Eating an elephant…one bite at a time

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” — Joseph Campbell

Vision

My long term vision, created back in 1998.

Adventure, Beauty, Family, Rock Climbing…

These are some of the things I envisioned I would create for myself for the long term back in the late 90’s and they still hold true and dear to my heart. I could not have envisioned the way these things were to unfold, let alone how they will continue to evolve. It’s most likely because these things simply happen as I go through life–I don’t have to seek them out. These basics are simply a part of who I am, though there must be a food image in there somewhere…an image of a pie or cookie or meal because I definitely have a thing about cooking and baking, too, and that image is clearly missing. 🙂 It’s helpful to reflect on a vision and refer back to it as a means of course correcting in life or taking the time to alter the essence of the vision based on new intentions.

When I found this photo, it reminded me of all of the things I thought were important to me back then. I was struck by how these ideas haven’t really changed. Does that mean that I have not evolved? Is my vision too ethereal? I mean, what does it mean that I’m still working to achieve these things in my life?

After some reflection, it occurred to me that the vision is achieved in layers, as a progression.  It’s not that I haven’t achieved it or won’t achieve it, it’s that I’ve been fulfilling it little by little over time.

Adventures:

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Stranded, but thankful to be able to plug in. 🙂

I have had plenty of adventures. Adventures like the ones where you actually go somewhere and have an adventure and the ones where an adventure finds you even when you’d really rather not engage in one at that moment. I’ve been to Australia, Africa, Scandinavia, China, Japan, Vietnam, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, Europe. I’ve traveled solo and with others, for business and leisure.

I’ve been stranded in a van with a frozen battery during  a snowstorm; stranded at the top of a pass as the alternator died just before cresting the summit in the dead of winter; I’ve had rowdy locals careening and kicking up rocks at the van simply because I was parked in a “locals only” spot (but I didn’t know that); I’ve had my BF “captured” by African rangers trying to extort money from him; I’ve summited Kilimanjaro; I’ve had a corrupt cab driver drop me at the “pyramids” instead of the actual Pyramids; I moved to an unknown country with no previous international experience to learn a new culture; I was dropped off in the middle of London in the middle of the night (on a transfer from Stanstead to Heathrow via a nightcap at a friend’s while they were out of town), kicked out of a cab for not having cash for payment and left to find my way (pre-technology at your fingertips); I moved to Seattle with 3 boxes of belongings, no money, no housing, no car, no job, simply 1 friend I knew there; I quit my corporate full-time job to live in a van and travel the world to rock climb full-time; the list goes on….

Beauty:

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A carpenter’s work just outside his shop, Arusha, Tanzania 2014

Finding the beauty in life has been awesome. Everywhere I turn, I choose to see the beauty.  There’s the beauty I see in my friends, near and far–they radiate something beautiful and I love it! Even during my travels and through the many adventures, I have seen the world and experienced different people. I have seen the beauty of nature, of cultures, of hospitality, and even in Africa with my heart breaking over the children in the Masai villages and in the orphanages, there is beauty in their spirit and in their souls. The pride, skill, and joy that comes when someone is doing what they love, is priceless and infectious. Similarly, when people find happiness even in dire or distressed situations, it’s simply beautiful.

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Hanging out with orphans in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo by Luke Allen Humphrey

Family:

Everywhere I go, I create family. img_1149

It was around 1999 when I was taking some leadership classes, and after I created that vision poster. These leadership classes had me do a lot of introspection. It turns out, leadership is about the qualities within. I was still  unraveling the trauma, displacement, abandonment, etc. from my youth that I had not looked inward to understand who I was and what I stood for. I was learning that these qualities would be the key to good leadership going forward and I was forced to look at myself, my past, and potential future.  I discovered that I did not have the tools developed at the time to be a good leader. And, through all of this discovery, some of it painful, I found family.

I like people. I genuinely enjoy learning about others’ history, spending time with others and I enjoy creating community wherever I go. Sometimes I’m surprised by those that connect with me and there definitely was a time when I was looking to fill the “family” void. Some people served as surrogates for this but I was aware that they were not mine to keep. I looked forward to the day when I could claim my own, but as we learned in the last post, this did not pan out.

I have since come to reconcile the family that I do have, the biological one, and make the most of what I can there. Meanwhile, I embrace the people who show up in this capacity without me looking for it. I have a deep appreciation for these people because they choose to care about me and that means more to me than genetics.

Rock Climbing:

The only steadfast thing in my life since I started climbing in 1992 has been rock climbing.

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Me nearing the top of Lost Horizons, on the send, 2014. Photo thanks to Luke Allen Humphrey

I don’t climb for the glory. I climb for the challenge, the experience of the outdoors and for the pure joy of it. This completely unessential thing I do is what fuels me to take on everything else in my life. It has been my sanity, while in University, shortly after being introduced to the sport. Countless hours were spent at that little cliff, by myself, with friends and simply to make the most of what I had.

