Mansplaining in Climbing

Mansplaining: manˈsplān/ verb

1.) (of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.

Mansplaining, though not a new phenomena, is a relatively new word that illuminates one way sexism can subtly (or not so subtly) infiltrate our experiences and daily dialogues. It is most commonly referred to when someone (usually a man) will tell a woman something about a topic she is already well educated or competent in. The outdoors is just one of many arenas where this can be overwhelmingly present. This post does not pertain to all men; many men feel unchallenged in championing and respecting women as equals. Others find themselves responding with anger, critique, complaints and belittlement of the idea.

Climbing, while being an incredible built in, supportive community is still not immune to the societal pressures and Stone Age notions that exist today. With the increase of social media usage and online dialogue, women are overwhelmingly sharing instances of mansplaining or situations where men (and in some cases, even other women) are found attacking and discrediting their knowledge, competency, strength and ideas. I found my own personal experience and those of the women around me to reflect this in disturbing ways.

To illustrate an example of this, let’s talk about the Moonboard…

The Moonboard is a tool largely used in climbing for building strength and raw power. The wall rests at 40 degrees and is decorated with a very specific alignment of holds so that climbers and commercial gyms on an international scale can build the exact same wall and repeat boulder problems set by Moonboard app users.

In my own training sessions, I use the Moonboard in one of three ways for my outdoor climbing goals.

(1) Limit Bouldering: I pick a problem that I can maybe only do a single move on, and work it by trying to do individual moves or link multiple hard moves. Sometimes I finish the problems, most of the time I don’t. The focus is on strength and power.

(2) Execution: I consider this a type of mental training. I pick climbs that might take a session or two and work them with the goal of finishing them. I noticed that I had some anxiety when climbing outdoors and coming close on a project, so this allows me to practice handling myself on a climb when all of the moves are done. The focus is on breathing, relaxing and executing.

(3) Power Endurance: I pick climbs that are just plain fun and do them back to back with little to no rest. (3x3s, 4x4s or just climbing with very little rest.) In these sessions, I don’t care how I get up the wall, just that I develop a nice pump. The focus is on fitness and technique.

Why does this matter, you might ask? It absolutely doesn’t. The way I train is specific to myself, my climbing and my own personal outdoor goals within climbing. However, after beginning to share videos of Moonboard climbs via social media, I’d received dozens of private and public messages voicing disdain for the way I use the board. These comments were all from men. When I tried to explain how I used the board in a variety of ways for my own goals and did not care about the rules when using the board for different purposes, I was met with anger and constant correction.



It’s no secret that using heel hooks or toe hooks help take off considerable weight and strain from our muscles while we climb. That did no surprise me. What surprised me is that these men were so insulted by my approaches and techniques that they felt the need to tell me how I was wrong or didn’t understand how the wall worked. Cue as many eye rolls as I gave my sweet momma from ages 7 to 15 (that’s a helluva lot, folks.)

Don’t get me wrong, constructive criticism is good. But I wasn’t asking for feedback. Nor was I confused about how a toe hook worked. I post videos because I love talking about training and seeing what others are doing too. I found it interesting that only men chimed in with any sort of negativity or judgement. Why were these men moved to message me, and why did my actions hurt them so deeply that they felt I invalidated them and their climbing by doing something hard with a different approach?


I firmly believe this is an example of frail egos and mansplaining. In my mind, insecurity is the only reason someone would be motivated to explain how you are not strong enough and not doing it “right” by someone else’s standards. The Moonboard does have a set of established rules, but it is a tool like anything else that can be used in a variety of ways pertaining to the user’s needs. The real questions to ask are: why do others care so much (especially concerning indoor climbs,) why are these opinions pushed onto people who haven’t asked, and why are women so often the subjects of this rather than other men?

When I asked other women via a Flash Foxy online forum if they had also encountered moments like these in person or online, I received so many responses from women who each felt they had plenty of experiences to share. For a very small moment in time, I felt relieved that I was not alone in my experiences. This was immediately replaced with anger and sadness after realizing how many women had, have and continue to feel underestimated, belittled, bullied or continually have excuses made for their accomplishments because of their gender. There were stories of men making comments about the size of fingers being the only reason for climbing harder routes or boulders, or men assuming a man must be present in the group to plan and guide trips, having advice offered on their warm ups, assuming only the men were trying harder projects, even having to ask men to stop giving beta while climbing on the warm ups! It is exhausting to continually feel like you have to answer to a society that feels you are never competent, strong or good enough.

This needs to be discussed, and men who feel inclined to troll or belittle women need to understand this: You’re not going to get stronger by putting down the women around you.  You’re not climbing V12 because you opted not to use a toe hook and told the women around you that they couldn’t use it either. You are not achieving your climbing objectives by nitpicking the way other women around you train for their outdoor objectives.

And not that this should even be something I have to say, but I need to say it: Ladies, it’s okay to say no. It is reasonable and acceptable to disregard advice that isn’t necessary, helpful or contributing to your growth as a person or climber. You decide what this is. You decide what is helpful for you, what is insulting to you and what you do or don’t like, not someone else. I hope we can collectively be okay with saying “no” in these situations and not retreat when mansplainers attack us in person or online. I’ll  admit that I don’t always handle these situations with grace myself, but here is my last response to someone I felt was off base in offering an unnecessary comment about (*you guessed it*) the Moonboard:




My response was long, but I hope this illuminates how exhausting it is to have to constantly explain and defend yourself against some men who feel the need to comment in person or online about your climbing. Climbing is extremely esoteric and ambiguous; it seems absolutely silly that something so meaningless and abstract could be taken so seriously and even aggressively by men towards other women.

Take a second to think about yourself and the feedback you get in your climbing. Do you get private messages about how wrong you are while training for climbing? Do people at the gym congratulate you for doing your warm up? Are others visibly upset if you cruise their projects but *you’re a girl?* Do people look at a double digit problem in front of you and look to the men in the group and say “good luck boys!” without considering maybe only the girl is trying it? I think it’s important to think about our experiences and understand how vastly different those might be for men and women, and what we can do as a community and as individuals to challenge some of those notions.

And if none of this applies to you, man or woman, remember that it still happens to so many women. (I hate to say this, but nearly every single climbing experience I have is met with these sort of interactions.) Next time you’re about to “spray,” offer advice or make an assumption, just ask. Spend some time getting to know the person you’re talking to instead of immediately making assumptions about their ability, knowledge or goals.

Heel hooks ftw on The Practitioner V11 😉 


Science & Climbing

Today marks one week of working in a Neurosurgery & Behavior lab and often feeling pulled between completely opposing emotions: anxiety and calm; dread and excitement; doubtful and confident… It truly reminds me of the same whirlpool of emotions I experience through projecting a hard climb.

In the beginning, as you narrow down the list of potential projects, there is a feeling of giddiness as you imagine what past limitations you might be capable of breaking, or what new level you might be capable of achieving. The thought is all consuming. Being able to eventually try the climb is even more tantalizing; moves might feel easier than years past, or the entire climb might feel absolutely within reach.

Similarly in science, undertaking a new project or experiment is at first met with unbounded joy. There is no greater feeling than peering into a microscope looking at the world in a completely new way. Expecting to see one thing and finding another brings nothing but curiosity and excitement. Early experimentation allows for no goal other than to observe and take note of the incredibly complex systems operating around you. The experience is absolutely captivating.

