Climbing Journeys For The Soul

Photo provided by Yasmin RL. Used with permission.

Photo provided by Yasmin RL. Used with permission.

A couple of weeks ago we published Where has climbing taken you? which showcased some of the awesome places across the world that getting into climbing could lead you. But climbing can take us on many different kinds of adventures and some of those are not just to places, some are more personal journeys that can change and shape people’s lives in a big way: journeys for the soul.

This week we talked to two inspiring female climbers whose climbing is making an impact on the climbing community as a whole: between them, they are smashing perceived ‘barriers’ to climbing and showing the world that climbing is a sport for everyone.

Champion of the world

Photo provided by Susie Bannister. Used with permission

Photo provided by Susie Bannister. Used with permission

Susie started climbing when she was 10-years-old, after joining a kids club at an indoor wall and now in her 20’s, still adores climbing. Initially, she wanted to take up horseriding but was turned away by the club who said she would be a “safety hazard” and “wasn’t equipped to horseride” because of her disability. She says, “a major problem I had with climbing and horseriding was changing peoples concepts that I was capable of it”. But Susie has overcome all of the challenges that climbing presented by thinking outside the box, working hard to build strength and developing a creative climbing style. She may have had some bad days on her journey, but she resolved to never give up on the sport she loved and her dedication and passion for climbing is sending the inspiring message to the whole climbing community that if you have self-belief and you work hard, you can do anything you want to do.

“I got so much out of [climbing], not just fitness-wise, but mentally,” she says. “At the time, I was going through a lot of issues - normal teenage stuff - not feeling like I fitted in, not feeling like I’m good enough, all those kind of self-esteem issues. With climbing, the people were just so lovely. I became better at [climbing] and realised actually this is what I really want to do. I really want to pursue this and get better at this and be the best I can”. 

There were some challenges to one-armed climbing, but Susie’s solution was to keep trying different techniques and persevere when it was hard: “A lot of it was adapting, a lot of it was figuring out what I was able to do. The gym really helped, getting out the core strength and building up the muscles in my right arm. I had a climbing coach for two years and she really helped me to succeed. She’s actually been a really big inspirational person in my life. A lot of it was just thinking out the box, a lot of trial and error. The biggest challenge was changing people’s minds , even within my family, being told ‘you’re not going to be able to do too much of climbing, you’re wasting your time, you’ve done your best now, I think it’s time for you to stop’”.

But she didn’t let other’s negativity put her off. She stuck with her passion and continued to achieve. “With climbing, it’s not the case of ‘you’ve done it now’, it’s about keeping it up,” she says, “even if you think you’ve reached your best, if you stop you have to start all over again. It’s about just building it up and getting to the place you’re comfortable at and building from it and going out of your comfort zone”.

“You don’t have to be the best, you don’t have to be the champion of the world, you just have to enjoy it. And if you enjoy it, you are the champion of the world!” - Susie

So many people let the fear of not being good enough stop them from trying something new like climbing. But the truth is that you’ll never know how good you can be unless you try.

Susie would advise aspiring climbers not to be nervous and not to get caught up in the idea of ‘being the best’. “I think nowadays everybody wants to be special, made, wants to be the best. I don’t think its about being the best,” she says, “if you want to start something new and you haven’t got the confidence in it, just do what you can do that day. Don’t be nervous, don’t be shy, just grab a hold and climb!

“Climbing is about adapting it to you… there’s so many options and choices in climbing, you’re working out what’s best for you. 

“When I first started climbing, I wanted to be champion of the world, I wanted to be that big name climber... I don’t want that anymore, I just want to climb for fun. Doing competitions is great … the reason I did them wasn’t so much that I wanted to win, it was to meet new people and become inspired and to become better than I was the day before”. 

Susie climbed at Vertical Limit during her time at university and used to work as a receptionist here as well. She finished university over a year ago, but her dedication to climbing is still remembered here, by the people in our community who saw her climb. Her positive attitude and refusal to quit, however great the challenges seemed, has inspired some of us - including me - to try a lot harder with our climbing than we did previously. A lot of climbers look up to pro-athletes and take inspiration from them, but we’re also constantly inspired by the people around us. It’s those who we’re climbing with right now, the people who we’ve seen persevere to complete a route they’re finding tricky, who have also inspired us to push through at the times it becomes difficult for us as much as the big name pro-climbers. When you persevere and show your love of climbing and dedication to being the best you can be, you could be inspiring those watching without even knowing it. You don’t have to be a pro-climber to be somebody’s champion.

