In more ways than one, legendary climber, Tommy Caldwell’s life has forever been indelibly tied—both voluntarily and involuntarily—to the act of struggling.
And while to some degree, we’ve seen glimpses into his eight-year battle with the Dawn Wall, heard folkloric bits and pieces of his escape from Kyrgyzstani militants, and experienced the baffling realization that Tommy’s climbed some of the world’s hardest lines without an index finger—these anecdotal elements fail to capture the depth of his will to endure and overcome.
In the enrapturing words of his new memoir, The Push: A Climber’s Journey of Endurance, Risk, and Going Beyond Limits, Tommy tells us a raw and honest recounting of these, as well as many other monumental moments in his life as a climber, son, husband, and father. Only in this vantage point as a listener to his detailed and vivid narrative do we begin to formulate the enormity of his achievements—most of which he actualizes out of an almost superhuman motivation and dedication to surmount the impossible.
In the first few pages alone, we learn a compelling fact: that Tommy’s legacy of thriving beyond bounds actually began through his unlikely survival as a premature baby; where at just four and a half pounds he fought all odds simply to enter the world.
Life is all about risk and reward. Better to have struggled, to have tried than to not have seized an opportunity at all. Struggle is how I started and struggle is how I will probably finish.
Fate? Destiny? Call it what you will. But from that moment on it becomes clear to the reader that Tommy would follow—better yet, obsessively dig, meticulously carve, brutally train, and mentally will—his literal and symbolic path as one of the greatest climbers of all time.
Page after page of reading The Push, I found myself astonished by a few things:
For one, I was consistently taken aback by the eloquence and literary craft in Tommy’s writing (with the help of co-writer Kelly Cordes and other close friends) to share his remarkable stories. I found this book genuinely hard to put down. The Push concerns far more than rock climbing, and as a result, you certainly don’t have to be a climber to appreciate the virtues of Tommy’s compelling life experience.
Secondly, I deeply appreciated how boldly Tommy put himself out there with this book; critically and firmly divulging the ups and downs, personal relationships, and decisions in his life. From coping with having potentially killed a man, moving forward from a failing marriage, and investing eight years on a climb with high stakes for failure, Tommy opens us up to the whole internal journey. Few of us see this level of honest emotion and vulnerability these days; especially in the social media-driven era where everything in climbing is always #stoke, sending, and sunsets.
And lastly, wow! As a climber, I thoroughly relished in hearing the lesser known, captivating tales of Tommy’s life; like what it was like having Warren Harding in his living room as a kid, climbing The Diamond at age 12, road-tripping as a teenager with Chris Sharma, and the many unique experiences he shared alongside some of climbing’s greatest; including Dean Potter, Alex Honnold, Beth Rodden, Peter Croft, Hans Florine, and others. The Push is filled with so many enthralling gems of climbing history and nuggets of spirit beyond Tommy’s story alone, that even the greatest of climbing buffs will find something to gasp about.
I’d quite possibly call The Push my favorite climbing book of all time, except that Tommy Caldwell’s inspiring story of ambition, perseverance, and his striking love for exploring the unknown reaches far beyond just climbing.
I believe human relationships can and should follow the mind-set of adventure, defined not by climbing but by its greater meaning: embracing the unknown. In remaining open to others, you gain knowledge, and your perspective of life and the world expands.
I think I’d better stop here and let you—a climber or not—experience this inspiring literary adventure on your own.
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