Inspirational Figures – Females

Today ISN’T International Women’s Day (that’s on the 8th March) and that is EXACTLY why i’m publishing this piece today: because there is absolutely no reason we shouldn’t be celebrating strong, successful women every single day of the year and not storing their achievements up to post them once a year.

This year’s IWD did get me thinking though. A post on the BBC Sport page with a column by netball player Serena Guthrie told of the importance of “[influencing] young girls” and while i totally get that, this 30-something male found it equally inspiring. Sadly, the section labelled International Women’s Day disappeared the very next day and finding this piece suddenly became that little bit trickier.

It wasn’t as hard as finding the piece that really grabbed my attention though: The women who have had an epic 12 months. That one required a Google search and while that’s not exactly difficult, it surprised me quite how quickly this inspirational article had fallen from the home page. Likewise the appalling treatment of the Colombian Women’s football team seems old news already.

All that aside, it did get me wondering. From a personal point of view, my Instagram feed is filled with female climbers and that’s not because they’re female, it’s because they’re inspirational people. This is especially telling in an activity such as climbing, where the opponent is arbitrary: climber against the climb. In fact, my whole life is influenced by inspirational women, just as much as men; to me what you do is what counts, not the contents of your underwear.

However, this is related to International Women’s Day and i would like to concentrate on females for this piece. There will be a follow on piece looking at inspirational men, purely for balance and very personal to me but here, i’m looking at the women who help to drive me to get out there and achieve my best.

Shauna Coxsey

In British climbing at the moment, i couldn’t really start with anyone else. Shauna needs no introduction, as a World Cup winner, among many other achievements.

For me, though, it’s not her climbing that i’m impressed with. Well, it is, obviously, but it’s how brilliant she is as a role model for our sport. Shauna is often the face of rock climbing on BBC Sport and has been filmed for at least two #workoutwednesday.

We couldn’t ask for anyone better to fly the flag for rock climbing.

Mina Leslie-Wujastyk

I met Mina in Manchester in 2016 and she came across as friendly, approachable and very knowledgeable. In short, she was really nice! Since then, Mina took a really nasty fall at Malham Cove and has since been talking lots about her recovery and motivation to get back on the project.

Mina is very open about the dilemma she’s facing with coming back to a project that almost broke her, physically and mentally. Her mental strength, in both dealing with her issues and being so up front about it, reminds me that no matter how strong we are, climbing is always a challenge.

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I’ve had a few questions about Rainshadow and I don’t know what the answer is; whether to try and gather myself to push on with it (once my wrist is healed of course) or to make peace and be done. Honestly, my gut feeling is that it’s time to respectfully tap out. Of course I appreciate that it’s early days and that feelings can change. It’s a shame because I felt like I was getting close, but right now the prospect of going back up there ever again seems too much. That fall, understandably, terrifies me. After all, it’s hospitalised me twice. I still can’t quite believe it. The narrative around “coming back stronger” and “overcoming fear and adversity” sits strongly with me but I am also conscious of making sensible decisions that keep me safe and happy. Sometimes walking away is the hardest and most courageous choice. Whichever way my motivation falls I also have to consider that my future wrist mobility may or may not be good enough for the crux left hand undercut. Only time would tell. There is a lot of uncertainty mentally and physically from this little chapter that I’m just going to have to sit with for a bit. There is a ton of amazing climbing out there in the world; plenty of places I have yet to explore. And I also don’t have to fully decide about Rainshadow yet. So for now I plan to lean into the discomfort and see what I can learn from it, focus on what I can do right now and be grateful for all the good things in life (of which there are many 😊). Photo (from 2017) thanks to @liamlonsdale @arcteryx @fiveten_official @dmm_wales @organicclimbing @betaclimbingdesigns

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Caroline Sinno

I actually met Caroline before i knew anything about her, at a house party in Fontainebleau of all places, and she’s another person on this list who is really nice. I found out afterwards she’s a total badass climber too.

The grades she climbs are unreal, consistently ticking off 8a, i love seeing the pictures of Caroline working her latest projects and reminding me how much i want to return to the forest.

Sasha DiGiulian

I can’t picture Sasha without smiling. She’s appeared in so many films over the years that i feel i know her a bit already – although obviously i don’t as i’ve never met her.

Her climbing achievements speak for themselves, largely because of the media attention she receives. She even made it onto the Sports Illustrated Fittest 50 athletes 2019; and that’s fit in athletic terms and not sexual terms. You should see some of the other athletes on that page!

