Two women who had just met soon found themselves 25 feet off the ground, gripping each other as if their lives depended on it.
Their safety was in good hands, but the fear and excitement of walking a high wire was very real Thursday for Janet Penz, of Minneapolis, and Sheena Trumble, of Adelaide, Australia.
“Awesome, absolutely awesome,” said Trumble, general manager for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands for Liberty Lake-based Itron Inc. “My teammates will never believe I’ve done that.”
The two Itron managers were among dozens who tested their courage and trust on a new ropes course at Camp Lutherhaven on Lake Coeur d’Alene.
The company, which provides metering equipment and technology services for utilities, donated the $35,000 course to the camp operated by Lutherhaven Ministries. It includes 14 low and high rope elements, and it will be available to corporate groups, summer campers and others.
As part of a leadership and team-building exercise, Itron invited 100 of its managers from about 20 countries to take the ropes challenge this week. On the high elements Thursday, teams took turns on tasks like walking a beam suspended high between two trees, and climbing a tall pole, standing atop it and jumping off to grab a trapeze.
After they helped each other into safety harnesses, Penz and Trumble scaled a tree and found their balance on thin cables for the “High V” element. Facing each other and gripping hands, they edged along cables that grew farther apart and formed a V-shape.
The women leaned forward to support each other’s weight, locked eyes and moved farther out, cheered on by colleagues below. Eventually they could not hold on and fell forward. Four belayers on the ground eased the two back to Earth.
“I felt more fear climbing up there than I did once I was on the wire,” said Penz, the product line manager for gas end points. “Looking at the eyes was what I think kept it in check: focus, concentration, trust in your partner.”
This may look like sophisticated playtime for supervisors, but Trumble said the lessons she will take home will make a difference in her work.
“What it’s doing is enabling you to have the confidence of people around you, to have the trust of someone else, and to have the understanding that you have the opportunity to make a choice, the willingness to participate, and the success of feeling you participated,” she said.
Itron has 8,000 employees in 38 countries, with two-thirds of its workforce located outside the United States. Bringing together management teams is a rare opportunity, said Jared Serff, vice president of human resources. The gathering this week is intended to build high-performance teams, he said.
“What’s really cool about it is the experience of taking risk, challenging yourself and promoting teamwork,” Serff said.
The managers first meet in a classroom to focus on principles such as awareness, honesty, integrity and trust, said Deb Curless, the company’s head of organizational development. “They’re putting it into practice here on the ropes course,” she said.
No one, however, is forced to go through with any of the challenges.
On the Edge Productions of Durango, Colo., built the ropes course over the past week. Lutherhaven has had a ropes course for about 25 years, but nothing like the one now in place among the tall Douglas firs and larch at the entrance to Mica Bay, according to Bob Baker, executive director of Lutherhaven Ministries.
“This takes it to new heights,” he said, aware of the pun.
Camp participants in junior and senior high school as well as adults will benefit from the donation, Baker said. Lutherhaven hosted about 12,000 people last year.
“This will greatly contribute to the programming that we do,” he said.