I have met many, many children during my USO tours, and I love the sheer honesty and purity kids have before they are influenced and molded by the world around them. Their innocence and clarity in dealing with life is so refreshing.
During my presentations to military kids I often share a story about the time when I was a counselor at a camp for siblings of kids with cancer.
I led group D, a crew of eight children between the ages of 11 and 13.
Each child was different and special. Each had been through the harrowing ringer that childhood cancer drags families through.
The camp was in a military style challenge course and our task that day was to scale a 60-foot-high climbing wall. Each person had to wear a helmet and a harness to climb.
The first person to climb the tower was Abi, a confident 13-year-old who was going through the“you-don’t-have-to-tell-me-nothin’-because-I-know-it-all” stage.
He attacked the tower and climbed it in no time. Back on the ground, his body language reflected his attitude—cool.
“Hey, next time I wanna do it without that dumb harness,” he said.
Abi’s brother Sammy climbed next.
Two girls in the group sat out the exercise because they were afraid of heights. One boy got half way up and decided to come down.
I was due to climb last and, although I acted as though I didn’t have a care in the world, I was beginning to get a little nervous about my climb.
Rachel—an 11-year-old going on 40—climbed up before me. She had lost her 13-year-old sister Jonna to cancer the year before. Jonna had been Rachel’s hero. She told me when Jonna died it felt like there was a knife in her heart and she couldn’t get it out.
Rachel started climbing, but stopped to hover at the rest platform about a third of the way up.
I climbed alongside her. It wasn’t easy.
When I reached Rachel, she was crying.
“C’mon, Rachel, you can do it,” I said, struggling to pass her.
I heard the kids on the ground egging us on. That’s when I looked down. I instantly felt faint and dizzy. I wanted to help Rachel, but all I could think about was me. If I didn’t continue climbing right there and then, I wouldn’t have made it.
I hit the top and signaled for the belay guide to release the rope so that I could repel down. I had made it to the top and I wanted off that tower as quickly as possible.
As I repelled down, I passed Rachel. Her whole body was shaking as she clung to the tower, sobbing.
“Rachel, you want to come down?” asked Cheryl, the belay guide who was controlling Rachel’s harness.
“I don’t know,” sobbed Rachel. “I think so.”
“But you can make it,” Cheryl said.
And so began Rachel’s painful climb. The more she climbed, the harder she sobbed. She froze 20 feet from the top and started shaking. She could not climb another inch. She was crying so hard I could see her tears falling and bouncing off the tower.
She was stuck there for almost 15 minutes. She couldn’t go up and she couldn’t come down. To help her, we all yelled encouragement. Abi suddenly broke away from our group and sauntered over to the foot of the tower. He squinted up at Rachel and said something that sent chills down my spine.
“Rachel!” he yelled. “Do it for your sister. Do it for Jonna!”
The power of his suggestion seemed to stop time.
Then something happened that I will never forget.
As Abi finished speaking, Rachel turned and without hesitating heaved her body forward and—sobbing hysterically—began to climb. Rachel did not pause for a second. She climbed the last 20 feet with sheer heart and soul.
When she reached the top, she turned and looked down at us with
a look of joy and triumph on her face.
Once she repelled down, we all hugged her. Abi, who thought girls were the enemy and wouldn’t dare touch one with an extremely long stick, sidled up to Rachel and put his arm around her.
“I knew you could do it,” he said warmly and sauntered off toward the cabins.
Trevor Romain is a best-selling children's book author; award-winning TV personality, and motivational speaker. To learn more about Trevor Romain, please visit www.TrevorRomain.com.