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High flying effort builds confidence in 24 plus Manteca teens
Yvonne Valenzuela braves the “multi-wire” 40 feet in the air. - photo by HIME ROMERO

STOCKTON – The task didn’t seem all that intimidating – just scale a post that towers nearly 40 feet in the air and balance yourself on a box the size of a milk crate before leaping off for a trapeze handle six feet away.

It didn’t seem to register that I’d be sailing over the ground on my way to that handle, or the fact that standing up on that platform was going to take some Cirque du Soleil style balance and limberness.

And then there was the small issue of my fear of heights that still to this day prevents me from getting too close to a guardrail at a tourist attraction where a massive drop off is part of the draw.

So standing there while Venture Up Academy Ropes Course Guide Rob Kroff of the San Joaquin County office of Education made sure that my shoulder harness was properly attached, I started to have second thoughts about whether letting me to do this to see what the two dozen plus high school students involved in this year’s Manteca Chamber of Commerce Junior Ambassador Youth Leadership program was a bright idea.

By this point I had already scaled a pole of the same size and walked nearly 40 feet off the ground across a log and back again before attempting to begin a repel down to safety.

Notice that I said attempt to repel.

While we were supposed to recline backwards holding the rope in front of us until we reached a horizontal position and then eventually slipped down (NOTE: All of the climbers were educated in communicating with their “belayer” – the person on the ground also harnesses and equipped with a rope break to prevent any catastrophic failure), I only made it to about 45 degrees before I felt myself falling faster I thought I should have.

It turns out that I had a hundred pounds on my belayer, and when I started to descend, he started to rise – leaving both of us suspended off the ground in a slightly scary but ultimately comical moment.

Not even the best communication can prevent physics from taking over.

With this experience fresh in my mind (I also never thought I’d make it to the top of that first tower either) I slapped on my gloves, called out my commands, and began my ascent up the post while members of Chamber Chief Executive Officer Debby Moorhead’s youth leadership program began to root me on as I got closer to the top.

At first I couldn’t figure out how to get on top of what seemed like an incredibly small box that was swaying much more than I thought it would when I began. Once I got to my knees, figuring out how to get up onto one foot to begin the arduous task of standing without falling backward or to the side (and possibly smacking the pole) took what seemed like an eternity.

Pride has never
been an issue

“Come on Jason – you can do it,” yelled the voices of some of the students that I had met less than an hour ago. “You’re almost there, just stand up and you’ve got it.”

Pride has never really been an issue for me, and knowing my limitations is something that I’ve always somewhat prided myself in. Of course from time to time I’ve been off on those calculations, but for a brief moment here I actually contemplated just taking the free-fall down.

But with the encouragement and the adrenaline, I finally found my footing and took a few deep breaths as I took in the view from a height that would normally scare me to death.

This time, however, I had a sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t felt in a long time – tackling something I never thought I’d have the nerve to do and doing so on a whim with little or no preparation.

Feeling 10 feet tall and bulletproof, I asked Kroff whether I should keep my gloves on for the leap off of the platform like one of the flying Wallendas and decided to ditch the cowhide for my natural skin.

And I wasted no time in counting down myself and leaping out, grabbing on to the bar, and almost immediately falling off towards the ground – with my arms too weak from the multiple climbs to support my own body weight for a swing back and forth to cap off of the achievement.

Regardless of whether the judges would have given me style points, I did it, and I couldn’t help but feel that rush of exhilaration for the rest of the day each time I recounted the story (and I’m sure the pole got taller and the trapeze bar further away.)

After getting a pat on the back from Kroff, I went over to Moorhead – who I had spent a portion of the day chatting with – and thanked her for the opportunity to participate in something that would legitimately have a lasting positive impression on my life.

What was even more impressive was the fact that there were two-dozen students from throughout Manteca Unified – ranging from seventh and eighth graders to students from each of the high schools – that she was responsible for bringing to the Venture Up Challenge Course at the San Joaquin County Office of Education that day.

And all of them had that chance to test their fears, learn how to work with complete strangers in crucial situations, and have the time of lives while doing it.

I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to go back out there and see if I can improve on my previous attempts or try something different, but I do know that it was an afternoon that will stick with me for a long time.

So Debby, thank you very much for organizing something that not only changed my life for the better, but also undoubtedly for making an impact on the students in the Junior Ambassador Leadership Program that you spearhead.

You never know how much you actually know about yourself until you’re three stories off the ground standing on a wooden post.

And working up the courage to jump off? That’s when you really know that you’ve made progress.

Just don’t force me up against the wall of the Grand Canyon. I’m not quite there yet.

To contact Jason Campbell, e-mail, or call (209) 249-3544.