Monday, March 16, 2009

Going Clubbing: Reaching New Heights

The dog dangles precariously off the edge of a steep precipice, its harness caught in the crevice of a rock. “You’ve got to save him, Ronni!” shouts Jessica Lander ’10, “He needs you!”
When Ronni finally reaches the dog after a difficult ascent, cheers ring out and Ronni beams. For although the canine she has rescued may be stuffed, the obstacles she is working to overcome are very real.
Ronni is one of five children between the ages of five and ten who make the trip to Outdoor Action’s indoor climbing wall every Friday to participate in Peak Potential Princeton, the latest chapter in an organization created by Dr. Jen Fu Cheng ’93 in 2000. Ronni and her peers all suffer from some form of muscle or limb weakness such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, but when they mount the wall such problems seem to be left behind on the ground. This was precisely Cheng’s hope in creating Peak Potential: as co-coordinator Tracy Walsh ’10 put it, the weekly climbing sessions are “part physical therapy, part enjoyment.”
Although this is the chapter’s first year on campus, Walsh reported that approximately twenty-five Princeton students are involved, with fifteen showing up on any given Friday evening to work with the young children. While this may seem like far too many volunteers given the small number of kids in attendance, each child works with a team of three: one to climb the wall with him or her, and two others to remain on the ground and belay. Though many of these volunteers are regular staff on the rock wall, others have far less experience and come simply because they enjoy working with the young climbers. Lander ’10, the groups other coordinator, stressed that because only a handful of children come weekly, the volunteers have developed close ties with each of them throughout the course of the year: “It’s as rewarding for us as it is for them! They have a level of enthusiasm and energy that’s infectious,” she gushed.
After I watched the group for awhile, I had to agree. The atmosphere in the room was one of encouragement and support, with volunteers and parent spectators continually urging the children on, and cheers ringing out whenever someone reached the top of the wall. As for the dog Ronni was “rescuing”? It’s one of the new strategies the group has come up with to motivate and encourage their students, and it seems to be working, for Ronni was noticeably more inspired to work her way up the wall with the dog in place than when she began her ascent without it.
Walsh seemed proud when asked if she had seen progress in the kids since September: “At first for some of them, it was a really big deal for them to get all the way to the top of the wall. Now, they’re reaching the ceiling multiple times in every session!”


02 said...

Why is the headling "Going Clubbing"... just a mistake instead of "Going Climbing"?

Tasnim Shamma '11 said...

No, I believe "Going Clubbing" is a Prox project where a club is featured every few weeks. The Princeton University Language Project was featured last month.