calm and relaxed. The final zip slide was massive and she hooked on and lept off without a moment’s hesitation. We hugged each other at the bottom and I knew this was a pivotal moment in her life. It may sound like I’m being a bit melodramatic but bear with me. She faced her fears and she conquered them. What’s bigger than that? She learnt valuable lessons in not giving up, being scared but doing it anyway, believing in herself and probably lots more I can’t think of.
Imagine if at the first obstacle when she was crying I said, “Shall we get off then?” I’m almost positive she would have gone without a moments hesitation. Being a parent isn’t easy. Trying to find the right balance of being supportive, kind, loving but also encouraging your children to push themselves, especially if they’re distressed is difficult. Katie has never liked rollercoasters, heights and climbing massive trees. For others Go Ape may just be a straight forward fun few hours in the woods. For Katie, it was much more than that.
In the future, whenever she’s faced with a challenge that she’s struggling with she can look back to Go Ape. The message will be there for her, loud and clear. “I’m strong, I’m determined, I can face my fears and still it.” Go Katie, I’m proud to call you my daughter. xxx
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