Out west, the walls got bigger, the climbs scarier, but my love for it never changed. I never cared to be in the spotlight until I found myself there by dating someone who, himself, was in the spotlight. I didn’t even know who he was when we met and I could have cared less, except that he cut me off on my climb and I recognized his talent for climbing by watching him climb. I’ve since learned how to deal with publicity but I’m no good at seeking it out.

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Vail World Cup 2010, photo by Bruce Mitchell

I started competing as a way to spend more time with my at the time bf who was route setting for comps. I was forced to compete in the Open category thanks to his ex-gf, who thought I was sandbagging. This turned out to be a gift. I found myself able to hold my own in the Open category (a category I never saw myself being qualified to enter into) and developed a passion for this aspect of the sport. I learned a lot from each competition and grew to appreciate them as a separate sport from outdoor climbing.

The girls I was competing against were easily 10 years or more younger than I was. I had one shot to make the US National team, while some had two (competing in both Youth and Adult). There were and still are no Regionals/Divisionals or local qualifiers to make it to Adult Nationals, unlike the Youth scene, which means that I had very little competition experience compared to them. Yet, I did make the US National Team and represented in the World Cups for both Bouldering and Sport. I am proud of this accomplishment because of what I had to learn and how I achieved all of it while working a full-time corporate job (at Microsoft), training in my spare time.

I know these youth work really hard, too. And, when you are young, you cannot appreciate the challenge this is for someone like myself, even without a family and kids to take care of. I had no coaching, no team to train with, and no idea of strategy. In fact, my first sport competition was Nationals.  I hired a coach to learn about competitions and how to train for competition climbing. I tried to compete whenever possible to push myself to that edge, this edge you can only get in competitions. It was rough. I did not do well in some but I learned a lot about myself and the hunger to improve and try again kept growing.

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Me, competing in a Sport World Cup in 2011 with Lynn Hill belaying and Robyn Erbesfield looking on.

After my first sport Nationals, I injured my shoulder outdoor climbing and would need shoulder surgery before the year was out. This was disheartening because I qualified to compete in the World Cup. The US was hosting one for the first time in over 20 years. I, unfortunately, fell early on in one of the routes due to my shoulder issue but I learned a lot AND had the privilege to have this photo as a memorabilia from that time.

(For those that don’t know why this photo has so much meaning, it’s because a) I’m competing in a world cup for sport climbing and b) Lynn Hill is a living climbing legend and former world cup winner and she is belaying me while c) another incredibly accomplished and former multi-world cup winner is onlooking.)

Despite that accomplishment and this incredible photo, I wanted to experience 1 world cup in Europe. Those were the days when hardly any American was competing abroad so it was a bigger deal to be signed up. I picked my one and only: Spain–the last world cup of the season. Unfortunately, my shoulder was unbearable and needed attention. I had to bail on the comp and have the surgery. The following year I tried Sport Nationals again, it was really only 3 months after surgery, but I was not ready and didn’t qualify for the US Team. I haven’t tried since because I’ve had too many other life things that have gotten in the way…until this year.

I am relatively uninjured at the moment (you know those tweaks and things that simply never really go away, they are still there but at least I can climb!). I had been toying with the idea since the USAC season for this year kicked off and I have officially made up my mind. I’m going to do it. I’m going to compete at US Nationals this year.

The field will be deep not just because of the Olympics in several years, but because we are seeing strong youth like we have never seen in climbing before. I’m up against the likes of Margo Hayes, Ashima Shiraishi, Delaney Miller, and all of the usual suspects who, unlike me, come from the youth scene for competition and have been competing from a very young age and for a very long time. I’m not going to let that get to me because it’s not me against them. Afterall, I’m  about 15-20 (in Ashima’s case, almost 30) years older than these girls! Don’t hand me the cane, yet! I’m still climbing 5.14, and able to do 5.13 quickly. I simply hope to be competitive and give it my best, afterall, the athlete in me will never die!

So long as I don’t miss the deadline to register for the competition, whatever happens that day, happens. It will be fun, it will be an experience and I will learn a lot. And, I will be bringing all of that back to you, my readers, my climbing partners and my friends.

In the end, life is a progression toward a vision. I have given up the idea that life should look a certain way. Everywhere I go and everything I do is a “create my own ending.” I mean, my story can go here or there and it’s exciting, adventurous, and a little unkown.  If you stay tuned in, you will hear more about the nitty gritty as I prepare to take on big challenges like: buying a real home (maybe a vacation one, too!), buying a real car (saying farewell to the van), sustaining a real income without going back to corporate America, training for US Nationals for sport climbing and preparing myself for my season of climbing outside.

Wish me luck!

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About Audrey Sniezek

Audrey Sniezek is a rock climber, climbing coach, computer software/technology enthusiast and occasional baker/cook and wine connoisseur.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Musings, Training, Writings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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