Hanging in the balance

So I almost died. All right, settle down.

Don’t everyone get upset. It’s easy to see that I would have been missed, but wouldn’t you like to hear how I almost fell perilously to my death?

It’s strange how it happened, and in fact, I barely remember it.

I think I was tricked into it. I received no bribe, that’s for sure. I was talked into climbing the goliath, which USF calls its rope course.

Why?

Probably for the same reason a four-year university is taking me seven.

I wasn’t forced with a gun to my head, because, according to the waiver on which I signed my life away — fortunately not in blood — it was on the Challenge of Choice during which I found myself 70 feet in the air, dangling from a wire meant to stop fighter jets on a battleship.

It was my choice. Mine alone. What’s called voluntary participation, with my life in the hands of nothing but the God-given balance I received 22 years ago.

“The purpose of the Ropes Course is for teams and groups to learn to work together on team work and communication and all that good stuff,” said Melissa Spratt, coordinator of the USF Ropes Course.

I still can’t figure out why I did it, but one thing I learned was that I had fun doing it. But my fun didn’t come easy. As I was harnessed very tightly around my waist, and as I hoisted myself up to the first level of the three-leveled behemoth located at Riverfront Park on Fletcher Ave. — after taking five minutes to catch my breath — I took on one of the many, many challenges situated all over the wooden structure that cost more than $50,000 to build.

The first challenge — a cargo net ladder — was easy, and I made it over with very little error. No slipping, no close calls.

“It’s a mental challenge,” said Charles Suggs, a journalism major and the person responsible for making sure I didn’t meet my end that afternoon. “I’ve been working here for almost a year and half and to me, it’s still a mental puzzle, because sometimes you have to reverse yourself and do it differently.”

My true mental challenge — and my crazy choice — came on the fourth obstacle I attempted: two suspended platforms about six feet apart, which the delirious challenger has to jump and land firmly, in order to keep from falling.

I watched my friend and fellow Oracle staffer Ryan Blackburn attempt and succeed with ease, though his legs are the length of the my upper torso. He just smiled and, like an orangutan, loped his way over to the base.

Standing on the first platform, I contemplated what could happen. One eye saw a future in which I made it gracefully, moving with the grace of an acrobat and the speed of a gymnast, and waiting for me at the base was desperate housewife Eva Longoria. The other eye saw one in which I jumped all but three feet, not clearing the space and falling 20 feet to my demise, only to wake up in the ER at UCH to a wide-hipped nurse named Shirley holding a catheter in her hand.

What actually happened was a combination of my contradictory views. I steadied myself and jumped, my eyes closed and my tongue hanging loose in the classic Michael Jordan pose — and made it to the platform with both feet only to be jerked back suddenly.

I felt my body fall backward into emptiness as I lost my balance. I fell at least three feet before being jerked to a stop. I hung in suspension between the two platforms thanks to the life-saving ropes attached to the wire directly above me.

I looked down to see the photographers holding back laughs, then checked to see if my pants were still clean and attempted to pull myself up and out of danger.

Once I reached the top, my hard work and sunburn were rewarded. On the highest pillar at the highest point of the Brobdignagian structure, the view became worth the ascending trek.

As I gripped the wire till my knuckles were the color of snow, I realized why I had done what I did. Why I had forced myself to risk my neck; why I became a praying man once I reached the ground after the 100-yard zip-line trip: the USF campus lay out in front of me in all its expansiveness. The Sun Dome, with its off-white top looking impressive in its old age; each roller coaster Busch Gardens has to offer. Everyone should see Temple Terrace like I did.

“You did good today,” said Spratt, who smiled when I asked her how I fared. “You met the Challenge of Choice. It was a good job.”

I finished the course and I had made it.

My choice of challenge.

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