Out in the Open

Rock climbing teaches you to always protect your partner

How rock climbing taught Ellen Nordberg about support and love.
Ellen Nordberg climbing in Utah

Ellen Nordberg started rock climbing in high school. She never imagined how much it would help her deal with the unexpected challenges of her pregnancy 20 years later. 

After a break from rock climbing, Ellen picked it up again in her 30s. She met Paul in a safety class. 

Ellen could tell right away that Paul valued being safe out on the rock. She was developing a crush on him, and one day when they were out climbing together, she wanted to impress him. 

She decided to lead him up a rock face. Before she got very far though, something went wrong. Her foot slipped. 

"Because there's nothing below me to catch my fall at this point, I'm going to hit the ground," said Ellen. 

"And I feel right away that Paul has anticipated what's happening for me and he starts running backwards, which means that he's taking up all the slack in the rope, which is going to shorten my fall."

Ellen landed in a heap at Paul's feet with a broken ankle. She knew, though, that her injuries could have been much, much worse. 

"Sometimes on a leader fall, people break their backs, they break their necks. I was very grateful for his anticipation, his foresight, his concern.

"After that moment I felt like, this guy has my back, and that I could count on him."

Ellen had no idea just how important that trust would become in their relationship. The pair started dating, and before Ellen knew it, she was pregnant. It turned out to be identical twin boys. 

Not only that, the twins had a very serious disorder called twin to twin transfusion syndrome. During the pregnancy, both babies could have died. 

Paul made sure he was at every appointment Ellen had. He also tried to shield her from how serious the twins' condition was. Ellen realised what Paul was doing: he was protecting his partner, just like up on the rock face. 

"He felt like it was his job to keep us safe." 

The babies were born safely at 37 weeks. But then Ellen had complications and had to stay in the intensive care unit at the hospital for five days. Paul was running back and forth between the nursery and the ICU. 

"I didn't have enough awareness of everything that was happening around me, but I knew that he had it all covered."

Over the years, Ellen has realised how much rock climbing has taught her about dealing with life's challenges. She likens it to difficult conditions during a climb. 

"The wind has started picking up … you can see that there's some kind of electrical storm coming, you're running out of gear, your rope has caught, and you're just thinking, oh my god, what are we going to do, we're going to die up here.

"And you have to centre yourself and get calm and say, there's gonna be a solution, it's gonna come clear. There were many times when I relied on that feeling with Paul. Where you just think, we're gonna find a way through this. All of a sudden, a new way on the rocks is going to become clear."