But there is a harder side to both. Science and climbing require heart-breaking amounts of costly mistakes, repetition and failure. We train for our outside climbs. We study for our painstaking scientific procedures, and when things don’t end up the way we’d planned for it can feel demoralizing. When I fall at the last move of my climb, or screw up the 87th step in a 90 step procedure, I take it very, very personally. The ironic thing is that these mistakes, failures and moment of self doubt are so necessary for growing and improving for the future. To take them personally is to deny yourself the necessary growth to be the best you could be in either endeavor.

Both require an attitude that suggest you are up for any challenge and are happy regardless of the outcome; that there’s no where else you’d rather be than struggling with something beautiful and demanding. An idea, a climb, a procedure, a training exercise…I often take both for granted, but I hope this serves as a reminder for myself and for others to cultivate a real sense of gratitude for the chance to fail and flail with something you love so dearly.

Pimpsqueak V8/9

Spotlight: Meet Makaila Parks, 10 year old competitive climber!

I first learned about Makaila through Bethany, our last interviewee and creator of @BrownGirlsClimb. She mentioned getting to know a young crusher who lived in my home state (woop woop NC!) and was competing at the national level just a few years after starting climbing. Sure enough, after seeing some online videos of her competing, I was floored. Makaila seemed to climb so intuitively, so calmly and with a strength and body awareness well beyond her years. I knew she would be our next highlight, joined by her mother Ife, in the hopes of discussing how they came to love climbing, Makaila’s successes thus far, diversity in climbing & the competition world. Here’s the interview!

Meet Makaila!

Melise: Makaila — I saw a lot of your posts on Instagram and was so excited–you are an incredible climber! I would love to know how you got into climbing and how long you’ve been climbing and competing?

Makaila: Thank you for the compliment. I have only been climbing for (2) years, of which, I have been competing for one year. Prior to two years ago, I had no idea that rock climbing was an actual sport. My family have been members of the Raleigh-Wake, NC chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc since I was two years old. Jack & Jill is the oldest African American family organization in the US. Once a month our families meet to participate in educational, cultural, recreational, community service or leadership development activities. When I was about 5 years old, one of my Jack and Jill age group activities was a fun, recreational climb at the Triangle Rock Club in Morrisville, NC. That was the first time I had ever been inside of a rock climbing gym. As I got older, I began to climb EVERYTHING. I would constantly hang from all of the overhangs of the doorways in my house and outdoors I would climb the exterior of jungle gyms at playgrounds. My parents were always telling me to climb down from things.  Finally my mother couldn’t take it anymore and she remembered the Triangle Rock Club so she enrolled me in their Youth Introduction to Climb class called “First Ascents.”

I only did First Ascents classes for about 3 months before I had a strong desire to want to climb more than the once a week practices. I tried out for the Beginner Level of the Triangle Rock Club Youth Team and made the team. I moved up quickly over a few months and was invited to join the Advanced Youth Team right after my 9th birthday. Shortly after, I competed in my first local Youth Bouldering Competition in September 2016 and I came in 2nd place. I did several other local youth bouldering comps throughout NC and VA and in each one I always placed in the Top 3. In December 2016, I competed in the USAC Youth Bouldering Regional Competition where I came in 2nd place and I earned an invitation to the USAC Mid-South Youth Divisional Competition which took place in January of this year. The USAC Mid-South Youth Divisional is comprised of the top youth competitors from 6 states. I was proud to tie for 1st place in the Finals of the Youth Divisional competition which earned me an invitation to the 2017 Bouldering Youth National Championship in Salt Lake City, UT last month.

Triangle Rock Club Team Photo


Melise: That’s incredible! What are some of your favorite things about climbing?

Makaila: I love that every day there is a new problem to try to project. I love the sport is challenging, mentally and physically. Our coach has us journal every day at the end of practice to reflect on what went well and what we want to work on.

Melise: You recently finished at nationals! CONGRATULATIONS! How was it and what was your favorite part about nationals? 

Makaila: Thank you. Competing at the 2017 USAC Bouldering Youth Nationals was so much fun! I really enjoyed the problems that I climbed, they were so different than anything that I ever climbed. My favorite part were the climbs and I also loved meeting competitors from all over the country. I also got to meet my two rock climbing ‘she-ros’, Ashima Shiraishi and Meagan Martin. During my down time, my mom rented a car and we toured Salt Lake City. She took me to climb at The Front Climbing Club, which is an awesome climbing gym in Salt Lake City. We also took a scenic drive through Big Cottonwood Canyon, UT which was beautiful with so much snow. It was an overall great experience.


Melise: Do you have any advice for any other young ladies that might want to try out climbing?

Makaila: My advice would be to try it! Find the nearest climbing gym and challenge yourself on the climbs. I predict that they will love it even if they don’t join a team. Rock climbing challenges every part of your body especially your mind. It gives you strength from the inside out.

Melise: Ife — How did you two get involved in competitions? Was this mainly a choice prompted by Makaila or was this something that you suggested?  

Ife: Rock climbing was COMPLETELY driven by Makaila. She seemed to have an innate desire to climb. My husband and I noticed very early that she had a lot of upper body strength and that she was incredibly flexible. I had no idea how to funnel that strength and flexibility because she was so young. I initially thought that volleyball would be a great sport for her but I couldn’t find volleyball lessons for an 8 year old. I love that Triangle Rock Club offers developmental options for children as young as five. Climbing has proven to be a perfect fit for her. Makaila would climb every day at the gym if I allowed her. She walks around the house more on her hands, doing walking handstands, than her feet. We’re getting ready to install two hang boards in our garage for her so that she doesn’t pull down our house from her constant hanging from doorways. After Nationals she was invited to join the Elite Level of Team TRC and she practices with them for 2.5 hours a day, 3 days during the week. However she begs me to drop her off for practice an hour early and pick her up late so that she can free climb, in addition to usually getting some free climbing in on the weekends if she doesn’t have a competition. The TRC has become like a 2nd home for her.

Makaila finishing super strong in 2nd place!

Melise: Bethany mentioned that you said having the Lightner family on the team had been a blessing for you. Can you describe a little more about the role they’ve played for you both in your climbing experiences? Are families of the competition team all pretty close and supportive?

Ife: As Makaila mentioned, up until 2 years ago no one in our family had any idea that rock climbing was a sport. When she was asked to join the TRC Team, which consists of approximately 125 youth climbers ranging in age from 8-17, I noticed that she was one of only two Black girls on the entire team. However occasionally I would see an African American teenaged boy climbing in TRC and he always seemed to have a camera crew or photographer following him. I never thought much about it and assumed TRC was perhaps shooting a promotional video for their gym. One day when my husband got home from picking Makaila up from practice he told me that a Black woman came over to greet him at the gym and began to tell him she was happy to see another person of color on the TRC team. She told him that her son, Kai, has been a member of the TRC team for years and she shared with my husband some of his phenomenal accomplishments in the sport. She said that particular day Kai was at the gym with a camera crew shooting footage for one of his sponsors, I believe it was Adidas. Makaila and I Googled Kai Lightner and we both were amazed at how spectacular he is in the sport. Makaila and I met Connie and Kai Lightner shortly thereafter. They are both a great resource, wealth of knowledge and inspiration for us. Connie has met Makaila in the gym for a mini one on one coaching session and I can call her with any question or concern that I may have. She and Kai are absolute trailblazers and I am grateful to have access to them as we acclimate to the sport. All of the TRC families, coaches and rock climbing gym community as a whole are incredibly supportive.

Makaila with fellow teammate, Kai Lightner

Melise: Climbing is generally perceived as a pretty laid-back sport, do you think this is true at the team level also? 

