No matter what I am doing, climbing is never far from my thoughts. I watch a movie about Billy Jean King and I relate to the struggles and ponder similarities in climbing. Even when I’m baking, I learn something that I bring into my climbing. Working in software creates ideas for how to blend the two. Even when I am not actively climbing, I’m coaching climbing, training for climbing, rehabilitating for climbing, giving presentations about climbing, building a gym for climbing, etc. I’m absorbed in this space! Therefore, never mistake my digressions as moving away from climbing. I hope climbing is a part of my life until I die.
Which leads me to some questions and thoughts I’d like to explore, openly, on my last few days of my 30 day blog challenge. The first question that comes to mind is where are all of the older climbers? I only know of a dozen who are still out there crushing and pushing their potential, reaching new heights in their career than ever before. I’m inspired by this.
I know of two old men (ha ha) who are still crushing 5.14. I don’t know of any women in that age range doing the same. I know some older women who can crush 5.13, and while that’s inspiring, it’s not quite the same.
I thought this was going to be the year I would come back and climb 5.14 again and potentially help close this “gap.” Competing in the World Cups gave me motivation and a clear measure of where I was with my ability relative to the girls I know who can crush 5.14 on the regular. Being measured against them makes me want to try harder. I love how their achievements bring me up and make me want to achieve more, too. But, we don’t share the same life challenges and securing this 5.14 didn’t happen this year.
I remember when I was competing at US Nationals one year and a youth competitor was standing nearby when I was applauded by her coach for being in the competition. She noted how hard it was for me to do this and finished with a mention of admiration. I graciously accepted the praise, appreciating that someone might understand the challenges I faced to be there and to train to compete against these kids. The youth piped up immediately (interrupting the conversation) saying “I work hard, too!” Both the coach and I smiled at her with a “there, there…of course you do” kind of acknowledgement.
Now, it’s not to say that this youth didn’t work hard. I believe she works incredibly hard but I also know a few things she has going for her that I do not. For instance, she is part of a youth team, which means she gets regular, consistent professional coaching and competition experience all year (or most of the year). I don’t have a full-time, consistent coach (I can’t afford it) and I don’t even get a qualifying event to make it to Nationals. My one and only competition against a line up of these youth, is Nationals.
Next, she’s young, which means she can take on the intense training and get minor injuries and push through more than I can. I have more risk when I take on that level of training and have to be smarter about my training to avoid injury or burn out. I also need more recovery time.
Finally, she was most likely still living off of her parents, whereas, I have to support myself. This part is the hardest for someone at that age to understand. I was working full-time, taking vacation time to be at the event. I had to squeeze in my training around the job responsibilities, sometimes climbing at the wee hours of the morning just to be sure I could fit it in. I also worked late into the night so there were many sacrifices that came with wanting to be at that event and do well. I also have relationships, bills, unexpected and adult things happening that I have to handle: Taxes, car repairs, insurance, medical expenses, etc.
She’s not atypical and I would claim this is the norm for most of these kids today. I’ve also seen these kids get shuttled to climbing destinations and belayed by their parents while I’m scrounging up climbing partners and balancing climbing goals with them (sometimes I wish I could go to Home Depot and hire a belayer). It’s a new generation out there with parents investing in their kids success and happiness in this sport. I started climbing when I was 21. There’s simply no way for me to get that time back to experience what these kids can today.
I know that I have many things going against me to even make it to a world cup. This is why when I’m up there on stage with these kids, I’m excited to be there! I know everyone is working hard to do their best, but the fact that I can hang in there and I know I can do better, makes me hungry for even more!
Which brings me back to one of my goals that remains unfulfilled: Do a test piece 5.14 in Europe, which requires me to be in 5.14 shape here in America, first, so I don’t epic on one. I don’t want to project things to death because I don’t like projecting, but I do like taking things down quickly. I want to be in that kind of shape when I set off to do this. I was very close to this shape this year, but partners and weather didn’t line up for me to try anything notable more than once or twice. I’m hopefully going to be luckier and more prepared next year.
Meanwhile, I find myself being compared to a 16, 20 or 30 something year old because that’s who is out there climbing. They are my resources for climbing partners and some of them are committed to training so we align well. for that. While that’s great and motivating on it’s own, It’s even more inspiring to be be compared to and able to climb with someone closer to my age, like Robyn Erbesfield whom I got to watch onsight 5.13. That is inspiring!
When I’m struggling to train, or facing these pesky tweaks, or losing focus on my objectives, it helps to have Robyn or someone like her in my thoughts to remind me that “Yes, I can!” Bobby Bensman and Lynn Hill remain high on the list, but you don’t hear too much about what they are doing these days. Roxanna Brock McDade and Elena Ovchinnikova can still throw down but I bet even fewer of you have heard of them and I never hear about them in the media. Then there are a few of my friends like Margarita Martinez who had a podcast done by training beta after she sent her first 5.13d at age 58. It would be great if I could get this goal and begin to bridge this gender gap. It would also be awesome to learn of those women out there already doing this so we can support one another on making more of an impact.
Watch for more on obsession and climbing, tomorrow.
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