Team bonding is a science, and one that we don't take lightly here at Touchstone. This Summer Jeremy Yee, the manager of Great Western Power Company in Oakland, lead his staff on a 10.5 miles torture slog, otherwise known as the Tough Mudder Race. The whole team crossed this finish line with arms linked and camaraderie high.... but it's what happens in between the starting line and the finish line that brought them closer. Read on for first hand accounts of the Tough Mudder from each competitors perspective.
Jeremy Yee - After 4 hours and 10.5 miles of scaling 12-foot high walls, crawling through submerged or buried tunnels and something else called an 'Arctic Enema' (sounds amazing, I know) we'd finally reached the last and final barrier. Locking our arms together, we collectively braced ourselves for the conclusion of our ordeal; hundreds of dangling wires, each charged with thousands of volts of electricity (10,000 to be exact).
I kept telling myself "I didn't sign up for this!", except the truth was that I did, voluntarily. I even paid money for the privilege of subjecting myself to this "challenge" (ed note: torture). If you’re the one person who hasn’t heard about Tough Mudder yet, it’s the probably the largest of a growing wave of hardcore obstacle course races that essentially serve as grueling, endurance-based adult playgrounds… ones that require participants to sign a death waiver.
Founded by a former British counter-terrorism agent, Tough Mudder was made to combat the monotony of other endurance races like marathons and triathlons by adding cramped & buried tunnels, mud pits, wall climbs, fright inducing jumps, and live electrical wires. As philanthropic as it is challenging-to-its-competitors, each race donates a portion of its proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project, raising over $5 million.
My team was composed of some of the best & brightest that GWPC has to offer. I was joined by fellow masochists "AJ" Andrew Jackson, Stephanie Jim, Zev Gurman & Jon Kennedy. Using the underrated technique of alternating between running, jogging, walking and complaining, we completed the course at the Northstar California resort in Truckee, CA in just over four hours.
The challenges were extremely fun, and just challenging enough to give competitors a sense of accomplishment (or failure). My personal favorites were the Arctic Enema (basically a dumpster full of ice that we had to wade through both partially & completely submerged), Everest (a giant quarter pipe – you had to run up the ramp and vault up to the lip), and Just the Tip/Berlin Wall, where we got to show off our climbing skills!
John Kennedy -There where a lot of good things about the race. I was psyched when I heard the race would be in Tahoe. Going in, at least I knew the race would have some good views, and fresh air. The whole race for me was really fun, especially since we didn't take things too seriously; making jokes and laughing the whole way. My favorite obstacle had to be "Everest", the 12' quarter pipe that you had to run up and top-out. Go Team!
Zev - An object's properties can only be measured through direct interaction, and that interaction tends to alter the state of said object. We all know this is true. From science....or something. As climbers, we reach out to our limits in order to measure ourselves, and in doing so, we (sometimes unwittingly) expand our limits. Whether we're sending our first V-Hard or climbing a new wall, as climbers we welcome new challenges as new metrics by which to measure our inner dimensions.
When our awesome manager, Jeremy, asked what kind of mud run we'd be interested in, I knew that we had to run a Tough Mudder, because we had to test our limits. (For science!) Everything else on the list was just too short or too painless. Though the crowd was a little bit more bro-y than anticipated, the challenges were tough, and the course was muddy. Thousands of volts, hundreds of feet of mud, a few ice baths, and 10.5 miles later I reflected that I had explored new limits that day as I explored a familiar refreshing, hard-earned adult beverage. Most of all I was happy to be exploring those new limits with friends. In the same way that climbing a few new pitches with a partner makes that bond stronger and exposes new bits of his/her character, working through the Tough Mudder with Andrew, Jeremy, Jon, and Stephanie brought us together as a team more than months of working side by side could have. I never would have run that thing on my own.
Stephanie - Tough Mudder was overall one of the toughest things I've really ever done. It was one of those courses where you really have to be physically and mentally fit - both of which, I'm ready to admit that I'm not. But now that the dust has settled, I am so happy to have finished it. Even though I feel weaker than usual, I found I do have inner strength to pull from. I loved all the climbing-related challenges because I got to show a lot of men that women can be strong too! I really liked the monkey bars because even though I was definitely hesitant to do it, it was like riding a bike and finishing that challenge brought me back to the days when I was queen of the playground. Finally, doing this with my amazing coworkers just made me feel all warm and fuzzy - maybe some of those fuzzies came from from our finale challenge where we linked arms and ran through the 10,000 Volt Chandelier of Pain (aka, "Electroshock Therapy"). Although it was painful, it was a fitting symbol of our unity here at GWPC: we started together and ended together. There's no better feeling than that - except for maybe piggy back rides from your boss in the partner-carry challenge.
