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Gym Class Rope Climb

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Gym Classes in fiction are torturous. There's dodgeball, running, rude gym teachers, and favoritism, but the worst of all these horrors is the rope climb. Sometimes this takes the form of a contest to see who can get to the top and ring a bell.

Rope climbing is the source of nightmares for nerds, kids with asthma, and people who are just not athletic. It's never portrayed in a positive light, and it will guarantee humiliation for nearly everyone involved. Expect rope burns, laughter, and crying.

Fast becoming a Dead Horse Trope, as many schools don't require a rope climb anymore (mainly due to parents taking legal action if something goes wrong).

Similar to the Flagpole Challenge, which typically requires more thought and less humiliation.


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  • Robin: Tim has to do a rope climb in gym class, so he fakes a lot of difficulty in order to help maintain his identity separate from Robin.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Digimon: A Seraphic Tale, Hokuto has a meltdown during such an event, because it reminds him of his father being executed.

  • In the Chuck Norris vehicle, Sidekicks, this is a cause for some of the angst and ridicule that the protagonist suffers through.
  • Mentioned in Wayne's World:
    Garth, on Cassandra: She makes me feel kinda funny; like when we used to climb the rope in gym class.
  • I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry mentions this trope:
    Chuck: When we climbed the rope in gym class, I would pretend it was a guy.
  • In Massacre at Central High, the Gang of Bullies shove Oscar onto the rope, threaten him with a knife, and then kick him when he falls as part of their Gym Class Hell. Once the bullies are gone, the other kids become more encouraging of Oscar's climbing, causing him to develop a swollen ego.

  • The Famous Five: the Five regularly climb ropes on their adventures. In the first book, Dick is glad he is so good at gym at school when he slides down a rope.
  • In The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School by Kim Newman, the rope climb is a trope-standard pit of horrors, but the protagonist avoids the worst of it by judicious use of her floating-in-the-air superpower.
  • In Witch Week, Nan is continuously humiliated by her inability to climb the rope. Once, she tries climbing with her eyes closed so she can concentrate without seeing the laughing faces of her classmates, and seems to have gotten high. But when she opens her eyes, she realizes that for all her effort she's still on the bottom knot.
  • In The Neverending Story, this was among the many situations in which Bastian was humiliated in school. When he's transported to Fantasia where his wishes are fulfilled and becames physically perfect, he recalls it with amusement.
  • In Anastasia Has the Answers, Anastasia is frustrated because she's the only girl in her class who can't climb the rope in gym, so she practices at home on a rope she hangs from the ceiling. At the same time, her English teacher is having her memorize a poem that begins with "O world! I cannot hold thee close enough!", insisting that she flings her arms out when she says the line. When she is finally able to climb the rope at the climax of the book, she's so happy that she screams, "O world! I cannot hold thee close enough!", flings her arms out — and falls.
  • A rare positive example is used in the first book of the Alfie the Werewolf series to show how becoming a werewolf has changed Alfie for the better. First he had great trouble climbing the rope, but after becoming a werewolf, he is suddenly the best rope climber in his class.
  • In Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, hellish gym teacher Coach Spline forces everyone to climb ropes. Most of the kids other than Leonard actually like it, which is used to portray them as unintelligent jerks.

    Live Action Television 
  • In 3rd Rock from the Sun, Tommy refuses to climb rope in gym class, asking "What's at the top?" Dick asks the same thing when he later talks to the gym teacher, and doesn't understand why anyone should climb the rope when there is nothing at the top.
  • Still Standing: Brian had to climb a rope against a wall or get his gym credit in square dancing.
  • Techno Games (a spinoff of Robot Wars which featured Olympic style events rather than fights) had a "natural rope climb" event which was basically for robots built to do this.
  • In the Complete Savages episode "Tutoring", Sam fails P.E. because he can't climb the rope.
  • On Seinfeld, George and Jerry are said to have first met in gym class during this activity.
  • Family Matters gave this its usual preposterous spin: Gangly 97-pound-weakling Urkel has to race a much more athletic rival in the rope-climb. Urkel uses a jet-pack to get up the rope. The gym coach seems okay with this. Urkel then flies away and lands in Step by Step. It doesn't make sense in context.
  • In an episode of Frasier where he's dating a gym teacher, he visits the school and sees her exhorting an unfit girl to climb a rope, and immediately has a horrible flashback to his own schooldays.
  • In Grange Hill, Miss Peterson puts the girls through a gruelling obstacle course, and Sally Forsyth collapses during a rope climb, and falls to the floor. It turns out she has a weak heart.
  • The Smallville episode "X-Ray" featured this. As a Kryptonian, Clark Kent climbs the rope easily, but then his X-Ray Vision activates for the first time, and seeing people's skeletons scares him so he loses his grip and falls.
  • Even Stevens: The Musical Episode "Influenza" features Coach Tugnut include the rope as the penultimate portion of his 6th period gym class. The final portion: Surviving 15 seconds with a gorilla in the Cage of Doom.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In one Phoebe and Her Unicorn strip, Phoebe says that sometimes P.E. is fun, like jumping rope, and other times it's awful, like climbing a rope.
    Marigold: You have a complicated relationship with rope.
    Phoebe: This is what P.E. has done to me.

