On Definition & Balance

“Can you proud of what defines you
And all you’ve heard about yourself?
What do you let define you?”
-”Definition”, On My Honor

For the better part of the past 4 or so years, if you asked me what I was – how I defined myself – you can be certain my answer would have been “a climber.” Of course, I was far more than the singular title of “rock climber,” but that is how I saw myself (and, most likely, how many other people saw me, too).

This wasn’t by accident. Nor was it entirely by design. Climbing had become something that transcended a sport for me. As I’ve said before, climbing was a lifestyle. I climbed, as I put it, because “it’s the way I exist in the world, the way I move, and the way I express myself. Climbing has given me most of the things I love in life.” Those words were true, and to a large extent, they continue to be.

Sending "Cindy Swank" in the Pollen Grains, Bishop, CA Photo Credit: The Burrow Files

Sending “Cindy Swank” in the Pollen Grains, Bishop, CA
Photo Credit: The Burrow Files

Life is a journey, and mine continues, often down roads I hadn’t anticipated. My life over the past year or so has been a journey of discovery, of re-discovery, of evaluation, of self-evaluation. I know, I’m making this sound like some epic transcendental experience on the ocean of reality. But I will say right now, it’s nothing that amazing. Far from it. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been any less transformative or any less powerful for my growth as a person.

Over the years that I’ve spent climbing, I’ve been many other things besides just a climber. But those things were often neglected, set aside, sacrificed for more time in the gym or more hours at the crag. I don’t regret those decisions, not for a second, but I’m learning that my life needs more balance, and I was out of balance for longer than I would have liked (or had realized). I think this came with the evolution of my life as a climber – how my skills developed, how my motivations changed, how my goals were altered.

I recently took a non-injury-necessitated total break from climbing – and I was surprised to find that, not once during the 6 or so weeks I took off, did I miss the gym or the crag. I missed the people, I missed the community, but I never felt like I had to drag my butt several miles to pull on some plastic. This shocked me, and to be honest, it scared me. It scared the ever-living s%#t out of me. “I’ve defined myself as a climber for years now,” I thought. “How could I not miss climbing, something I’ve based my life around?” (I mean, part of why I moved to California was to climb). What I felt was almost shame, a certain level of disappointment in myself.

But in those 6 weeks, I realized that I had been burning out on a sport that once gave me so much life and passion and hope and joy. Rather than appreciating the beauty of movement, of travel, of community, I was driven by grades and sponsorships  and wearing the right things and knowing the right people and posting the right content at the right times to the right places with the right hashtags. I hated the feeling of coming home from a trip and feeling like it was a total failure because I didn’t send. I hated the feeling of anxiety and embarrassment after a poor competition placement. I hated how I hated myself for not improving faster, for not sending harder. It was exhausting. It was stressful. It was humbling. It was discouraging, unmotivating. Somewhere along the road, I had lost my way.

This opened my eyes in a way that they haven’t been open in a long time. It was freeing. I’ve since returned to climbing, and I’m more at peace with it than I have been in a long time. Accepting the fact that I’ll probably never climb V15 – let alone V12 – without some major personal sacrifices (like dropping out of school) was important for me. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky one day – but that’s not the standard to which I want to hold myself. It also helped to realize that I have two absolutely amazing sponsors in Skratch Labs and Evolv. Looking back, my climbing résumé was none too impressive when I first signed on with those brands, so they must have wanted something else from me. Passion, drive, enthusiasm. I don’t need to climb V15 to bring those to the table, and I’m thankful for all the support Skratch and Evolv provide to a weekend warrior like me.

Photo Credit: Kellie Jo Brown

At the Humboldt State University CCS Competition Photo Credit: Kellie Jo Brown

The break I took from climbing was probably a long time coming, but I definitely didn’t see it coming – not even at the start of the year. I started 2015 with some great trips to Bishop including some unexpected sends. But by the time the CCS competition season started, I was barely maintaining a consistent climbing schedule. I’m surprised I made it through the CCS circuit with the extremely modest results I did. And then, once Nationals happened, the wheels totally fell off.

But I’m back now, essentially reteaching myself how to climb. I feel like a beginner again, struggling to make it up V5. My fingers feel weak and achy, my forearms feel heavy, and I feel a bit out of place on the wall – but I’m having fun, I’m reconnecting with people, and I’m psyched to be moving vertically again. Most importantly, though, I’ve brought some balance back to my life. I’m playing music, I’m playing hockey, I’m climbing, I’m filling my life with joyous things from many places, and I feel good about it.

I’ll still be doing all of the things I love in the vertical world – PBR15, Bishop Thanksgiving, Yosemite weekends, Mortar afternoons, post-work training sessions, post-training beer sessions…you get the idea. But I won’t feel so bad when I’m gone for a weekend hockey tournament or skip a Tuesday night to play at the local open mic.

I’m excited to have this fresh start to my climbing career, and I can’t wait to see how my life continues to develop. I appreciate whoever takes the time to read through this, and thanks for following along on my continued adventures. Hopefully I’ll see you all out there at the crag or in the gym really soon!

Sport climbing with Kurt Smith in Joshua Tree, California Photo Credit: Veronica Beman

Sport climbing with Kurt Smith in Joshua Tree, California (2014)
Photo Credit: Veronica Beman


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