Fourteen people climbing 4,000 feet. One step after another. Four hours and still hiking. Another step, another breath. Amidst the dizziness and the heat, I can barely make out the top of Table Rock. It seems as if we are only getting farther away. In front, three young cousins sprint ahead, laughing, skipping. Yet, here I am, at the end of the line, trudging up ever so slowly. With another step, my mind rewinds to the previous year.

I am looking at a test with red marks splattered across it: my first failing grade. I glance around and see others smiling as they tuck their papers away. I had studied. Studied hard. The bell rings and students begin to file out of the classroom. Should I go talk to the teacher? I can’t. I had never talked to a teacher about a failing grade. I was a good student, a smart kid.

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I clutch my paper as I step slowly toward the desk.

Another step. Sweat is beginning to drip. Take a drink. I squint and see our destination. I can still cover the whole rock with my thumb. I keep trudging.

I’m sitting in the car, refusing to come out. My mom is gently motioning from outside to open the door. I glance in the mirror above the windshield. My face is a swollen, blistered, oozing mess. I quickly shut my eyes and turn away. My team is already warming up, getting ready for the big championship game. One case of poison ivy, no matter how severe, doesn’t justify missing it. I take a deep breath, clench the door handle and step into the light.

Step, breathe, step. Almost there. Maybe another hour left.

I am on stage: a dance recital. The bright lights shine on us, highlighting our every move. The music flows and we flow with it. Suddenly we freeze. The next step? We turn to each other, panic rising in our chests. The next step?

No more steps to the top. Time to climb. I reach out and grip the rocks. My muscles contract as a stream of sweat trickles down my hairline.

I have had no tragic, heart-rending circumstance, no life-threatening obstacle to overcome. To the world, my obstacles may seem insignificant, yet to me they are mountains. Mountains, large and small, which I have conquered. Mountains stand in the background of where I have been. Mountains remind me where I am going.

I clutch the rocks and pull myself to the top. I catch my breath and gaze across the valley. The clouds are almost at my reach and I can see the world.

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