As a climber and a writer, I’m drawn to pretty much any interview with, or blog article by, Beth Rodden.
For the uninitiated, and this is very much the CliffsNotes (cliff – get it?!), Beth is an American pro-athlete rock climber with Big Wall and First Ascent credits to her name. But her climbing achievements can somethings be overshadowed by her traumatic kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan at the age of 20 with her famous future first husband: climber Tommy Caldwell. Tommy saved the group; he saved Beth. She had planned to break up with him, but after their experience they were bound together and later married. That is very much the early years in a nutshell, I’ll add a link to her website for far more detail below.
Once home and safe, they both continued to climb and tally up their own successes. They shared sponsors, an email address and soon a home in Yosemite where they could focus on nothing but climbing and their prominence as the darling couple of the wall. But Beth questioned the (lack of) passion and romance within their relationship alongside her ongoing struggles with food and calorie restriction which she had had since childhood. Beth had an idea of what a pro-climber looked like, what they should weigh, and battled with that image and number for years.
This was compounded (many years later) when she became a mother and her body changed all over again: as it does for us all in one way or another. She had attempted to control her life and live it perfectly for so long, that by the time she had remarried and given birth, the changes to her body and mind were overwhelming. In her blog and during interviews, she laments her belly bulge and bigger breasts. But acknowledges that her body carried her son to term and feeds him still, even if she feels heavier in her harness or further from the wall.
By contrast, my body was big and pudgy before I gave birth and big and pudgy afterwards. I weighed the same on the day after the birth as I did the day before we conceived. Climbing for me has never been ‘athletic’ or ‘agile’. It has always been a reach and an exertion as I grasp and pant to every hold. I couldn’t be more different to Beth in climbing ability but I do share something with her when I read her extensive blog articles about climbing during pregnancy and after giving birth. It heartens me to have had those same experiences and shared thoughts with someone who is still a sponsored pro athlete. She is so forthright with her views of juggling motherhood and climbing, and the difficulties that come with it, that I wanted to do nothing more than say it out loud here: it’s hard to (figuratively) find yourself on the wall as a new parent, because it’s hard to (literally) find time to get there.
I see new mums at the gym with tiny babies in prams, sleeping peacefully. They can get a climb in and the baby is none-the-wiser. Then I see other parents with toddlers like mine, who don’t want to sit in their prams, but who would rather crawl, run, climb, fall over, want a snack, get tired, cry and then laugh for no apparent reason... It’s exhausting because we want a moment on the wall, but someone has to watch the baby.
This is compounded in the outdoors, as we try to figure a way to lead climb while still keeping watch over the little one…it’s not possible without a third set of eyes. For this reason I would encourage new parents, and especially new mums, (who more often than not are the primary carer and therefore are the ones who give up more of their precious climb time), to find a climbing group, or bring your friends into the fold, so you can outnumber the pitter patter of little feet running through the bush.
You can invite friends and other parents to join you at the gym, even if they haven’t climbed before. Bring them along, get them on the wall too. It’s a place where you can focus on one thing rather than everything. Reaching out to new parents, whose world has turned upside-down, can be a lifesaver. Helping them get right-side-up and sending anything from a big outdoor wall to a small bouldering problem can be grounding and uplifting at the same time.
New parents have had their schedules thrown out the window. New mums have had their body (often) ripped apart. So the thought of digging out your climbing gear and lifting a leg onto the wall can be daunting and even unpleasant. I encourage you to take it at your own pace. The walls will always be there, but you may, like me, have to go up a size in climbing shoe if those feet never fully de-swelled…
Back to Beth. She describes on her blog how she sees herself now, and how she wants hers and her family’s future to be: whole, textured and natural. My God that sits with me. It reverberates through me. What an aspiration to have. I think about that, a future where my loved ones and I are living whole, textured and natural lives, and it helps me find myself on the wall again.
Beth’s website includes and extensive blog of her experiences a female pro-climber, pregnant climber, and as a new mum. She navigates the changes to her body and mind as she scales the walls and then writes about it beautifully. Check it out! http://bethrodden.com/