The tower in front of him stood 53 feet tall, but for Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, it may as well have been twice that high. Mr. Manderson faced his fear of heights Wednesday, when he was the first person to take a run at the ropes challenge course designed for the YMCA of the Cayman Islands.
Moments before he cut the ribbon for the ropes course at the Field of Dreams behind the Little League fields, Mr. Manderson stood and listened as Greg Smith, the chief executive officer of the YMCA, laid out the challenge in front of him.
“It’s what we call, ‘By challenge and by choice.’ It’s a challenge course,” Mr. Smith said. “You’re here to challenge yourself, and what level of challenge you have is very individual to you.
“Your goal may be to come out and climb to the very top. For someone else, their goal might be to just put on a harness, because for you, that’s well out of your comfort zone. The idea of the course is to take people from where they are and help expand beyond their comfort zone to where they’ll grow.”
The deputy governor was a fitting person to open the course, because $80,000 in funds for the equipment were raised as a result of the Deputy Governor’s 5K Run last year. That amount made up more than half the cost of the course.
The course, which took months to develop, is for all age groups. Mr. Smith said he has seen people as young as 5 years old and as old as 80 take their own challenge. The point, he said, is to put yourself in a position that seems uncomfortable and to trust yourself to overcome those obstacles.
As Mr. Smith spoke, Mr. Manderson stood and listened. He knew he was moments away from not just donning protective equipment and testing his nerves, but doing so with a large public audience.
“Thank you for that pep talk and telling me that 80-year-olds can do this. Now I’m going to have to do it for sure,” he joked to Mr. Smith. “I have two things that give me a hard time; two things that I fear. It’s failing at anything, and heights. I don’t know why or when I became scared of heights, but at some point in my life, I no longer could climb mango trees and do all the things that I used to do as a young boy.
“This is a real challenge for me. Meet your fears. Meet the challenge. Lead by example.”
The Alpine Tower, built from utility poles donated by the Caribbean Utilities Company, employs several different mechanisms to test people’s nerve. Mr. Manderson’s first obstacle would be a ladder that led to a catwalk about 15-20 feet off the ground. And if he chose, he could then try climbing the poles, outfitted with hand and leg holds, attempting one of the course’s challenges at a time.
Mr. Smith said that the tower’s total height is 53 feet, but the final platform where you stand is 50 feet above the ground. Mr. Manderson scaled the ladder with no problem, and as he stood on the catwalk facing the assembled crowd, he decided that was far enough for him to travel on this occasion.
The crowd clapped for the head of Cayman’s civil service, and he was asked if he wanted to try to go any further. Then, Mr. Smith, holding a belaying rope, asked Mr. Manderson to trust in him. He had to face backward and step off the platform, while Mr. Smith controlled his slow descent back to the ground.
Safely on the ground, Mr. Manderson received another ovation for climbing out of his comfort zone.
“It was a really exhilarating experience,” said Mr. Manderson of his ropes course feat. “Actually, climbing up was the easy part. But standing on the platform and seeing how high up you are, and then having the trust to jump off the ledge and come down? That was the really difficult part.”
Mr. Manderson went on to say that the experience would be great for children and for corporate training exercises, and he thanked the YMCA for bringing the course to the community.
For Mr. Smith, it was just a joy to see the new apparatus in action. The course – which has both low and high rope challenges – is meant to give an interesting experience to both novice and expert climbers. But more than the physical challenge, said Mr. Smith, is the mental and emotional one.
“What you see here is a lot of perceived risk. It seems to be quite scary,” said Mr. Smith earlier in the day. “The actual risk is far lower than the perceived risk, and that’s what makes it so exciting. You’re going do this and say, ‘Man, I could get hurt today. Something bad could happen to me.’ But the reality is, the level of safety precautions that are out here make this a very safe place.”