Ife: I think climbing can be as laid-back or as competitive as you want it to be. I love that there are many climbers that pop into the gym to climb at their leisure yet they can be climbing next to someone who is training for a major competition. Climbing is definitely a sport that cultivates a symbiotic relationship amongst its climbers.

Melise: Why is diversity in climbing important to you and Makaila?

Ife: Diversity in climbing is very important because in my opinion, it is a critical thinking sport just as much as it is physical. It would be incredible to bring people together of various backgrounds with different experiences that can perhaps foster new ideas or perspectives into the sport. This is especially important to me on the youth level of climbing. My husband and I want our children and children of all races to experience and understand that the world is not homogeneous. I believe that through community outreach and exposure, the youth rock climbing community can definitely grow to become reflective of that. Today, a Japanese American young lady (Ashima Shiraishi) and an African American young man (Kai Lightner), are USA and World Champions in climbing. Now, perhaps more than ever, would be a great time to optimize reaching into untapped diverse communities to bring awareness to the sport! In Makaila’s short amount of time in USA Youth climbing, amongst hundreds of female competitors on a local, regional and national level, she has been the only Black girl at the competitions. In an effort to help create a strong, colorful youth climbing community Makaila has begun to share her love for the sport with her diverse network of peers in school and her through her longstanding memberships in national organizations like Girl Scouts USA and Jack & Jill of America. She also displays her affinity for climbing via social media on Instagram at MakailaRocks.

Makaila making it look easy! Follow along @MakailaRocks.

Melise: Makaila — What are some of your goals and dreams in climbing? What are some of your proudest moments so far?

Makaila: I would love to make it onto Team USA and to compete in the World Championship when I get older. I’m so excited that rock climbing will debut in the 2020 Olympics! Competing in rock climbing at the Olympics, at some point in my life, would be my ultimate dream. My proudest moment so far was my tie for 1st place in the Divisional Finals. I am most proud of that moment because it was a two day event. Day One was the preliminaries where I had to make it into the Top 10 in order to move on to Finals. I placed tenth on Day One and then tied for 1st the next day in the finals. That was an incredible achievement for me.

Melise: Where do you live? And where are the closest gyms or outdoor areas for you to climb/practice?

Makaila: I live in Holly Springs, NC. The closest gym is the one where my team practices, Triangle Rock Club in Morrisville, NC. It is about 15-20 miles from my home. Outdoors, the closest area would probably be in the NC mountains about (3) hours away. I haven’t ventured into climbing outdoors yet. I am hoping to perhaps sometime this summer.

Melise: Who are some of your climbing heroes?

Makaila: Ashima Shiraishi, Megan Martin, Alex Puccio and of course my teammate, Kai Lightner.

Melise: If you could travel to any place for climbing (or just a vacation) where would you go?

Makaila: Besides cIimbing, vacationing with my family is one of my most favorite things to do. I am in year round school which means that I have 3-4 weeks off every 3 months. We usually take road trips during (3) out of (4) of my breaks and then (1) international trip. I’ve vacationed many times in NYC, Washington DC and Myrtle Beach, SC. I’ve also been to Disney World in Florida and been skiing in the Blue Ridge mountains of VA. North Carolina has so many beautiful places to vacation, we’ve vacationed at the Biltmore near the Great Smoky mountains of Asheville and many of the NC beaches. Internationally, I’ve been to Morocco, Spain and the Bahamas so far. My aunt (my mother’s sister) is a psychologist practicing at a university on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. She and her family are expatriates, we’re planning to visit them there this summer before they move to another part of the world. I’m going to start French lessons this fall and my dream vacation would be to go to France. My grandmother learned to speak French while she was in college. She actually lived and studied in Paris for a while. She said we will take a “girls only” trip there when I turn 13. I would love to climb in every place that I visit, all over the world.


Melise: If you could choose between having limitless ice cream or the ability to do a one arm pull up, which would you choose?! 

Makaila: That’s easy, I’m allergic to dairy so I can’t eat ice cream but even if I could I would choose the ability to do a one arm pull up. I love being strong. I can beat almost everyone I know in push-ups and pull-ups. I recently qualified to represent my school in the upcoming Wake County, NC “First in Fitness Challenge”. Melise, I saw your one arm pull up video on Instagram and I was impressed!


Thank you so much Makaila & Ife for sharing your experiences and being such an inspiration! Climb on! 🙂

Red Rocks, Photos & Training

Red Rocks passed by like a dream. I was apprehensive about Vegas and the desert at first; lush Pacific Northwest landscapes feel like home and the idea of the desert sometimes pales in comparison for me against familiar greens and blues, against our flora and fauna and massive granite boulders.

I could not have been more wrong. Every day in Red Rocks showed me how absolutely rife with color and life the desert can be. Oranges, blues, reds, purples and greens at every glance. Cacti, desert hares, lizards and birds of prey. Massive sandstone highballs and holds that looked too perfect to be natural. I was in heaven.


Our first few days in Red Rocks were filled with new rock, new sends and great people we had run into on prior trips. It’s always funny and exciting to see friends that we’ve met in Joe’s Valley, Bishop the northwest or elsewhere. Even without the familiar faces, it was so fun to walk up to new boulders, talk to people trying them and all try to support each other and climb something challenging for us. I love how climbing allows for this incredible built in community, support and kindness wherever you travel.

However, after those first blissful days, we both got horribly sick and our climbing and vacation mentality suffered a bit. Unfortunately that sickness only intensified the entire trip. Even so, we took lots of rest days, tried to take care of ourselves and continued climbing in good spirits. I think my greatest success of the trip was simply showing up to the crag every day with a sore throat, throbbing headache and stuffy nose and still trying hard and supporting friends on new climbs.

Stefan fearlessly charging on Fear of a Black Hat V9
Scare Tactics Right V8

Some of the favorites we did in Kraft were Pork Chop (V3,) Bitch Slap 5 (v9,) Scare Tactics & Scare Tactics Right (V8) and Vino Rojo (V6.) BUT, the absolute coolest part of the trip was  the last few hours of our very last day. We ventured out of Kraft into Pine Creek Canyon and it was the most beautiful scenery I’d seen in such a long time. We both felt absolutely rejuvenated driving down the Scenic Loop and stopped multiple time to take photos. The hike to the boulder field was no different. By the time we made it to our goal, Jabberwocky V9, we were already plenty psyched. We found an incredible V5 to warm up on around sunset and used headlamps to session into the evening. Stefan and Marc sent quickly and Ashley and I had done all of the moves and were psyched to try it from the bottom. Then we realized the park gates closed about an hour ago and we were facing a 150$ fine if we didn’t make it out in time. I hated to leave the climb on our last day but…no thank you to that fine! We booked it out there, were relieved to find open gates and dashed on over to Frijoles Burritos to celebrate. It was a great way to end the trip with some amazing partners (plus Shark Bait and his “A-Wooooo!”s.)

Hike on our last day to Pine Creek Canyon ❤
Ashley cruising through Monkey Bar Direct V8!
Vino Rojo V6. Definitely my favorite of the trip but eeeeek that top out! X_X
Shark wondering “is it time to go awoooo??”
Scenic Loop entrance

After trips like these, I feel mentally and physically rejuvenated and ready to work hard in my personal life and climbing. After Stefan and I reflected on how we climbed and what we need to work on, I think my biggest adjustments would be technique and attitude. I give myself a little pass because of the flu, but I still feel horribly self conscious if I don’t immediately find success on climbs that I think I should do. It’s not uncommon for me to do all of the moves on a climb in an hour or less, but still not send. I think my technique on send burns falls apart, which could be attributed to forgetting about the climbing and only focusing on the idea of succeeding. Welp, that’s not cool. To counter this I am going to introduce some sport climbing with Stefan and my coach to hopefully work on some fitness, mental techniques to keep it together and lessen the anxiety on longer climbs. My #1 project this spring is a power endurance rig so I’m thankful this trip and a supportive partner helped me understand what I need to do better to work towards that goal.