    Web Animation 
  • The Homestar Runner cartoon "A Folky Tale" opens with Coach Z trying to get Strong Sad to do this. Note that Coach Z and Strong Sad are in the middle of a grassy field, and the rope simply extends into the air offscreen, which is immediately lampshaded.
    Strong Sad: Look, I'm willing to ignore that "oom-pah down my pants" comment, but I'm more concerned with what that rope is attached to.
    Coach Z: Never you mind! Just get to climbin'.
    • An Easter Egg reveals the rope is being held up by Homsar, who is inexplicably hovering in midair and holding the rope in his mouth.

  • Referenced in The Order of the Stick: When Elan is trying to climb the airship's rigging, his bard song to inspire himself is "Prove, prove, prove, prove my 7th grade gym teacher wrong!"

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • In the Brace Face episode "worst first date ever, period", when Sharon walks into gym class, some of the kids are seen in the background, climbing ropes.
  • In the CatDog episode "Back to School", Cat is forced to do this during gym class. Even worse, the gym coach, Cliff, has invited Cat's old high school crush and English teacher Sally Chenille to see him do it. Cat tries but then falls down and everyone, including Sally, calls him a loser. It is revealed via flashback that this was the reason Cat dropped out of school due to his inability to climb to the top of the rope and had run out of the school in humiliation. Determined to make it to the top, he gets to the top of the rope, swinging around like Tarzan and rings the bell, impressing Sally as Cat finally receives the high school diploma from Rancid.
  • In Code Lyoko, Ulrich climbs up a rock wall. Everything's just fine, but then his vertigo kicks in, and his vision gets all blurry and he falls off (from almost half way). A later episode has Jeremie climbing the rock wall, but ends up the same way only part way from the bottom.
  • In the Danger Mouse Halloween Episode "A Fear to Remember", the Queen of Weevils makes people face their worst nightmares. Penfold's turns out to be a rope, and his old PE teacher exhorting him to climb it. Inevitably, he has to actually do this in the climax.
  • In Daria, one of Jake Morgendorffer's multiple PTSD moments about his dominating macho father and his miserable childhood involves freezing with fear while halfway up a rope and suffering the consequent scorn of the PE coach and his father.
  • One episode of Doug has him climbing the rope. Rare for this trope, he actually does so without being threatened by a PE teacher (He's training for a fitness competition.)! He even makes it to the top...only to slide back down and spend the rest of the episode with his hands in bandages. Ouchies.
  • In the Ed, Edd n Eddy Valentine's Day special, the boys are seen climbing ropes in gym class. Eddy gets a serious case of rope burn, Edd climbs the rope using a mechanical apparatus, and Ed... puts on a paper-bag monkey mask and tries to swing around like Tarzan.
  • The Loud House:
    • In "Predict Ability", Lincoln tries to get out of having to climb a rope by asking to go see the nurse, apparently having done so many times before, since the Gym Teacher immediately knew what Lincoln was going to say. As the theme of the episode is Lincoln trying to break his habits as part of being seen as predictable, the next day he volunteers first for the rope climb and actually makes it to the top to the cheer of his classmates.
    • In "Sister Act", Lola has her far more athletic twin Lana do a Twin Switch to avoid doing the rope climb herself.
  • One episode of Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja centered around Randy, Howard, and Julian's search for the legendary "golden doctor's note" so they could escape this. In the end, the doctor's note goes to Julian, and Howard reveals that, no, he is able to climb the rope, he just doesn't want to.
  • In the Pepper Ann episode "The One With Mr. Reason" P.A is forced to climb one in gym class that seems to be reaching up to the sky.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one episode, the students at Springfield Elementary stage an uprising after being trapped in the school by a blizzard. One of the things they do to Principal Skinner is tie him in a sack and force him to do this.
    Skinner: I told you, no one can climb a rope, it's physically impossible!
    • In "Thursdays with Abie," the scheduled gym activity was rope climbing but the ropes had disappeared, so Coach Krupt made Milhouse mime climbing the ropes.
    • In "The President Wore Pearls", Milhouse is close to finally reaching the top of the rope. However, the rope gets cut due to the school's budget cuts right then and there.
    • In "Little Orphan Millie", Bart complains about gym class, saying he'll never actually be climbing ropes in real life. Becomes a Brick Joke when the gym teacher is validated as Bart rushes to get into Milhouse's uncle's hot air balloon, climbing a rope to do so. Bart yells that gym class still sucks.
  • Peter Parker shows up Flash Thompson in an episode of The Spectacular Spider-Man by beating him at rope climbing in gym. At least, he was going to, until the coach sent him to the showers because he smelt like a garbage dump after having fought Shocker in one the previous night.