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Workshop instructor pushing a pole of metal rebar into camper's throat as an empowerment activity

This is a video of some of us bending metal rebar with our throats at camp. It’s not easy, but it is doable. It’s not magic. I think it’s physics. The fact that the bar is long and thin, allows for two forces on each side to come together and cause a buckling effect. Once it starts to bend, it actually goes like butter. I’m not all that strong, (or all that courageous most of the time), but I can bend rebar on my throat, and I can help other people do it. I think the reason I can do it is because I’ve done it a lot, I know just what it feels like, and I’m not afraid of it.

At camp bending rebar on your throat is part of a week long workshop we do called “Face your fear, find your power”, led by the wonderful Nancy Chernoff. In addition to bending rebar, the teens who take her workshop also walk on fire, and I would imagine for some the most difficult thing they do is to get very real and share who they are, including the limiting thoughts they believe about themselves. It’s an intense and a great week

Let me tell you a story. I started teen camp about fifteen years ago. We liked to offer “edgy” unique activities at camp. During about our third year of camp, a teenager came from the Netherlands. Her parents contacted me and told me they lead empowerment workshops in the Netherlands which involve firewalking. They asked if I would like them to come and lead firewalking for the entire camp one night. I remember they offered to do it for free, and that worked well with my budget. It was even cheaper than my renting a video from BlockBuster. I knew nothing about firewalking and had never even seen it done. I figured there must be a trick to it, and told them they could come to camp, we could talk, and if it felt o.k. to me, we would go for it. I did some research on them and they had great reviews on firewalkers.com, (only kidding).

So, they came to camp, we had dinner together, they told me everyone would be safe, and for some reason I trusted them. Maybe it was because I knew their daughter would be doing it too. The whole camp gathered together. We made a huge fire, and the facilitator helped us get our energy up. One thing he did was to take a cedar arrow, with a real metal tip, put that metal tip on his throat, had his wife hold a board with the other end of the arrow against it, and he pushed forward with his throat and broke the arrow. It was freaky, and scary to watch. Then he asked for a volunteer, and I quickly recognized he was not kidding. I immediately knew I had to volunteer, because I figured it would be better if I died rather than one of our campers or counselors, (you know, the whole Workers Comp thing). So, I stepped up, put the metal pointed arrow on my throat and was pretty confident the arrow was going to go right through my throat and I would die. I had this vision of me laying on the ground, with blood pouring out of me, and a few hundred teenagers standing around me going “Whoa dude, look what happened to the Director”. For some reason I followed this man’s direction, took a strong step forward, and the arrow snapped like a toothpick. It was one of the most decisive actions I’ve ever taken. It was exhilarating. I was so excited that I felt like I could do anything, and a few hours later, when it came time to walk on fire, I was still flying so high, I walked right across those coals, and probably could have slept on them.

That was thirteen years ago, and since then I would guess over 1,000 people have walked on coals at camp, and many have broken arrows and bent rebar. We did it to push through some of our self-limiting beliefs, and recognize that we can do things we never dreamed of. We used to have everyone at camp who wanted to walk on fire, do it. Nowadays we find it works best to limit it to the 30 or 40 campers who spend the week with Nancy.

I should tell you that about half the campers who try to bend the rebar don’t succeed. It’s always very emotional, and some of us come away disappointed when it doesn’t bend. The truth is that it hurts the throat, and it is hard to push through that discomfort and really go for it. The interesting thing is that from my experience it hurts as much and maybe a little more, when you kind of go half way, and stop. Another thing I’ve learned is that when doing it with a partner you have to be careful to not bowl your partner over, but you need to meet their force halfway. It’s a real dance. And one last thing, maybe the soft spot on our throat is harder than we think.

We hope you enjoy the video below!

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