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How one manly woman climbs the walls of a man's world

The Baltimore Sun

Janet, stop climbing like a man!"

An ordinary woman might be a little intimidated or at least embarrassed by these words, especially if they are shouted at you while you are 30 feet off the floor on a wall at an indoor climbing gym.

But not me.

Of course, the instructor was referring to the fact that I was using my arms excessively to get up the wall, instead of my legs. If you think about climbing the way you ascend a ladder, it's obvious this makes little sense.

But in the brief moments after he yelled to me, I realized he had summed up my entire life's philosophy in those prophetic words. I climb like a man.

This was my epiphany at 30 feet: If we classify some traits as traditionally manly and some as womanly, I'm definitely more manly in the way I approach things.

And it takes a big woman to admit she's manly.

First of all, there's the trait of competitiveness, which is typically attributed to men. For as long as I can remember, I've hated to lose. You might say, "Well, Janet, most people do not enjoy losing." That may be true. But here is a little lighthearted story that illustrates to what lengths I will go not to lose.

When I was in high school, I took the water safety instructor course. During the test, I could see that the instructors were pairing the girls in the class with the biggest, burliest lifeguards as drowning "victims," who would then thrash and roll relentlessly throughout the required cross-chest lifesaving lap. This made it nearly impossible for a slightly built girl to pass the test.

So when it was my turn, I wrapped my skinny elbow around my victim's neck and simply held his face underwater until he stopped thrashing, nearly drowning him. And then I deftly swam him, coughing and choking, over to the edge of the pool, in fact saving him! I passed the test. He was speechless. As were my parents when I told them of my success.

I suppose I also have a good amount of the manly trait of intensity or passion. Some might call it hotheadedness. When I was a child, our family was enjoying some nice Long Island-style quality time shooting a BB gun at cardboard targets in our garage. After it was my turn, one of my brothers criticized my shot. So I whirled around with the rifle still against my shoulder and asked sweetly, "What did you say?"

Even though I was immediately marched up to my room with the mandatory speech about never, ever pointing a loaded gun at anyone, I think you will agree that I made an excellent point that would not soon be forgotten. And what was that point? I don't really know, but let me just say that you don't tug on superman's cape, or spit into the wind; you don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger, and you don't mess around with Jim.

Or Janet.

Finally, if it's masculine to be a risk-taker, well, once again, I'm your girl. I probably wouldn't choose a challenging sport like rock climbing at this stage of my life, but my son is committed to it - and I figured if I'm driving him to the climbing gym several times a week anyway, I might as well learn.

I'm not going to let a little significantly crippling thing like fear of heights keep me down. And I like to look on the bright side - he could have taken a liking to street luge, or snow kiting.

So what if I have to cut my nails short, and put up with blisters on my palms? So what if I'm spending my evenings icing my shoulders, popping Advil like it was candy corn?

This girl's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

To contact Janet Gilbert or hear podcasts, go to www.janetgilbert.net.

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