On top of that, we made a burly training schedule for the power phase. Doing a trip in the middle of a training cycle might sound silly, but it did it’s job of being fun, a break on the body as well as showing us exactly what we need to work on for the spring season. Amidst some sport climbing action we are doing tons of campusing, hangboarding, limit bouldering, yoga, core workouts and fitness drills. Psyche is so high to get closer and closer to spring!

I’ll be doing a post soon on training specifics, fitness drills and everything in between. Hope everyone is staying psyched this winter and getting ready for a (hopefully) dry spring! ❤


Spotlight: Bethany Lebewtiz

Today I am so excited to share an interview with such an inspiring woman, Bethany Lebewitz. I met Bethany online through Instagram as she was creating her page @BrownGirlsClimb to highlight and encourage diversity within the climbing community. We instantly connected as two women with similar stories, a passion for science and of course, a passion for climbing. In the short time I’ve known her she’s been a wealth of knowledge and a huge inspiration to me.

I hope this interview series continues each month as I highlight someone who I find has a unique perspective and is doing incredible things within the climbing community. I find it exhaustingly boring to write only about myself. I also find that I harbor a good deal of frustration for so many ideas surrounding privilege, women and minorities within the climbing community and our society as a whole. I cannot think of a better way to refocus my grievances into something more productive: choosing to celebrate those making the positive changes I wish to do and see more of.

Here’s the interview, enjoy!

M: First thing’s first: tell us your name, where you’re from and what you do! 

B: Hi, I am Bethany Lebewitz! I am about to turn 29 (Jan 13th!). I’m from Cut and Shoot, TX but I currently live in Maryland about 30 minutes north of DC! I recently graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas and now work as a research assistant at a pediatric behavioral phenotyping lab. I like to climb and bike in my free time and am currently learning how to play the autoharp!

Bethany getting after it!

M: How did you first get exposed to rock-climbing?

B: My very first encounter with plastic was in highschool during a science class. Our topic was principles of physics and we were fortunate enough to have a teacher that petitioned for us to go to a rock climbing gym and drop little plastic parachute soldiers off of some of the boulders! It was really fun but I honestly don’t remember whether I enjoyed the climbing or not. I did like the applied science though 🙂

Later in my life, I was out of my first long term relationship and was searching for something empowering to do and learn. I walked into Austin Rock Gym (south) and said I wanted to try climbing. They explained since I was by myself, I could try the auto-belay or bouldering. At the time, I was nervous about the heights (and I’m still quite hesitant) so I opted for bouldering. I loved it!

I was saving up to apply to school for the next semester and preparing to move so saving my money was really important. I couldn’t waste it on frivolous stuff like I used to. I cut out going out to eat and drink for the most part. I already had one chance at school and was really scared that it wasn’t going to work out again. Climbing can be really expensive up front  with the shoes, membership, travel, and other gear. So what I did was give myself a test to see if it was worth it or not. I climbed a month in rental shoes and finally bought my own! I knew I had found my next long-term relationship!

M: What interrupted your first experience with school?

B:  Trying to pay for school, housing, books, and transportation was really stressful. I had worked since I was 15 years old but I was not prepared for balancing working and going to school full time. I had lots of panic attacks and eventually quit. I needed some time to adjust and a lot of time to learn how to find resources for school.
Bethany and her partner Daniel

M: You’ve started an Instagram account called @BrownGirlsClimb. What was the inspiration behind this page?

B: I started BrownGirlsClimb (BGC) because one of my challenges for myself this year was to be an advocate in every aspect of my life. My hope for BGC is to share the diverse stories and faces of the climbing community. I’m half Mexican and half caucasian/white. I was blessed with the darker complexion of my mother and this provided me with a very unique and often challenging experience. It can be isolating to walk into a place and realize you are the darkest one in the room. I have taken friends climbing for their first time and we’ve talked about having this feeling at the gym. That’s always difficult to hear. Whether it’s a economically or culturally driven trait, I don’t want that isolation to discourage anyone from trying climbing.

Climbing is a major aspect of my self-care and I think many people share this perspective. For me, climbing is a really affordable way to maintain my mental and physical health. If, through BGC, we can encourage others to try climbing for the first time or encourage those already climbing to continue then this is a success!

M: Absolutely! Why do you think it’s important to have more diversity in the outdoors and the climbing community?

There are a few main reasons I think it’s important. Community is important. We’re social beings and especially, with a sport like climbing, the encouragement helps. It’s especially useful when you are surrounded by people that share other experiences with you. Sometimes it can be as serious as understanding the intricacies of racism in America and other times it’s as simple as sharing the memory of homemade menudo. For each one of us, climbing serves a specific purpose. Finding a community that you can connect with can be an important piece of unlocking some of the fears or self-doubt that can interfere with our projects outside.

The second point is a bit more general but is an important subject to me. Obesity, along with other health-related issues such as diabetes and heart disease, disproportionately affect minority populations, specifically Hispanic/Latino and Black/African American communities ( Representation helps show our communities that the activities fun, available and there are athletes of all different colors, ages and shapes that are trying to move. Physical activity helps support so many systems to keep our body and mind healthy. It’s one of the few things that is really free in life. Not all outdoor recreation is free but spreading the word about accessibility can help!

Lastly, the more diversity we have on the crag, the beach, or in the sky, the better. Innovation comes from perspective and our ability to live more fully, in my eyes, comes our willingness to share and participate with our brothers in sisters of other creeds.

@BrownGirlsClimb getting strong with friends!


M: What role does mentorship play in your life and climbing?


Mentorship has changed my parent’s life and my own. From both my experience and my education, I have learned that if you desire significant changes if your life, changing your environment and influences is often a critical piece. I have mentors now that are 22 to 88 years old. They are all different but they teach me how to grow in new ways. Without many of my mentors, I wouldn’t be in the place I am today. I am the first in my family to obtain a degree. I have a loving and supportive partner. I get to climb for fun and, everyday, I get to go work to serve families in need of some encouragement. It’s a blessing. As far as climbing goes, I currently don’t have a mentor although I think this would be wonderful. My brother, however, has played a big role in mentoring and training me physically. He’s a self-trained athlete who has overcome a lot himself. He keeps me grounded and reminds me how resilient our family is both physically and mentally.

M: Women of color in the sciences is also less common. How did you get involved in neuroscience and what advice would you give to other women looking to work in the sciences?

The STEM fields were never on my radar of possibilities. I thought it was for sure out of reach for someone like me. I really never considered it until I realized that my all my questions about human development were about the brain! When I first decided to return to school, I wanted to explore early childhood trauma and how these incidences influenced us. I let my most motivating questions drive the decisions I made about school. It was scary but I try to trust God in these moments where I am really unsure if I can trust myself or my situation. I think that’s my biggest advice for someone considering STEM: Think about your favorite topics. We all have questions. How do these questions drive you? Follow that path. Sure it can be scary but so is climbing or learning anything new. No one likes being the novice but we have to start somewhere. Trust that your curiosity will place you in position to be successful. It takes a lot of hard work and there’s always hiccups but I think you’ll walk away satisfied of what you discovered and, hopefully, hungry for more!