Andrew - I felt like this race was a real team building experience for us all. I felt like this race really reinforced the rapport that we have as coworkers & teammates. A lot of the obstacles required you to lend a helping hand (or even just some encouragement) to your fellow Mudder, and we seemed to do really well in those ones. That's why my favorite obstacle, was the log climb ("Lumberjacked") where you had to climb over the top of a log that was suspended about 6-8' off the ground. We really had to help one another out on that one. All in all, I would definitely do the Tough Mudder again... Minus being electrocuted.
Jeremy - The bottom line – it’s a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge. You can push yourself as far as you want... and then some, but the odds are very good you’ll come away with a smile on your face. I particularly enjoyed the camaraderie and fellowship with my coworkers as we emerged from our icy baths, or whilst charging down the mountain and screaming our battle cry for all to hear.
....I guess you had to be there.
Every Spring and Fall, Great Western Power Company, our Oakland location, hosts “Girlz Climb On”, a climbing adventure program for young women, administered and organized by GirlVentures. Since they have another session coming up this Fall, we decided to check in with the GirlVentures Team to learn more about this amazing program!
Can you describe your program (Girlz Climb On) to someone who isn't already familiar with it?
GirlVentures’ signature after-school program provides meaningful one-on-one mentorships and rock climbing experience for girls in grades 6-9. Trained female volunteer mentors and girls meet after school for 2.5 hours a week for twelve consecutive weeks at two Touchstone ClimbingGyms, GWPC in Oakland and Mission Cliffs in San Francisco. These mentors coach girls on both climbing skills and the transference of character-building experiences of climbing into girls’ broader lives. Girls learn trust, perseverance, self-confidence, communication/self-express and team collaboration. They enjoy improved self-esteem and gain access to a nontraditional, male dominated sport that is financially inaccessible to many families.
How many kids do you service in this program? Are there any requirements/qualifications to participate?
We serve 20 girls from 6th-9th grade (10 at GWPC, 10 at Mission Cliffs) twice a year during our fall and spring sessions. There are no requirements for participants except for an eagerness to learn!
Are there scholarships available for families who cannot afford the program fees?
Yes! To ensure that ALL girls have the opportunity to participate in our programs, we award financial aid to two-thirds of all participants.
What types of skills do the girls typically learn? Is it just a climbing program, or are there other elements to it?
Each week we work on developing technical climbing skills: everything from tying a figure-8 follow-thru knot and belaying to techniques like smearing and edging. We also focus on issues that connect rock climbing with a strength a girl already has or would like to improve on like building relationships with friends, trust, leadership, self-expression, working as a group, communication and resolving conflicts. We begin with a one-day ropes course at Fort Miley, practice indoors for 10-12 weeks, and conclude with a weekend outdoor climb at Castle Rock State Park.
Where do your program mentors come from? Is there a way for interested members to get involved with this program?
GirlVentures mentors are a diverse group of women from all walks of life and climbing experience. Generally, we seek mentors who have the following qualifications, though they are not required:
Coaching, teaching or mentoring experience with adolescents
(informal experience with friends & family counts...) Diversity/anti-oppression training or experience
(women of color strongly encouraged to apply) Passion for empowering young women
(i.e.: a desire to share your belief that girls can do anything) Climbing/belaying experiencing
(if you have belayed and/or can climb a 5.8 or higher we are already impressed)
Strong candidates without climbing experience are considered IF they are able to commit to taking a belay class AND practice climbing at the gym a few times prior to the start of the program.
Touchstone members can certainly get involved! Interested members can learn more about the mentorship role and commitments here. Girlz Climb On for mentors begins on September 16, 2013 and for girls on September 21, 2013. The program runs for 10 weeks from 4-7 p.m. on Mondays at Mission Cliffs and Wednesdays at GWPC.
Fresh from raising $700 in a bake sale, GWPC teen team, The East Betas, trudged up the Berkeley Hills to test their plastic beast strength on the polished boulders of Indian Rock and Mortar Rock. All the typical gromits were in full attendance led by the good looking, super talented coaches Ryan Moon, Sam Schwartz, and Ari Oppenheimer. Moon, perhaps the MOST modest of the crew, submitted this trip report to the Touchstone Blog.
Read more: East Betas at Indian Rock
Working at the front desk at the gym means you hear this question a lot. 'How do I find a belay partner?' While bouldering is easy to jump into, finding a belay partner to rope up with can be more of a challenge. "It's such a shame when people cancel their membership because their belay partner has moved or is injured," said Berkeley Ironworks staff Monica Aranda. "Especially when I know we get requests for belay partners nightly. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't be psyched for a new climbing partner!"
Stephanie Jim, who works at Great Western Power Company as the Kids Camp director, is trying to tackle the problem. "When I was younger, I loved watching the TV show Cheers," said Stephanie. "It made me happy to see a place where someone knows your name. I see this gym as my very own Cheers. It's a not just a work out facility or my job, it's a community. I want everyone to feel like a part of it." This was the motivation behind 'Partner Parties'; fun events where members and guests can meet new climbing partners.
