North­ern Faces

Que­bec Crusher Sends Pure Imag­i­na­tion 5.14c

Gripped - - CONTENTS - by Dave Barnes

Annie Chouinard

I was scrolling through my so­cial me­dia feed and came across this young woman who had just sent a test-piece at Red River Gorge. The route’s name stood out, Pure Imag­i­na­tion and so did the grade of 5.14c. The climber’s name is Annie Chouinard, 40, and she lives in Sher­brooke, Que.

I did some fur­ther re­search and found out that she has been qui­etly as­cend­ing the grade rungs of the climb­ing lad­der while hold­ing down a real-world job and climb­ing for love, not money. This was a com­mon climber with some verve and I wanted to get to know her story about her first 5.14c and her jour­ney to get there. This is the con­ver­sa­tion I had with Chouinard.

What in­spired you to climb

Pure Imag­i­na­tion?

Dur­ing my trip to Red River Gorge last year, I tried a route of the same grade as Pure Imag­i­na­tion, but re­al­ized I wasn’t ready for it. Once I was back home in Que­bec, my coach com­pletely changed my spe­cific training pro­to­col, which be­came much more in­ten­sive than in the past. I started work­ing part time at the hospi­tal, to start training twice a day. I trained hard un­til I left for this year’s trip at the end of Oc­to­ber. On my first week in Ken­tucky, I walked by Pure Imag­i­na­tion at the Cho­co­late Fac­tory and was in­spired by the line. I gave it a go and loved it, and de­cided to work that one in­stead.

What did you need to find within your­self to com­plete it, phys­i­cally and men­tally?

Red River Gorge is about 1,500 kilo­me­tres from my home in Mon­treal, which means I couldn’t just swing down any­time. I had to be pre­pared to climb hard on my trip. I had to be fo­cused and present in the mo­ment. The dead­line of my re­turn trip home added a cer­tain amount of pres­sure. It can some­times be hard to han­dle, es­pe­cially be­cause the route was above my limit and my first of the grade.

The whole process of bal­anc­ing training and work re­quired a lot of investment, self-dis­ci­pline, sac­ri­fice and mo­ti­va­tion. Dur­ing the win­ter, I work over 40 hours a week at the hospi­tal as a med­i­cal tech­nol­o­gist. I trained 20-plus hours a week in the gym and I also coached on the week­ends. There’s a lack of sleep, but I deal with it be­cause it’s the only way I can pack in­ten­sive training and work into my days. This is the re­al­ity of a non-pro­fes­sional, self­funded and pas­sion­ate ath­lete.

In try­ing this route, I wanted to see how far I was able to push my­self. For me, Pure Imag­i­na­tion was what I call the “log­i­cal next step” in my pro­gres­sion. It took me a while to be able to ig­nore the grade and only fo­cus on the climb. Since I had never climbed a route a 5.14c, I was quite in­tim­i­dated by it. When I man­aged to only fo­cus on the climb­ing it­self, on the beauty of the route and the qual­ity of the moves, I started un­lock­ing sec­tions more ef­fi­ciently and the moves started to flow.

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