Bethany climbing in Bishop, CA.
M: Any parting thoughts or things you’d like to share/mention?

I just wanted to say thank you again for everyone who has shared their story with BrownGirlsClimb. It’s been a major personal encouragement and is a reminder about how beautiful God is.  Sharing stories unites us and allows us to draw strength from one another. It’s really incredible to me. Thanks again!

Bethany, you are such a gem. Thank you so much for the interview and I hope everyone enjoyed reading it as much as I loved sharing it! Till next month! Xoxo
Bethany’s main inspiration in life: her cat Meowman. :3

Coming Back Stronger

“But I feel so frustrated that this happened.”
“Use it.”

I can’t think of many climbers that haven’t experienced the unpleasant weight of injury. It’s never convenient, always humbling and asks that you decide what to make of it and how to come back from it.

Today marks 6 weeks since I have been able to climb after enduring a left shoulder subluxation 3 months ago. With past knee, ankle and finger injuries it was still easy to work on a hangboard or pull up bar to preserve climbing specific strength. This was the first time I have ever had to take months off from climbing or using my arms. Even running was out of the picture for a while because of the severe pain it caused my shoulder. I was expecting to be back to climbing in 6+ months.

Thankfully, that was not the case. Through aggressive physical therapy and carefully pushing my limits, I returned to climbing at around the same level (honestly a bit harder) 3 months later. I figured I would share my recovery process for those with shoulder issues or injuries. It sounds cliche as hell, but injuries really do allow for such a unique opportunity to be stronger, smarter and, most importantly, a better climber.

I’ll start from the beginning and lead up to where I am now and how I currently train:

Month 1: Physical Therapy and Cookies
*MRI*Starting Physical Therapy*Diagnosis*Core workouts*
Ahh yes, where it all began. In the freakin gym. 😛 After subluxing my shoulder I knew the smartest thing to do would be to get an MRI. You can wait to see if the injury goes away but the risk for re-injury, improper self-diagnosis, or coming back too quickly were all things I wanted to avoid. The MRI showed only minor fragmentation of the biceps tendon, and no labrum damage, although my rotator cuff was operating at about 10% strength. Had my shoulder not subluxed, I was told it was likely something would have torn in the future. The origin of the injury was born in neck tightness, pec tightness & overcompensation of certain muscles to help with a weak rotator cuff. The subluxation was estimated to heal in a few months, and coming fully back to climbing was given a timeline of an addition 2-4 months. I had been feeling stronger than ever, but eventually was accepting and happy for a chance to step away from climbing. I did core workouts as a way to get some exercise in, but otherwise hung out with friends, focused on neuroscience and other interests and took a break. This actually wasn’t too terrible because I love what I do and have so many interests outside of climbing.

Month 2&3: Physical Therapy all day erry day
*10 exercises at 30 reps each, two to three times daily*core workouts* Arcing*
These might have been the hardest months for me. Climbing felt so close, yet I knew that if I moved my arm nearly an inch or two in the wrong direction it would create an awful sensation. I started running, continued doing floor core workouts, went to the gym to do PT and (in my stubborn spirit) climbed the slabs as hands free as possible to get some movement in. That was such a treat; even climbing something that an uncoordinated 6 year old punk could clamber up brought me so much joy as I tried to refine each attempt up the wall. Could I balance better? How about finding a new way of doing it? Could I climb the problem with only my right arm? It helped me realize what wasn’t always obvious: that I absolutely love the act of climbing even if it was a V-fun plastic haul.

The PT focus was still scapular stabilization and strengthening, pectoral/lat release and stretching, rotator cuff strengthening, and neck mobility/strengthening.These are fairly easy exercises to find online, but having a PT put your shoulder through various tests and awkward positions in person is the most helpful. If you are experiencing pain and have the time/insurance, please just do yourself a favor and see a PT.

Lastly, arcing was introduced at the very end to test out the shoulder. I would be so sore and scared on the wall, but eventually the fear subsided and I was able to improve drastically in my endurance. My first session was under 5 minutes on the wall. My third and fourth sessions were more than 20 minutes long. The treadwall was an amazing tool to work on breathing, fitness and continued climbing in this way.



Month 4 back to Climbing
*Training with a coach*Fitness*Running*Healthy Eating*Hangboarding via Grippuls*
This month has been marked by changing up my routine entirely. It had dawned on me that while I improved in my training logs and climbed decently outdoors, I had not really improved much as a climber. I felt like I had plaeaued for about 2 years. Now, a lot of this can be attributed to changing states, financial/transportation hurdles and injuries…but a lot of it was that I was stuck in a habit of training the exact same way each year, focusing more on strength than technique and without much guidance. Enter: Tyson, the Head Coach of Vertical World’s Climbing Team. I reached out to Tyson to see if he thought he would be able to work with me and help me become a better climber and I am so thankful he agreed. Together we’ve worked on a training plan catered to my weaknesses, continually work on movement and technique, and make exercises that work around my almost fully recovered shoulder. Each week we train together with new sets of workouts and homework to do on top of my hangboard workouts, moonboard climbing and arcing (climbing 20 minute cycles as part of an active rest day.) Although my body is still catching up after so many months off, I feel fitter than I’ve ever felt on the wall. And sadly more sleep deprived, as with a 9-5 job, hour commute and constant to-do list I am away from home from 8am – 11pm almost every  weekday. Something to improve upon for 2017 surely.

Trail running was something that also helped me mentally and physically through injury. I love running and felt like it kept me fit and excited to get outside even if climbing wasn’t in the picture. While I know climbers have mixed feelings about running, I love it! For me my line is drawn if I forgo something I love for just one activity. I know that I have and can climb at a decent level and also dedicate time to another hobby I love. My legs might be more muscular, but again, I like to think healthy & fit, not thin. It will not be the reason I don’t send my projects and I will always run because I enjoy it. I find running not only helps me recover faster for climbing on rest days, but also helps me warm up for a training session. Just 10-20 minutes of cardio before climbing makes you feel amazing and warm up faster!

North Bend, WA. Tons of trails!

On the eating front, this was a change inspired from friends as well as being prone to frequent sickness. I felt like my immune system was on permanent vacation; I was feeling sick once or twice each week for months. When I limited my sugar, bread and processed food intake I immediately leaned up and felt like I had much more energy. I recovered faster from Tyson’s workouts. The biggest reward: I wasn’t sick! This was a game changer for me, as I was someone that took pride in being able to eat whatever I want and still climb. I would eat an entire bag of candy by myself and call it “dinner.” To push myself to a new level this spring/fall I knew that attitude had to go. I’ll note that I don’t diet, never restrict calories, and have no intention of trying to be light for climbing. I still eat delicious baked treats and burgers if out and about; I just try not to buy them for groceries and save them for special outings. Eating well has allowed me to gently “lean up,” but I eat as much as I want all of the time. I’d rather be healthy and strong versus thin.

Grippul from Beast Fingers Climbing

On the hangboarding front, I had been looking for a way to work finger strength without having to hang 75+ pounds of weight off of a harness. This not only hurts my hips, but my shoulders felt achy after a month of hangboarding in this way. Enter: the Grippul. This tool allows you to deadlift weight using 4 different edges (or whatever hold you’d like to substitute in) instead of hanging from a board. I decided to do repeaters on a hangboard with minimal weight (8-20 pounds) and use the Grippul for crimp/pinch max hangs. I’m about 125 pounds, so + my 75 lb max hang weight I will need to be able to at least pull 100 pounds on a one pad edge with both arms. Because I am hoping to be able to pull my body weight or higher, the longterm goal is 125 with each arm. I hope by isolating each arm I can account for/correct imbalances in strength as well as preserve my shoulders. I am currently at 90 lbs with the left arm, 95lbs with the right. That’s close to 75% of body weight which is exciting, but I have a long way to go!