However there is one post on Instagram she made that really grabbed my attention, as she tempered the furore about the film Free Solo by highlighting the effect focusing on soloing could have on those taking their first steps into climbing. For someone right at the top of her field, one of the best in the world, to realise the effect this film might have on participation is humble and admirable beyond words.

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Last night Free Solo won an Oscar! First of all, huge congratulations to @jimmychin @chaivasarhelyi @alexhonnold and all of the crew involved. Needless to say, an accomplishment of a lifetime and I know this came with a lot of hard work and perseverance. It is momentous for me to see a climbing film recognized at the highest of high regards. With all the hype and attention that is sure to come from this I felt it was important for me to speak about the very specific differences between this form of climbing (free soloing) and the approach the vast majority of climbers take to the sport itself. What Alex does when free solo’ing is by nature, very risky. And while in my career I have had instances where a form of this has been necessary it has also been a choice that came as a last resort and has happened less than a handful of times over my 20 years of climbing. Free soloing is a style of climbing that a very small percentage of climbers partake in as there is no higher level of risk; life or death. I say all this with the caveat that it is not the sole form of climbing that Alex does. While I am so excited by the recognition this film has received, I also feel like I have spent a big portion of my career trying to educate people unfamiliar with climbing about our sport. A goal of mine has been to demonstrate that anyone can do it, and that it is a safe and welcoming activity. In my opinion Alex is one of the greatest climbers of all time to have the capacity to realize all that he has accomplished. However, I also just want to make it clear, which I do feel like this film has done a good job of, the separation that free soloing has from the general form of climbing that I encourage all of you to experience at some point in your life. But when you do, especially if it your first time: Please be sure to seek out guidance from a trained and knowledgeable climber at your local gym or local crag. Take a course in how to enter the spot safely and with the proper training and equipment. This is an incredible and inclusive sport that, when approached correctly, is safe and fun for everyone. Let’s keep it that way! That’s my two cents, for whatever it’s worth!

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Zofia Reych

I first came across Zofia through an article on her blog about Flow state in climbing and soon started searching through other articles of hers. Turns out she’s really cool, living the dream and gets out climbing SO much, it seems unreal.

It seems i’m not the only one who’s noticed her, as the BMC and Alpkit shared her video with Alice Hafer, Stuck about them attempting a crack climb in the Peak.

It’s as a writer that Zofia really impresses me. She’s more balanced and informed than most of the mainstream newspapers i read and always a treat when something new appears. My only criticism of Zoff is that she doesn’t write enough.

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From rampant individualism to social and environmental activism, Instagram seems to be a focusing lens of what’s hot with the kids right now. First we had to look inwards and search for happiness far from the madding crowd (while adorned in appropriate yoga wear, of course), now it’s almost a faux pas not to be an outraged social justice warrior. It’s quite easy, especially for me, to become enwrapped in the little world created on the screen of my phone by a mosaic of no-longer square images and videos. It is a world in which every one of us has a voice, worse yet, needs to have a voice and is required to project it onto the world with some sort of reason and conviction. We create ourselves as we want to be seen, compare, adjust, create again and lose ourselves. We mediate our lives to fit the screen resolution. We communicate with countless people in supposedly meaningful but in fact meaningless interactions. I’m tired of this and I need to make sense of this. I love my ‘gram and everything that it brings but at the same time I feel it takes me further away from the actual life. I pledged to use it creatively and actually offer some value through my presence on the platform but I’m wavering. The ‘gram’s algorithm rewards a deadly regularity of everyday posts and I simply don’t have something valuable to say every day. It rewards regular interactions but I can’t double tap on the same photo over and over again, while feeling the very last dregs of my own singularity melt away in a pot of sameness. Ironically, even bitching about Instagram is an Instagram trend right now. How to create healthy social media habits? How not to get pulled away from real life because of the time and effort spent here? I feel like I have so little headspace for my social life and using this headspace on online does not seem to be the best resources management. At the same time, I feel emotionally involved with this space, the people and everything it is. Hmmm. [photo by @kiellgram | JA Martin | January 2019]

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Nina Caprez

I’m going to be completely honest here and say that what first put me on to Nina was the fact i saw her on a magazine cover and thought she was stunning. However, the more i looked at her profile and read articles about her, the more i realised how empowered she is.

Nina isn’t known for bouldering as much but she is one hell of a climber and what she gets up to is enough to motivate any climber. The film Tzugle is well worth a watch, as she is awesome in part of a team having a blast in Argentina.

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