By Maxwell Svec, One Summit Manager, Strategic Programs & Events
One Summit returned to New York City to host our core experiential learning programs for the first time since the start of the Covid pandemic. Our eighteenth Climb for Courage (CFC) was held on October 1st, followed by Climb Higher the following morning. How great to be back in the Big Apple, almost three years since our last climbing program in the New York area. It was an incredible weekend filled with joyous reunions, new friendships, barrier-breaking, and lots of fun! The event was held at Central Rock Gym on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on a day of nonstop clouds and drizzle from the sky overhead. Despite the weather outside, one of the Navy SEAL Mentors commented that the gym was full of light and sunshine, brought in by the little warriors on their way to conquer walls and push past limitations. Seven-year-old Piper bravely volunteered to lead the group of 14 little warriors down the two flights of stairs to the climbing gym floor below.
Waiting around the corner, just out of sight, were 12 Navy SEAL mentors and 7 Team Leaders and volunteers ready to welcome the group with a gauntlet of high fives and applause. As the kids walked into a sea of camouflage ushering them in with cheers and whistles, their eyes brightly lit up. Once gathered, each child met their mentor for the first time as everyone excitedly broke into groups with their Team Leaders. Soon after getting acquainted, the mentors and warriors could be found in all corners of the gym, laughing playfully in no time, planning their routes up the towering walls above.I am still relatively new to the One Summit staff team, this being only my third Climb for Courage program. Yet this one seemed to sow particularly impactful relationships between the mentors and mentees in ways that stretched far beyond the ropes, footholds, and high walls surrounding the participants. The lessons imparted to one another were ubiquitous throughout the event. At various moments, I overheard wisdom passed from mentors to mentees—insight learned from years of training, combat, and experience the rest of us civilians can only imagine.
Mentor Jeff described his "crawl, walk, run" approach to taking on challenges. He explained that instead of barreling forward to face an obstacle, it could be advantageous to begin slowly and deliberately to ensure a safe and successful resolution. Another explained that breaking down a challenge into smaller, more attainable pieces can make it feel less intimidating and overwhelming. Yet another instilled in the little warriors that "bravery isn't the absence of fear," it's still being afraid, yet moving forward anyway. I was struck by how empowering that message was for those kids. How important for them to learn that it's okay to be afraid when facing something daunting or unknown—that even Navy SEALs get scared sometimes.
In turn, the little warriors accomplished many great things that day—feats big and small, and not all of it happened on the climbing walls. One mentee said his favorite moment of the day was when he got to have conversations with his SEAL. Another described her favorite moment as just having the opportunity to meet her mentor. The little warriors also imparted their own wisdom and impact on the mentors. One SEAL said, "it's rewarding to meet and motivate these kids, who also motivate me as a SEAL." The connections made throughout the weekend were symbiotic, borne of strength, resiliency, and bravery.
It was a special day to witness, and as the parents and caregivers returned to the gym, the event wound down into our signature pinning ceremony. As they proudly pinned the prestigious Navy SEAL trident on their little warriors, many mentors shared small yet impactful moments spent with their mentees. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful day of mentorship and hope.
On Sunday morning, we returned to Central Rock Gym to host our Climb Higher program, which is an opportunity for past Climb for Courage participants to climb with a selection of Navy SEAL mentors. We welcomed back ten little warriors from 3 different previous CFC programs—some had attended CFC in 2016! Six Navy SEAL mentors greeted them at the gym, and everyone excitedly broke off into groups to hit the walls. We bore witness to a second consecutive day wherein wonderful new friendships blossomed. Several parents and caregivers mentioned that due to Covid, many of their children's activities had been canceled in recent years. They marveled at how nice it was to finally see their children participating in something fun out of the house again. Watching their kids and the mentors laughing and scaling the walls together brought smiles to many faces.
The impact of our mission at One Summit can be seen in the feedback from families and mentors immediately following the climb. The below testimonials strengthen our commitment to improving outcomes for our resilient little warriors with year-round support.
My twins seem closer to each other than they have been since treatment started. My twin without cancer has almost seemed to be afraid of "breaking" or hurting her sister. There has been a separation there. But, through Climb for Courage, I think she was able to see how strong her sister is. – Parent
My most memorable moment of the day was hearing that my mentee's favorite part of the day was talking with me and making a new friend. - Navy SEAL Mentor
After today I learned I can do anything I put my mind towards. – Little Warrior
We didn't know what to expect coming in and I can't imagine it being any better. This was an incredible experience that we are so thankful to have been a part of. – Parent
This was an extremely rewarding experience, and I enjoyed the aspect of meeting a kid that has humbled me and taught me something about working through hardships. – Navy SEAL Mentor
I was nervous before but now I feel more confident. – Little Warrior
In addition to the climbing that took place throughout the weekend, we were so lucky to have Kendra Scott's Kendra Cares join us for another Climb for Courage program. Our friend Samantha returned with a new friend Madeline. This was Samantha's second Climb for Courage! She attended our Boston CFC in April—our first climb where we welcomed staff from Kendra Scott. Together, Madeline and Samantha ran a wonderful Color Bar station, which gave our little warriors a creative climbing break to design customized jewelry to take home for themselves or gift to someone special. As the day progressed, more and more glimpses of shiny necklaces, bracelets, and earrings were seen, adding a little sparkle throughout the gym. We want to send our profound gratitude and appreciation to Candlelighters NYC, Cohen Children's Medical Center, and Kendra Scott's Kendra Cares Program for helping us create such a wonderful experience for our little warriors and Navy SEAL mentors. A special thank you goes to Allan Andranikian and his wonderful staff at Central Rock Gym Manhattan. Your amazing team took incredible care of everyone who attended these events, and we are very grateful for everything you do for us. Thank you also to the Joan T. Toepfer Trust and the Frank A. and Edith Orechio Foundation for their continued support of One Summit during the challenging last few years.
Are you interested in participating in an upcoming Climb for Courage? Apply on our website or email email@example.com for more information!