(Almost done I swear.) Moonboarding has been another nice tool to get back into climbing. Although I really enjoy our gym’s setting, I find that the straightforward edges and movement on the Moon wall doesn’t hurt me in the slightest, but volume climbs around the gym make my shoulder HURT so bad. I really only use the Moon wall as a warm up for my climbing drills. About 45 minutes of projecting and repeating lines that give me trouble help me work on technique, power and warm up for drills that demand a lot of fitness…and skin.

Lastly, I have had to keep doing physical therapy for my neck and shoulder every single day. This is obviously the least fun part. To get the best results, it’s been crucial to do the PT before (to encourage/warm up weak muscles) AND after (continue reinforcing and strengthening) climbing. It is extremely tedious and time consuming, but the progress made in such a short time has shown me this is a good way of coming back at a solid pace more safely. Eventually I would like to see PT as something done 2 – 3 times a week instead of a daily necessity through recovery.

Well, that’s the bulk of it! I’ll be posting specific training drills, exercises, photos and videos of everything mentioned. It’s rainy as hell in the northwest and I can’t think of anything better than to have some fun with training and learn some skills that will transition to real rock. Hope everyone is staying healthy and getting excited for spring! Xoxo



Kuja! – Climbing with Vertical Generation

As a biracial climber that empathizes with the lack of diversity within the climbing community, it had been a priority for me to find something that would bridge my passion for climbing with a cause I care deeply for. When I heard that there was a group in Seattle looking for volunteers to help low-income youth take their first ever trip to a climbing gym, I leapt at the chance. Marc Bourguignon, co-founder of Vertical Generation, asked us if we would be interested in volunteering and I didn’t even check my calendar or think twice about missing a day of climbing. The chance to join Vertical Generation in their goal of bringing the magic of climbing to others was too important.

Vertical Generation is a non-profit that strives to introduce climbing to youth that might not otherwise become exposed to the sport. For their inaugural event we welcomed Mary’s Place–a shelter providing resources for homeless women and children. Knowing this partnership was taking place immediately struck a chord for me. At one point in time, I had also stayed in a women’s shelter with my mom and my heart sank out of my chest at the thought of seeing and meeting kids who had that commonality. Adding rock-climbing to the mix meant being able to share a hobby that has been supremely positive, encouraging and confidence-building for me; I wanted to help Vertical Generation share that magic which is so ubiquitous in climbing.


Marc, with Julie Gardner, created the idea for Vertical Generation after a trip to Red Rocks, Nevada. Then a teacher in Denver, Colorado, Julie had come back to a classroom of curious students who wanted to know what she had done on her break. When she replied “rock-climbing in the mountains” her students confessed that hardly any of them had spent much time outdoors. Julie was shocked; “I came home and cried a little bit, and realized that was ridiculous. They lived in the mountains, yet none of them had spent much time outside.” She called up the friend group that had traveled to Red Rocks, which included Marc, and sought to take underexposed youth climbing. They received legal permission to drive them to the gym, paid for their climbing dues and gave them an introduction to rock-climbing. Later on, Vertical Generation became a group who’s overarching goal is to share the privilege of climbing with underrepresented groups who might not otherwise have access to the sport.

Meeting with our groups and getting the O-K to climb!

We arrived to Seattle Bouldering Project Saturday afternoon full of excitement and anticipation for VG’s first Movement event. The volunteers changed into some beautiful custom t-shirts, shared laughs and exchanged ideas for ice breakers. When the group from Mary’s Place came in, you could feel the excitement from the volunteers coupled with the apprehension of some of the kids. I immediately resonated with one girl in particular with long braids and beautiful almond shaped eyes. She sat, with the tip of her hair in her mouth, head tilted down and peering up at what must have been a completely overwhelming experience. It reminded me of being a child and feeling completely terrified and overwhelmed of new people or experiences.

We formed into groups with three volunteers per each team. Stefan, Adam and I formed “Team SASS” with Safa and Alonna, two enthusiastic girls who admitted they hadn’t done anything like this before. Every single volunteer brought so much encouragement, love, support and enthusiasm to the table which felt contagious and electrifying. We set off to show the girls some climbing basics on the slab wall. Safa and Alonna both met some definite challenges. While Safa climbed the first problem of the day first try, other routes demanded a lot of courage from her, which she brought to the table beautifully. Alonna started off believing that she wouldn’t be able to achieve anything, and continually surprised herself in breaking old perceptions with each new route. I felt like my head was going to explode when both girls (who were afraid of heights) topped out a boulder problem for the first time. For us, for them, the magic of climbing was almost tangible.

Topping out for the first time! Safa knows 3 languages and taught us that “Kuja!” means “come on!” in Swahili.

Minutes, then hours passed with everyone testing out this fun new terrain. Some wanted a break from challenging themselves to play tag and go down the slide-of-doom; others were unable to tear themselves away from trying to push themselves on harder and harder problems. I saw one of the older boys push and push until he got his first red problem (V3+.) It was insane! Another found success on a comp-style, balance-y green problem that required a lot of body awareness and technique. I was ridiculously impressed. What could these kids achieve in their climbing if this could be a regular involvement? Thankfully, VG has dubbed this event part of their “Movement Series,” where passionate kids will be able to pair with mentors a few times a month and climb in the gym in the Stonemasters program. Hell yes!!


The day ended with more games, a crazy amount of pizza, tug-of-war, and reusable water bottle gifts for the kids stuffed with goodies to promote environmental awareness. Afterwards we asked the kids to share their experiences: “What was one challenging experience, one positive experience, and what are you looking forward to?” When it was Safa’s turn to share, she remembered the climbs that gave her trouble, she recalled feeling happy with her successes. But what she looked forward to? “To not be afraid of a challenge.” It was an incredibly successful event and we are eternally grateful to VG for letting us get involved and extend the magic of climbing to such a great group.

Everyone together sharing their experiences from the day

It’s strange though for those of us who have climbed for years, at times that magic of climbing can feel a bit lost. Climbing is now overwhelmingly represented with social media, sponsorship posts, competition stats, spray accounts and number obsessions. Sometimes I think of these things and find myself searching for the wonder I once felt with my hobby.

Still, the magic of climbing unfolds for everyone; it rests in the ability to be you, wherever you are, and continually surprise, reward and amaze yourself in the beauty of persisting through challenges and battles; it demands humility as you feel small in big landscapes next to looming physical features; it’s an escape when you need moments of joy and focus to counteract life’s stressors or sorrows. Climbing is absolutely a gift, and to share that with others has been more valuable and brought more joy than any other pursuit I have ever chased in climbing.


[[To learn more about Vertical Generation and get involved in your area, check out their website at or follow them online @VerticalGeneration.]]

[Photo credit goes to Marc Bourguignon, Ben Vellek, Andrew Fletcher and Jonathan Sparks.]

The Upside of Injury

For an athlete or anyone passionate about their athletic pursuits, injury can be a bit devastating. Much of our time, energy, money and yes, even self-esteem and happiness can come from doing the hobbies and sports we love.