“Ability should never be questioned. I don’t think climbing is about age or illnesses, it’s about what you can do in that day. Some days I’d really struggle and feel like I can’t climb anything… other days I’d do an overhang and not even think about what I just did. You’ve just got to take it by the day.” - Susie

The climbing community is one of the most supportive and friendly sports communities in the world, especially our close-knit climbing community here at Vertical Limit. Susie says she enjoyed her time training at Vertical Limit: “I loved the community side of it. Such a good community for climbing… everybody just seemed so nice and you could talk to anyone. Even a couple of people tried to climb one-handed just to see what it was like and that was really incredible”. 

We hope to see you back soon, Susie!

The climb to healthy

Photo provided by Yasmin RL. Used with permission.

Photo provided by Yasmin RL. Used with permission.

Yasmin got into climbing in 2015, after a friend took her to an indoor wall. Shortly after, she started an initiative that has inspired the climbing community as a whole and drawn attention and recognition to the plus-size climbing community.

That initiative was using instagram to document her climbing journey. Her account The.Climb.To.Healthy started as a personal endeavour to track her own climbing journey, but it took off and inspired strangers in other parts of the world to pursue with their own climbing goals.

Yasmin says, “Originally, for me, it was a way of tracking my climbing journey. I noticed that being someone who doesn’t have a typically athletic body it almost changed the way I climbed, so I wanted to perhaps lose a bit of weight and tone up a bit and wanted somewhere to track my progress”.

She noticed that a lot of people had started to make instagram accounts for their fitness journeys so decided to do the same for her climbing.

“I called it the climb to healthy because I didn’t want it to be just about weight loss,” she explains, “I wanted it to be about being healthy and feeling healthy via climbing. [Climbing] is my biggest motivation to be healthy and be well so I can climb even better. In my time I’ve suffered a lot from poor mental health and also poor physical health and I thought that the name encapsulates my way of becoming healthy through something that I absolutely love: climbing”.

“In that moment when you’re on the wall, you can’t think about anything else - it’s you vs the wall. For me it’s a form of escapism. You can push yourself physically and mentally.” - Yasmin

Yasmin loves climbing for “the physical and mental challenge” and also for the friendly community: “With the climbing community it doesn’t matter whether you’re climbing the hardest grade or the lowest grade, everyone wants you to complete your climb and I think that’s really lovely.

“After I set [the account] up and started posting, I found more and more people in the community, loads of plus-size climbers which I didn’t realise was a thing and it is. It’s a massive community and everyone is really supportive of each other all over the world, same as in the climbing gyms where people are supportive of each other no matter what grade you’re climbing. I even managed to meet some people via instagram who I met in person and now climb with”.

“Climbing is something anyone can do and anyone can enjoy. You don’t have to be good at it, you just have to want to try.” - Yasmin

 She says of her future climbing aspirations: “I would definitely like to do a lot more outdoor climbing and I would like to become fitter and healthier so that I feel like I’m climbing at my best. I would love to keep introducing people to climbing and show people that climbing is something you can enjoy whether you’re short or tall or larger or smaller, regardless of your gender, regardless of any disability, I would love, basically, for everyone to share my love of climbing!”

Climbing is a great way to get fit and healthy and to lose weight, if that’s your goal too. Many people get stuck on the idea that there is a certain level of fitness or a certain physique required to start climbing, but climbing is actually a really accessible sport. Don’t wait until you feel like you’re ‘fit enough’ to start climbing and miss out on what could become your biggest passion in life. Climbing is a sport for everyone and it’s a sport that you can tailor to your current level of fitness and needs and the climbing community will cheer you on, whatever level you are starting on.

Yasmin would advise people who are interested in trying climbing but feeling self-conscious to give it a go: “I had been invited climbing a few years before I actually ever went, but I was too self-conscious… even though I knew I would enjoy it. Because I knew I wasn’t stereotypically athletic and because I thought I would not be very good, I declined the invite. You have to believe me that the climbing community is extremely supportive. It doesn’t matter whether you even get to the top of the wall, it doesn’t matter if you climb the lowest grade in the centre… everyone around you loves that you’re trying. That was a big thing for me because I thought people would watch me and judge me, but absolutely no-one does that. The biggest thing for me was that even though I didn’t initially think I would be able to climb, every time I went I saw improvement and that small achievement felt so good, and I would love other people to be able to feel that little achievement too”. 

Yasmin is one of my heroines too. I take medication that causes weight gain and I struggle with my weight. However, stories like Yasmin’s help me to feel more confident in myself and remind me that not being stereotypically athletic doesn’t mean that I can’t crush routes. Having fun and enjoying the climb is the important thing.

If you’re thinking about taking up climbing, our friendly and supportive community at Vertical Limit is waiting to cheer you on!