If you're interested in participating, the next Partner Party at GWPC is on May 22nd from 6pm-8pm. If you're a member, swipe your magical membership card and you're in! If you're a guest, simply pony up for your day pass and no one will be the wiser. To get started, head over to the smoke stack in the middle of the rope walls. There, you'll find snacks to lure you in, and new friends to keep you coming back for more!
"One you pick up a partner card, and write your name on the top," explains Stephanie. " For each new person you climb or belay with, you'l write their names down and check in at the partner table to get a raffle ticket." Boulderers are also encouraged to come out! For each new person you meet in the bouldering area (ie. give beta to, high five, etc), add their name to the card and exchange it for a ticket. Raffle winners will be announced every 20 - 30 minutes. You'll win anything from a t-shirt to a chalk bag!
This is just one example of the fun events that Touchstone employees put on for their communities. "Wouldn't it be great if the minute you stepped into the gym, you recognized 5-10 friendly faces that immediately made you feel at home?" said Stephanie. To find out more about the upcoming Partner Party at GWPC, be sure to check out the Facebook page and invite your friends.
Other partner finding events are on the calendar at The Studio in San Jose, Berkeley Ironworks, Mission Cliffs and Diablo Rock Gym. Find new partners and make the gym a place where everyone knows your name!
Need a boost in your climbing? Want to be a little stronger? Great Western Power Company's system wall offers the perfect opportunity to train harder with HIT strips.
Over a decade ago, climbing training author Eric Horst developed a program to greatly increase grip strength. Hypergravity Isolation Training (HIT) utilizes high intensity exercise, identical finger holds, and climbing with weight.
In this video, accomplished boulderer Sam Schwartz demonstrates how to affectively use the HIT strips.
Read more: HIT Strip Training
Bouldering season is in full effect. In between weekend trips to Sonora and Bishop, the gym provides a great place to train. The campus board provides an ideal training surface.
In this video, Touchstone's Sam Schwartz provides instruction on how to effectively use a campus board.
Read more: Campus Board Training
Daniel O'Shea joined the GWPC community 2 years ago with the intent (like many others) to change his life and get healthy. For him, the means to this end was CrossFit. Since starting CrossFit in February 2011, Daniel has dropped 80 pounds, and more than doubled his strength gains. He recently performed a strict pull-up for the first time, which was one of his personal fitness goals for 2012.
GWPC spent a few minutes with Daniel to talk about his physical journey, training regimen and opinions on “The Sport of Fitness”.
GW: Daniel, first off thanks for agreeing to meet with us, and congratulations on getting your first pull-up!
DO: Thanks, it was one of my last fitness goals for 2012, so I’m glad I was able to get it before the end of the year.
GW: How did you find out about our CrossFit Program?
DO: I had been curious about CrossFit for a while, since I have some friends who had tried it and seen very good results. I was initially pretty reluctant to try it because it seemed very intense, I was so out of shape, and I thought I would hurt myself. I knew that to be successful, I was going to need help, especially since it had been 5+ years since I had worked out with any sort of intensity/focus, and I wanted one on one instruction to see if CrossFit was right for me. While I was still looking for a gym/trainer, I found the CrossFit East Bay website (crossfiteastbay.com), and got in touch with Max Lewin (CFEB Owner & Program Manager at GWPC). He responded really quickly, and since the gym was close to my office, I walked over the next day to check it out and loved the place. I signed up for a membership on the spot.
GW: How long have you been doing CrossFit?
DO: I started in February 2011, so almost 2 years. My weight when I started CrossFit was 265 lbs. and I am currently at 185.
GW: What’s your favorite workout?
DO: My favorite workout is “Karen” (150 wall ball reps with 20# ball to a 10’ target for time) because it was the first workout that I could do Rx (as prescribed).
GW: A lot of folks are intimidated by CrossFit, especially given the aggressive nature of the workouts. What would you say to someone who asked you about the culture of CrossFit and more specifically, the CFEB community?
DO: I’d say that it’s just that, a community. I’ve found the people to be highly supportive and encouraging. Of course it helps that we have similar fitness goals, but outside of that, most of the people I’ve met have just been good people.
GW: Do you have any goals for 2013?
DO: Well, there are 3 “core” skills that I still haven’t gotten yet: Double Unders, Handstand Pushups and Muscle Ups. Ideally I’d like to get all three next year, but if I were able to do any of them, I’d still be psyched. Also, I’d like to try climbing (bouldering) next year.
GW: Thanks again Daniel, we’re psyched to have been a part of your transformation, and wish you continued success with CrossFit (and hopefully soon, climbing)!
DO: No problem, thanks to all my trainers and workout buddies at CrossFit East Bay and GWPC!