About a week ago, I was warming up in the gym on an overhung wall. I saw a boulder problem with two likely sequences: either a double gaston move or a wide cross. I chose the latter, not because it looked easier, but because it looked more interesting. Once I visualized the move, I knew I could do it and began climbing. My first attempt up the wall led me right to that defined crux. I crossed statically, kept my feet on, and made the conscious decision to let my feet cut. What I did not anticipate was how wide the swing would be, and immediately I realized that I had underestimated the movement. The classic fight or flight instinct kicked in, and instead of letting go I held on for dear life! I felt my shoulder pop out of place, heard several crunchy, twisting noises, then on the in-swing felt my shoulder pop back into place. I steadied my feet on the wall and, with so much adrenaline, momentarily considered topping out the problem. After a few shakes of the arm, I knew something wasn’t right and I dropped to the mat.

The days afterwards were filled with highs and lows, scary suggestions from doctors and a good bit of pain. Now, I am patiently awaiting an MRI that will give some direction to the next few weeks or months of rehab. The first thoughts that come about after an injury are understandably based in fear and regret. Unfortunately pessimism reared it’s ugly head for a couple of days as I thought only of the negatives. I had trained so hard for so long despite crazy work hours, transportation hurdles, financial stressors, and other minor injuries….why now?! The funny thing is, this is nothing compared to what else life can and will throw at you, and it’s almost never a convenient time to get injured. What I’ve learned this week has been through a lot of great talks with friends and personal reflection. I won’t say everything is peachy, but the things I am learning are giving me so much genuine happiness, gratitude and much needed perspective. Here are some thoughts for all of us half-broken climbers out there who need to remember this one thing: It’s going to be just fine!

1.) Perspective is everything.– Maybe obvious, but such a big one to remember! I think this hit home for me a few different ways. Taking 6 months or even a year off from climbing is nothing compared to what a future of climbing will hold. I am young and have years and years of climbing ahead of me. It also showed me how negative and narrow-minded climbing was turning for me in some ways. I think I noticed half of the time I was only having fun with climbing if I was doing well, and that’s really not healthy nor the type of person I want to be. Last weekend  we went outside to Leavenworth; I couldn’t climb, but I had SO much fun hanging with friends, taking photos, taking beers to the crag and cheering on everyone. It’s nice to take a step back and remove the constant focus from yourself and your goals (aka a little less narcissism) to that of cheering on those around you.

2.) Appreciate where you are and where you were.– This was one I borrowed from a friend. When you’re in the cycle of training and climbing hard, I think it can be especially difficult to appreciate where you are in your climbing. Naturally, we all want the next best thing all of the time. When I was climbing, I was plagued with wishing I was a bit stronger, climbed with better technique, etc. Now that I’m injured, I think back to small successes and how I managed climbing with a schedule that always felt like it was conspiring to push climbing out of the picture. I am so much happier with where I was and how I climb now that I am not able to participate. Oh the irony!

3.) Progression doesn’t come from thinking short-term; Consider the long game.– This is something I struggle with in every department, whether it’s life, finances, diets…anything! As climbers I think we are sometimes so focused on the task at hand and what we desire in the moment, whether it’s the project of the weekend or that cute tank top you want to buy RIGHT NOW. Injury forces you to consider the long game. I know I want to climb amazing problems in all styles, I want to feel healthy, and I want to be truly happy. Taking 6+ months off to climb maybe affects this one fall season, but it will only help me be a smarter, stronger and hopefully kinder person who doesn’t take climbing so seriously when I return.

4.) You are more than your climbing, so try something new.–Even if climbing is so much fun, there is so much else out there to fuel your mind and body alike. If one door is locked, go through another! I think climbing can be (for better or worse) somewhat life consuming at times and it’s been nice to understand how even without climbing, life can be just as wonderful. I feel a bit more sane without tying so much of myself or my self worth to climbing, and it has been really helpful to have the awareness that this was even going on in the first place. The unique opportunity is there to try new hobbies and find new things that inspire you while considering how you would act or feel if climbing was no longer in the picture.

5.) Obsession is not the same as Passion– Another big one. Some days I didn’t feel passionate about climbing; it was pretty darn forced. *NO I don’t want to go train on a hangboard, NO I don’t want to do pull ups. I just wanted to climb and have fun!* I think obsessing about climbing and your personal goals in climbing is pretty demotivating when taken too far. I absolutely love pushing myself, finding climbs that are difficult for me, being outside and incredible movement. I hope if I find myself fighting with a workout or schedule again, I’ll give myself the permission to go have fun instead of obsessing over progression.

Even if I don’t have a game plan for rehab yet, I am pretty content with letting go of possibility and accepting whatever happens. Injury seems to operate in the likeness of “island time,” and it would be a disservice to my body if I tried to push it too soon too fast.  I am going to come back more psyched than ever, but that will only happen if I give myself the necessary space and time to heal. In the meantime, this is a little injury “tick list” I created with new hobbies and things I’ve always wanted to try, but never could make time for with climbing in the picture!

*Make time for friends and stay involved in the climbing community (coaching, cheering on friends over the weekends, and going to the gym to do cardio and work my puny legs!)

*Learn an instrument (if you guys see cellos on craigslist HIT A GIRL UP)

*Volunteer one weekend each month [Already in the books!]

*Take courses in neurobiology through work and work towards a career in neuroscience.

*Read poetry at an open mic (HUGE goal of mine for years but was always too chicken!)

*Take one fun new class (pottery & sewing are the top contenders) [Already in the books!]

Hope everyone is staying healthy and psyched for fall! If you do have a little run in with injury, don’t be afraid to give your body a break and entertain new opportunities that might also make you supremely happy. 🙂

Mental Performance

I was recently super inspired reading this series of articles from the Canadian Sport Institute (as suggested from a fellow blogger!) on the topic of Mental Performance. :

Mental performance in climbing is a topic that doesn’t see as much attention as it deserves. There is something truly unique about the ways in which athletes handle both success and stressors alike which have greater impacts on our performance than we might like to believe.

In this article, Dr. Kristen Barnes breaks down a few key areas of “mental toughness.”  Dr. Graham Jones provides us with a working definition of mental toughness which reads: “Having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to cope better than your opponents in the many demands (training, competition and life) that are placed on you as an athlete, and be more consistent and better than your opponents by remaining determined, focused, confident and in control under pressure.” (Jones et al., 2001 Journal of Applied Sports Psychology)

While climbing is definitely an individual sport where the comparison aspect is futile or detrimental, I think the take-away from this is that developing the mental fortitude to handle demands, successes and setbacks alike in the ebb and flow of our climbing has undeniably far-reaching, positive effects.

While everyone is different, and some may be able to cope with life stressors better or worse than others, it’s important to note that mental toughness can be developed and improved upon no matter where you fall on the spectrum. I generally think of myself as more of an emotional person, rejoicing sincerely in my successes and becoming equally emotional with my failures. While I am in the best shape of my life, I think a strong focus on mental toughness could be a big step in achieving some of my biggest goals to date.

In the article, Dr. Barnes illustrates six key areas of mental toughness that are crucial for sustaining performance. To become more proactive in getting better at something like mental strength (which is pretty darn hard to quantify or immediately notice benefits from) I’m going to highlight each one and provide her working definitions as well as suggestions for how I want to tackle them.

Six Key Components of Mental Toughness

1. Self-Belief [The unshakable belief in your ability to achieve performance goals.]
The mental skill this article suggests to help you with more self-belief is to keep a training log. Done! Creating a log, diary or some sort of black and white evidence that you are improving, working towards your goals, and putting in the necessary time should lead to more belief in your raw ability to perform. I do this every day I train noting exactly how much weight I use in weighted hangboard sessions, to core exercises to the Moon Climbing app which logs the climbs tried or done.

