Written by Natalia Kawana
Climbing. For some, a hobby. For many, a quite extreme sport. For those who do it regularly, a lifestyle and a mindset. Although I am far from being good at it and to be considered a real climber, I fell deeply in love with this sport and I’d say I fall into the last category. For me, climbing represents a lifestyle and a mindset which completely changed me for the better, as a person and a professional. Now I’ll tell you why.
Let’s get some definitions in place before we start. Here I’ll talk mainly about Free Climbing, which is a climbing style where you use safety equipment to prevent accidents and serious hurting in case you slip, fall or make wrong movements: rope, quickdraws, spits, harnesses… they are there to keep you safe. You are, however, not supposed to use any of this equipment to help you during the ascent. So you don’t use the rope to pull yourself up, nor pickaxes to lower the difficulty of the climbing route. That’s why this style is called free climbing.
I came in contact with it by accident. I’ve always dreamed to conquer mountains, to become an alpinist, but never really did anything about it. Living in a large city in Brazil for most of my life, and then in flat Denmark, Southern Sweden, Paris, I’d never really had the chance to be close to real mountains. This changed when I came to live in Turin. Less than a year ago, I heard of courses by CAI (Club Alpino Italiano), and I signed up for a rock-climbing course. And today I reckon, that was one of the best decisions of my life.
I knew nothing about it. The first theoretical lesson was a total disaster. I had to tie many different knots, remember where to put the rope… up, right, left, under.. I am quite hopeless with perspective, so as soon as you tell me to tie the same knot with my left hand, I get paralyzed. Not really my thing.
Still, during one of the first days, I had to go to a climbing gym – another new thing for me. At the gym, there were horizontal circuits with grades, as well as vertical routes for bouldering. At the session, I was clumsy, afraid of falling, holding on tight with the strength of my arms. But I was also somehow fascinated by this new sport.
First day on the rocks, I was confronted with great challenges: I had to go down by belaying myself on a double rope (abseiling), by letting my body hang on these ropes. It was simply terrifying! I had to trust the rope, myself, the equipment, the knots I made and simply let go. And then, as the course progressed, we did more difficult routes. I found out that climbing shoes hurt like hell, that slabs are even more terrifying than going up an overhang (at least for me)… that I loved the colorful holds telling me what to grab and where to step in the gym, but real life on the rocks is much harder, that I have a little vertigo now and then… and that chalk can really become your best friend!
But that’s only part of it. Climbing made me find out so much about myself and life.
Climbing is demanding, but I’d say much more in mental terms than physically.
From day one, I had to face my limitations with the knots and their perspective, because if I wanted to go on, I had to simply tie the knots, with no excuses. I couldn’t ask my instructors or climbing fellows to help me when we were all hanging on a cliff waiting to climb the next pitch – and of course, they were also facing their fear of slipping down, they had their own things to worry about. Then I had to fight my fear of heights, my trust issues on my poor climbing abilities and technique and on my climbing fellows who belayed me… and finally, under conditions of much stress, I still had to be able to think clearly, find a climbing strategy and continue until I got to the end of the pitch or route.
Climbing taught me to go on and win. When I made it to the top, the sensation was so unique and fulfilling that it made me always come back to it, no matter how hard it had been. In this process, I also began to realise that I needed to train regularly to be able to climb decently and to go on more challenging routes. So I felt like never having an excuse to skip the gym ever again.
Then there’s also the nature factor. Climbing made me see unique landscapes from high above, and it made me be in contact with the rocks, clean air and all the other beings around.
Well, think about it. Climbing made me address my limitations, face my fears, think under conditions of stress and then also become a disciplined sporty girl. And it made me carry on, no matter how hard the conditions were. Without mentioning that it made me a quick problem-solver. Trust me, you don’t want to take ages to solve a climbing problem when you are standing on a little edge with your feet squeezed in your tight climbing shoes.
Climbing made me take action and improve my life in many ways. I solved many energy-draining problems I was facing in my life. Because of climbing, I felt more powerful, full of energy, more confident in general. If I went up a multi-pitch route under nearly prohibitive conditions (that really happened on my first multi-pitch route, where we climbed with a bit of snow, so the rock was very slippery), I could really achieve anything I dreamed of.
And all of this applies to my professional life as well. Because of climbing, I started looking for a new job, as I had been working at a place where I was really unhappy. I’ve now found my place, Newired, a place where I can make a difference by simply being myself. Apart from being able to walk away from wrong situations, climbing makes me feel that I’m able to work much better.
With climbing, I became a better problem solver, able to consider all the alternatives and risks, and to keep focused on the everyday tasks that are part of my job and my routine. When you climb, you can’t just afford to get distracted, or you put yourself at risk. I took this as a life lesson and now I’m able to keep more focused on the things I do in general. I’m present, here and now, which is a great attitude to have at pretty much any situation.
With climbing, I constantly have to embrace the teamwork concept. We always do it in pairs, where one of the pair belays the other one. Just like at work, where we build something together in teams. Finally, climbing made me believe that everything is possible, as long as I work with my limitations and difficulties. It’s a real mental training, almost a kind of meditation.
Needless to say, climbing has been a watershed in my life. Of course everyone has their own passions and hobbies, something that inspires them and gets the best version of themselves out there. But even if you don’t think climbing is for you, you can still use something from my article: the ability of getting the most of the inspiring things you do and transfer them to other life situations. Including work.
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