At about ten minutes past one in the afternoon on Saturday I pulled myself into the air. 24 hours later the last person came down. in between at least one person was in the air at all times. The Oxford charity Rope-a-thon was a mammoth undertaking that saw an unbroken chain of 115 suspensions with 12 riggers, 24 models and nowhere near enough sleep (numbers are “ish” as switches and self-suspenders, including YT, were involved).
Originally scheduled to start at midday, trouble with public transport meant that the start of proceedings were delayed by a little over an hour. It was only once we began that the true scale of the challenge hit home. For the first couple of hours we were chronically short-handed, more in need of riggers than bunnies and, to make matters worse, we didn’t have much of a game plan. Some of the first handful of suspensions lasted only a few minutes. We quickly ended up having several riggers in hip-harnesses ready to get themselves off the ground at short notice and a couple of ill-advised suspension strategies (including dangling from a single foot… naming no names…) led to both quick change-overs and mutters cries of “just give me thirty seconds!” At times it was like an earth-bound kinkier version of an episode of Star Trek… where everyone was Scotty… and the dilithium crystals were my biceps.
I’m a little reluctant when it comes to suspensions; I describe myself as someone who does it for practice rather than play, certainly for the time-being. I’m happy to self-suspend and that was my focus for the first few hours, meaning that I quickly developed some rather tasty (though unfortunately not visible) bruises in all the places I’d normally want to put ropes. Ultimately, however, I did start rigging others and the experience of suspending a variety of different people, under pressure and against the clock (“I’ll be airborne in two minutes!”) was one hell of a challenge. But I’m happy to take at least some credit for managing to put together a series of suspensions that were tolerably comfortable, helped no doubt by the awesome, communicative not-at-all-masochistic people I had the pleasure of rigging with. As time went on, I slipped into a steady routine that focused on comfort, support and reproducibility, all important things when everyone in the room is fighting a physical and mental marathon.
Sometime after midnight reinforcements arrived from London in the shape of Jack the Whipper and FaerieWillow and I slipped into an overcrowded bedroom for some much-needed kip before rising a few hours later for the dawn patrol. I couldn’t make it all the way through to the end (I had to be in town for… reasons) but the 24 hour mark was reached with no major injuries, much stress and energy and over £800 raised for Oxford sexual abuse and rape crisis centre.
What did I gain from the experience? Well I learned that I can suspend, comfortably and (somewhat) reliably. The experience also reaffirmed how important communication is and showed me how even slight adjustments to fly lines can make the difference between “I can hold this for ten minutes” and “just leave me here indefinitely and I’ll have a nap.” But most of all I felt part of something crazy and difficult and special, and part of a group, a rope family working, playing, laughing, struggling and hurting together.