2. Motivation [The insatiable desire to succeed as well as the ability to bounce back from performance setbacks with increased determination.]
The article again suggests to set goals to guide yourself to success by identifying what it is you’re trying to accomplish, why you are doing this in the first place, and how you’re going to get there. I think climbers in general are pretty good about this one with our ticklists  before trips and having in mind a few routes or boulder problems we’d like to train for. If I didn’t have problems outside I think the motivation would be pretty low, which means my motivation definitely comes from wanting to push my limits outside.

3. Focus [The ability to not be distracted by others’ performance or your own internal-voice distractions, to remain fully focused on the task (at hand).]
This is a tricky one. Again, for most of us climbing is a me vs me sport, so the context of not worrying about competitors isn’t totally applicable, but it’s also not totally irrelevant either. I see a lot of climbers, myself included, tend to focus on what others immediately around them are doing and climbing without drawing the attention back to their own personal journey with climbing. The article suggests positive thinking and using little tricks to draw the attention back to your own goals and performance. My focus also tends to come when I am genuinely excited to unlock my own personal beta on climbs or “play” on projects, which keeps it both playful and absorbing.

4. Handling Pressure [Thriving on pressure and using pressure to your advantage, since it is somewhat inescapable.]
I love these! This is also a tricky one, because in the sense that going outside climbing is a HOBBY with zero external pressure, it’s pretty funny how serious we can make it sometimes. I notice this a lot when I feel close on something–I get the butterflies, feel equal parts jittery and excited, my breathing becomes shallow and doo doo do doooo….PUNT!!! JK..but again the focus should be on putting yourself in uncomfortable moments to train how to handle the pressure, as well as focusing on the positive successes you’ve had that you navigated and saw through to the top. I used to make myself do one highball every time I went to the boulderfield because I had a hard time handling the fear. After a while, they became “mental warm ups” and set the tone for a great day of climbing afterwards with a lot of confidence and less fear.

5. Dealing with Physical & Emotional Pain [Pushing through any sort of physical, mental or emotional challenge.]
The article suggests that putting yourself through something even harder than what the actual goal is could make the end goal seem “easy.” Maybe this could mean climbing for 5 hours if your competition is expected to be 3.5-4 hours, or training for V8 when you want to climb V6. For me, I think this goes a bit beyond climbing and more into things like struggling with all the curveballs life throws at you outside of climbing. Which leads to the next one…

6. Lifestyle [Being able to manage your personal life, making sure you surround yourself with people you want to be around and who provide the support you need can be key.]
One of my favorites! Creating a sport/life balance has been one of the greatest contributing factors to “psyche” for me. When it feels like all I do is think or talk about climbing, my psyche wanes. When I find stimulating work, books, spend time with my best friends, and chase adventures that don’t always relate to my climbing goals it ironically makes me SO much more excited to squeeze in a climbing workout or spend a weekend in the boulderfield. I find people that I admire for their attitudes, not their climbing ability, and feel rejuvenated and fueled to chase my goals in a lighthearted way.

That’s all for now, hope this helps others the way it helped me! I’m recovering pretty quickly from bicep tendonitis thanks to a nice PT and a reduced training schedule. It’s foreign to me to only do three exercises (Max Hangs, Weighted pull ups & Core) whereas I used to do lots of volume, but it seems to translate well when I climb outside so I’m trying to stick with it until I’m fully healed. In a few days we leave for 10 days in Squamish before I start a new job, so it’s exciting and definitely a time to exercise some mental training techniques! Happy climbing all. Xoxo



Battles, Goals & Cinnamon Rolls

I heard a pretty lovely phrase from a podcast recently that I am completely in love with. A woman, a mother, mentioned in response to her daughter missing out on her dream role, said: “Not all battles won or lost are visible.”

Well, call me Sappy McSucker, but that hit me like a bag of bricks. I am always so focused on the black and white, tangible measures of success that I often forget how many mini victories can be felt along the way even with incredible setbacks in our lives or climbing.

Take for instance, werk. I moved to Seattle exactly one year ago to find a job in my field and go back to graduate school. I had no idea it would take me almost a year to find a relevant, supportive job and that graduate school was even further away than imagined. I made thinking about work become in the likeness of a part time job, started considering alternate career paths that would work better with my active, wanderlust-y lifestyle and made a plan of attack. I pinned company websites on my desktop and set up email alerts, receiving upwards of 30 emails every day for jobs in the area and applied to several every day for months on end. Separate cover letters, different formats, follow up phone calls, speaking with hiring managers for why I didn’t get certain positions and what skills they recommend acquiring to have success in the future. I audited classes online, found books on relevant topics and studied for the GRE in my free time. While those moments certainly felt draining on top of a 40-50 hour work week and were otherwise hard to swallow, I now see them as complete successes. The gains weren’t easy to quantify; I don’t have a trophy in my hand that says “Hay! You try real hard sometimez!“, but in the process I learned more than I ever have in my life about what it takes to cultivate success, and that is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Today I accepted a position with the Allen Institute for Brain Science and I still couldn’t be happier or more appreciative for the year of struggle that made me a little more job savvy, resilient and almost forced to value moments of failure.

The same of course can be said and has been said A LOT by *yours truly* on the climbing side of things. On the one hand: it’s just climbing, and it’s laughable to consider being sad about rocks; Not climbing a pre-determined number grade on a non-standardized scale with gear upwards of $200 seems like an overflow of privilege spilling out of your bunghole, but it can be supremely disappointing similarly to career goals falling flat on their metaphorical faces. It can be hard to swallow continual disappointment when you really feel like you are capable, willing, hard working, but for some reason that tangible measure evades you again and again. Battling the climbing blues and the work blues at the same time was definitely a low point for me, even if neither of those two really define who I am as a person. Lo and behold, I learned how to take care of myself, talk to close friends, seek advice and keep trying. Now I have trained even harder, a tad smarter and have been able to climb two hard V9s in the past 3 times I’ve been outside in the dead of summer. I occasional slip into a negative way of thinking about climbing, but for the most part I am pretty optimistic about being able to reach the goals I have in mind.

So…goals! I find it super helpful to write down my goals for finances, jobs, climbing, and personal hippy dippy bullcrap at least a few times a year. I like to write it in a journal, on a whiteboard, even on a random piece of lined paper and slap it on the wall. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you do it. Here’s a mini sampler for 2016:

Jobs: Work towards getting promoted in the next 6 months; strengthen technical skills; take two courses in neuroscience through UW and find at least one brand new skill to add to the resume.

Climbing: Specifically, Equinox (V10) Resident Evil (V10) Black Hole (V10/11) and The Practitioner (V11.) I have tried all of these so far and know that with a bit more training a few will definitely go down this fall!

Personal bullcrap *in a nutshell*: Be kind. Volunteer. Do something besides climb.  Bake treats. Dieting is for hippies. Don’t be a hippy.

To tie this wonderfully erratic post together, here’s my recipe for cinnamon rolls that I definitely baked and told my roommates to help themselves to and then just…ate. All of them. -_- Baking is fun, creative and nice to share when you’re not being a complete fatty. I think Ondra said it best when he was quoted, “I train, therefore I eat a fackton of sugar.” (*likely, but not confirmed Ondra said that fyi.)

Cinnamon Rolls: (This is up now on my Recipes Page and were so fun and easy to make! Dis plus cream cheese frosting will make weight vests unnecessary and…make u feelz gr8.)

cinn rolls
“You don’t know love until you’ve rolled up your own cinnamon roll.” -Adam Ondra