And Dis­cov­er­ing Our Own Paths With Climb­ing

Gripped - - NOTES FROM THE TOP - Story by Vikki Wel­don Vikki Wel­don is one of Canada’s lead­ing fe­male climbers. This is her se­cond of three ‘Notes From the Top.’

It started with climb­ing trees. The sim­ple, free-spir­ited pur­suit of a child who could not sit still. Even­tu­ally, trees did not cut it for the blond-haired bounc­ing boy and his par­ents no longer cared for the ever in­creas­ing heights of the trees he climbed. A safe and pro­duc­tive place for his pas­sion of the ver­ti­cal world was needed.

En­ter the in­door climb­ing scene, a rather new phe­nom­e­non in the early 1990s in Canada. The en­er­getic boy signed up for one of Cal­gary’s first youth climb­ing teams, first at the Univer­sity of Cal­gary Climb­ing Wall and then at the Cal­gary Climb­ing Cen­tre ( ccc). Shortly af­ter, his three younger sib­lings (all equally keep­ing pace with their En­er­gizer bunny brother) vis­ited the gym. One af­ter the other en­tered into the var­i­ous youth pro­grams that the gym of­fered, as their par­ents mar­velled at their luck in find­ing a sport that all four of their chil­dren en­joyed. Lit­tle did they know the im­mense im­pact that the sport of climb­ing would have on their lives. Wel­come to my fam­ily.

It was my brother, Chris, who was the first to ex­pe­ri­ence the joy and free­dom of climb­ing. Never one to fol­low the well-de­fined paths in life, Chris found his niche in the rel­a­tively un­known sport of rock climb­ing. Much to his cha­grin, my sis­ter Stacey joined the ccc youth team shortly af­ter, while my­self and my brother Mike tagged along to play in the back boul­der­ing cave un­til we were old enough to join as well. We were all well suited to the sport; ath­letic, en­er­getic, and ea­ger to put our mon­key bar skills to the test.

For the next decade, we all grew up within the chalky haze of the ccc. We grew as ath­letes, fo­cus­ing on com­pe­ti­tion climb­ing, each claim­ing a Na­tional ti­tle at some point through­out our youth ca­reers. We learned how to push our lim­its, deal with fail­ure and in­jury, and how to fo­cus and work hard to suc­ceed. We grew as ath­letes, but we also grew as peo­ple. We be­came so im­mersed in the sport that our fel­low climbers be­came our com­mu­nity, and the sport of climb­ing be­came our life­style and our cul­ture.

Our par­ents, Andy and Lau­rie, were fun­da­men­tal to not only our suc­cess as climbers, but also to our sus­tained, life-long pas­sion for the sport. While our par­ents taught us that suc­cess does not come with­out hard work, they also never pres­sured or pushed us to pur­sue a goal that we were not wholly com­mit­ted to. Our par­ents rec­og­nized how spe­cial the sport of climb­ing truly was, and em­braced our fam­ily’s in­volve­ment in it with open arms. This hon­est, open, and pos­i­tive out­look that our par­ents had when it came to climb­ing was es­sen­tial in en­sur­ing it con­tin­ued as a cen­tral as­pect of each of our lives.

As we each reached the end of our youth com­pe­ti­tion ca­reers at the ccc, our in­volve­ment in the sport of climb­ing di­ver­si­fied. We all grew up as gym rats, but in the end have cho­sen very dif­fer­ent roads to travel down. Only one sim­i­lar­ity re­mained: we all con­tin­ued on our life paths as rock climbers. For each of us, this sport has de­fined our life­styles. Where we choose to live, work and play all re­volve around the sport of climb­ing.

When Chris ex­ited the com­pe­ti­tion scene, he dis­cov­ered an en­tire world of out­door climb­ing free from rules and reg­u­la­tions. He em­braced the art of dirt bag climb­ing, liv­ing off re­fried beans and pota­toes, while learn­ing to be­come a jack of all trades in sport, trad and boul­der­ing. He is now set­tled in Squamish, and his most re­cent en­deav­our has been route de­vel­op­ment in the Howe Sound, ac­cessed by his boat, the “Sea Flea.” Stacey has re­mained com­mit­ted to the com­pe­ti­tion scene, fo­cus­ing on boul­der­ing. Her ca­reer in nurs­ing is f lex­i­ble and al­lows her to train and com­pete at an in­ter­na­tional level, while also find­ing time to coach and men­tor fu­ture com­pe­ti­tion climbers. Hav­ing set­tled in Ver­non, B.C., Mike has be­come a com­mit­ted mem­ber of the Okana­gan climb­ing com­mu­nity. From coach­ing to route set­ting, he is an ac­tive mem­ber in a thriv­ing climb­ing cul­ture in the re­gion.

To be a climber is to hold end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties in the palm of your hand. Climb­ing can take you to the ab­so­lute lim­its of your phys­i­cal and men­tal self, whether that is in the gym or out in the moun­tains. It can in­tro­duce you to your best friends, and it can inf lu­ence how you choose to struc­ture your life. My fam­ily is the ul­ti­mate ex­am­ple of this. We were all in­tro­duced to climb­ing in the very same form, yet we have all grown to in­ter­pret and ex­pe­ri­ence climb­ing in our own way.

There is a place in the world of climb­ing for ev­ery­one. It is a sport with a genre and a life­style to suit just about all but the ul­ti­mate couch potato. With so many pos­si­bil­i­ties and ways that each in­di­vid­ual can de­velop within the sport, climb­ing is truly a spe­cial pur­suit. It can be any­thing you choose it to be, and that my friends, is the ul­ti­mate gift.

Vikki Wel­don on Steel­head 5.12b Paradise Val­ley, Squamish

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