Scared of Heights? Climb a Rock Wall!



When Sanford House Wellness Coach, Kathy Morrow heard about the rock climbing wall at the YMCA, she was unimpressed. Actually she was wary. She’s fit as a fiddle, but afraid of heights. The women residents had been looking at the wall every time they went to the Grand Rapids YMCA, and their requests to “try it out” became too pressing to ignore. So Kathy arranged to have a rock wall coach meet and train the group.


Kathy says, “As it turns out, it was one of the best days I have ever had with a group. It was the adrenalin rush. It wasn’t physically taxing, but it took me out of my comfort zone. Facing my fears made me a bit shaky… And everyone was successful.”


Why Climb a Rock Wall?

Kathy thinks the challenge is the point. Getting to the top (which everyone did) is not so much the issue as meeting the challenge (and the fear). During her two-hour wellness sessions, Kathy often challenges the women of Sanford House. She has created the “House Workouts”: one-hour training sessions of planks, push-ups and crunches that can be done anywhere. The House Workouts are divided into upper body, lower body and core. Kathy says, “There is no pressure. This is each woman’s workout, and each woman’s recovery. I just want to impart the benefits of physical activity as a recovery tool. And have some fun in the process.”


Fun? Here’s What’s Great About Climbing a Rock…

  • The Challenge – Women of all fitness levels can rock climb. One of Kathy’s goals has always been to provide activities that are rigorous enough for the super-fit members of the group as well as providing starter activity for those who are just beginning an exercise regimen. Rock climbing allows for all levels of fitness and many yardsticks to success.


  • The Camaraderie – Kathy says, “We did it one person at a time and the bystanders cheered. It was great!”  The success was experienced by the whole group.


  • Peer Encouragement – How often do you have ten smart people telling you, “You can do it!”? The encouragement goes a long way to improve self esteem even after the event. The women were galvanized, and on the way home you could feel the positive energy.


  • It Clears Your Mind – When you are clinging to a rock on itty-bitty hand and foot holds, it is hard to think of anything else. Certainly not a glass of wine or the next fix… Kathy says, “Any activity that requires self-encouragement – you know, ‘step here, turn there, pull, be careful‘ – is a great anxiety and stress relief. Something that is valuable in treatment.”


  • Building Trust – When you use the equipment correctly, you learn (quickly) to trust the system, the rope holder and yourself. Rock climbing builds teamwork and trust. It let’s you overcome fear of heights and fear of success in a safe environment.




It Feels So Good When it’s OVER…

Kathy thinks the shaky, adrenalin-laden feeling is a positive thing. And like climbing a mountain, it feels really good when you get to the top of the rock. Or in this case, back to the bottom… She says, “You’d think this exercise would be all arm strength, but it works the whole body – the legs, the core, the mind. I see the benefits of exercise in the Sanford House residents all the time. Perhaps even more than other staff members. I am not in the house all the time. I see the progress over a few days – no more cloudy eyes. No more sluggishness. Increased strength and positivity…





Kathy says, “There is never a time I feel worse for having spent time and energy with the women of Sanford House. Exercise is an escape and an avocation. I always feel better.”


Would you like to take the next step and get help?

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Sanford Behavioral Health is a residential and outpatient facility located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sanford offers excellence in evidence-based practice models in a home-like, restorative setting. Our clinicians, supported by our medical team, focus on resolving the underlying issues that often cause substance use, such as trauma, unhealthy relationships, co-occurring disorders and isolation. Programs include both in-person and telehealth: residential, day programs, intensive outpatient, outpatient, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), education and relapse prevention classes, one-on-one and family therapy, and alumni and family support groups. At Sanford, we want to inspire you to find your inner grit, rekindle your interests and engage your passion.