SPRING MILLS, Pa. - There were gasps as Renee Kelley made a less-than-graceful exit off the high-wire, including one from Kelley herself.
Falling from 30 feet up and trusting a stranger to stop your fall with just a pulley and what looks like an awfully thin belaying rope definitely qualified as a scary moment, Kelley said later.
But after a few tense seconds, Kelley lay sprawled on the ground, laughing hysterically.
"I didn't want to regret not doing it later," she said.
The Centre County Youth Service Bureau, which runs the ropes course at its Zerby Gap Familyworks facility, assures participants the activity is safe. For the members of Tides, a local support program for grieving children and families, who braved the course Saturday, the challenge was a way to get their figurative heavy boots off the ground, at least for a moment.
Kelley was observing the fifth anniversary of her husband's death Friday. She said she had driven her children - Rylan, 6; Raeanne, 8; and Richelle, 12 - 90 minutes from their home in West Decatur to the course to try to distract them, at least for a while, from the sorrow of their recollections.
"I wasn't going to come, but I changed my mind because I figured it would be better than sitting around at home being sad," Kelley said.
Tides has been a big help in the grieving process, she said, whether through the bimonthly group meetings or special weekend events like the ropes course.
The course was an appropriate symbol for what grieving families are going through, Tides executive director Leslie Finton said.
"It's a figurative version of the challenges and obstacles they overcome every day," Finton said.
About 25 families are active in Tides, and volunteers such as Sandy Stewart work with them. The ropes course was an exception, she said, because it was mostly about fun and strengthening the bonds of trust between family members and different families.
The Kelleys joined Tides a year ago. "We should have joined much sooner," Kelley said. She originally did it for her children, but she quickly realized she was getting just as much out of it.
She said she had learned that "when you go through a death, you really need to open up. If you stuff it inside of you, you're only going to deal with it down the road."