College Essay: Eliza Behrke

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By Eliza Behrke, Staff Writer

When I was younger, my fantasies could have easily been elaborate dreams when I pictured myself as an astronaut. I had always found the stars and the planets fascinating—the way they made everything else seem so insignificant. I’d convinced myself that I was destined to become an astronaut, so much so that it felt like a reality. 

At summer camp, a seemingly mountainous climbing wall towered above my three-foot-four stature. I was five years old and wanted to climb and reach new heights.

Fastened in the harness, I was an astronaut preparing for launch. I counted down in my head, anticipation growing exponentially. I took off, my rocket ship launching. One step. Another. Sweating more than usual, I felt feverish. By now, I was barely 10 feet from the wood chips I now longed to feel crunch beneath my sneakers. The top seemed unreachable. My legs felt unbearably heavy, weights pulling me to the ground. I was crashing down to earth, weighed down by an incredible pressure.

There was no crash, no epic fall from the heavens above. I was being pulled down gently by my counselor. Because I told her to. Because, as it turned out, I was terrified of heights.  

As I descended in defeat, I realized my dream of becoming an astronaut was unattainable. How could I traverse throughout the cosmos if I couldn’t even get a foot off the ground without hyperventilating?

While adults always tell children that they can be anything they choose to be, I knew then that this simply wasn’t true. The capabilities of the human brain are tremendous, but not supernatural. Despite many attempts to expose myself to the heights that shook me to my core, I was never able to shake my primal instinct of fear.

I returned to camp every summer, each time attempting to climb harder sections of the wall in defiance of the anxiety that ate away at me. Year by year, I slowly tackled each section of the rock wall until only the Bubble was left. The foremost half slanted outward, presenting a significant challenge to the climber, while the other half curved inward, with vast amounts of bare wood between footholds. Above it was a victory bell. Around camp, the Bubble was regarded as an object of almost mythical status.

I stood, now 13, in front of the wall of wooden planks smattered with artificially colored, synthetically produced rocks I’d come to know as a rival and a friend. It no longer dwarfed me by its monumental height. It felt more real now, more tangible. 

As I ascended, each miniscule movement was a struggle. One step. Another. My heart pounding in my ears sounded like the eerie roar of a tornado. Four more steps. 

As I scaled the Bubble, higher and higher, my terror increased with my growing height above the ground. But it was that very terror that had motivated me to challenge myself. I was so close to the top. Two more steps. One. The sound of a bell ringing was a lilting melody to my ears. I had made it. 

No matter how many times I climbed that rock wall, I was still equally terrified. And, although I had neither conquered my fear nor pursued my aspiration of becoming an astronaut, I had reached the top of the rock wall time and time again by using my fear as a weapon instead of a weight. And, somehow, that small victory was enough.

Featured Photo: Provided By Eliza Behrke