GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A 50 foot tall training tower at a Gulfport fire station helped high school students overcome their fears. Firefighters taught the students to rappel off that structure Wednesday. For many of the teens, that meant facing their fears and calming their nerves.
"Tighten up the rope some!" shouted Zylah Graves, as she gingerly prepared to descend 50 feet to the ground, tethered by a rope.
She and her fellow seniors from the Gulfport High Academic Institutes got a crash course in rescue rappelling.
"I am scared of heights. Why did I do this?" she said aloud, just a few feet down the wall.
She wasn't alone in asking the question or challenging those fears.
"He told us it's better to conquer your fears than not do it at all. So, I went by that and just closed my eyes and went down the wall," said Graves.
"It was scary," she admitted, "I was fixin' to cry."
Cassie Smith is also afraid of heights. But you couldn't tell it by the way she smoothly walked down the side of that tower.
"It was actually a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. Especially for facing your fears. I had to talk to myself last night. It took me a long time. But I decided that facing my fears would be better than living in fear of them," said a proud Smith, just after she touched both feet on solid ground again.
"There you go! Now, start walking down with the rope," directed a firefighter, as a student first practiced on the steel staircase before heading to the top of the tower.
"It's a challenge I could never recreate in the classroom. The students have to overcome their fears, they have to solve a problem with a little bit of assistance. They have to trust in their team to help them accomplish the task," said Gulfport High teacher Jack Cordray.
"It was scary!" admitted one young lady, after touching down.
"Getting over the top part, just to get over the other side of the wall was the toughest part," she said.
Along with the physical challenge of the rappelling, students also go through a range of emotions, from sheer terror at the top of the rail, to pure joy when their feet touch the ground.
The students are exploring different career paths. Besides Wednesday's firefighter training, they also recently spent the day with Gulfport police officers, learning about law enforcement.