DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Tough problem-solving camp builds champs

NOT the set of "Survivor":
Ben Kovalcik (not Colby, but probably just as nice), crosses his arms in front of his chest, and falls into the arms of his spotters.
"Which hole? Which one?" someone yells as they lift Kovalcik horizontally.
"This one!" someone says, pointing to an irritatingly small opening in a rope "spider web" strung between two trees.
"Time!" Jerry Chen yells. Two minutes. Two minutes to get the last two people through the web, or we're all hypothetically dead.
Spotters on one side guide Ben's feet through. Spotters on the other receive him. His stomach nearly grazes the thin rope.
"Turn him!" We painfully realize we should have left a bigger hole, a lighter person (like Ilka Nazario, not BEN -- what were we thinking?), and more time for the final teammates, but he makes it through. Guy Beverly is left. We look at the web. Only openings not used before are available: a very small triangle and a plate-sized hole. Fuhgeddaboutit.
No survivors at the CHAMPS course this round.
Other challenge: It's OK. Earlier we crossed cables that spanned eight to 30 feet with nothing to hold but hands and ideas and walked in a train of 12 with our eyes closed and one "sighted" leader without mishap.
Later, we'll have a chance to succeed as trapeze artists.
Forum Health's CHAMPS -- CHallenge And Mutual Problem Solving -- course is buried in the woods off Belmont and Liberty avenues. It includes 21 stations, some earthbound like our cables and an enormous obstacle course wall, and others in the trees, like a tight rope and the "plank."
"Its purpose is to build trust and communication, team building and self-esteem," explained Bonnie Hennon, CHAMPS coordinator, and facilitator the day I joined Forum Health Tod Children's Hospital's pediatric residents on the course.
CHAMPS started in 1989 as a way of helping youth and adolescents with mental health or drug recovery. Its potential for benefiting others, however, was immediately realized. Said Hennon, "We now put about 6,000 people a year through the course."
Corporations like General Motors, high school teams, churches, even groups of doctors (like my teammates), are among CHAMPS clientele.
"People keep coming back. The course teaches the actions of one individual affect the entire team," Hennon said. "We do a lot of processing after each activity to see what's been discovered."
Exercises: The sessions are about five hours long, and include several tasks and discussions.
"The exercises make us realize we can accomplish our goals if we just push ourselves forward and overcome our fears," said participant Ghazak Quraishi.
Mary Jo Gocala, at her second CHAMPS course, said, "When you are in a residency, you really need to work together. You spend all your time with your fellow resident physicians, even more than your own family, and teamwork is a necessity."
Zenovia Kondolios, also there for a second year and who cracked that she was there "under duress," pointed out that CHAMPS provides a safe environment in which to discover co-workers' strengths and weaknesses.
"You learn to ask for help if you need it," said Melanie Semelka.
Tough test: The most challenging part of the course came in the afternoon. Tied to a safety harness and rope, we climbed a telephone pole to a plank suspended over the ground.
Mukta Sharma was first to stand at the end of the plank and consider jumping across eight feet of open air to the suspended trapeze swing.
"Don't look down!" Semelka reminded Sharma as others cheered.
Sharma missed, trusting to be put safely on the ground. Kimberley Slusser was the first to leap without hesitation ... and inspired me to do the same.
Look out, Tina and Colby ...

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