Women’s Climbing Symposium 2017


Charlie Low Photography

Just over 2 weeks ago, I had the enormous privilege of being the opening headline speaker at this year’s Women’s Climbing Symposium. I have only been properly climbing for just under 2 years and WCS was on my list to attend but to speak? Me? And I’ll say it again, yes, me.

This Symposium brings together over 400 women of all ages, abilities, backgrounds and climbing levels. The aim of the symposium is to help these women connect, develop themselves and leave inspired to create their own change, whatever that may be.

The theme for this year was “inspire” and here I was, going to be setting the tone for the day. Hopefully sharing a message that wouldn’t just set the tone but that would also impact the hearts of the amazing women I would be talking to. All united by the world of climbing, all looking to further discover themselves.

The timing of the symposium was very special for me. I’m in the middle of Team GB trials and having had a particularity bad health flare ahead of one of the competitions, I’ve been forced to pull out injured. The fight was on for the next competition which would be 7 days later and I was in a crisis. Wanting to attend the competition and yet not being fit enough. How was I going inspire a group of women when my climbing life had just come apart on me quite spectacularly?

I did what I know to do, I spoke with my heart. I spoke of the challenges I have faced as someone who looks visibly different, I spoke of the love for sports and the heart break I experienced when I had to leave martial arts and started watching my body degrade. I shared my fears, my worries and the ultimate choice I had made to fight for my health, the choice I still make today. The talk was one with raw emotion, I wanted them to feel the emotion I was feeling, the burning desire to keep going, the fear around my health and the determination to keep going, to take each challenge on the chin and to be gentle when things don’t work.

The privilege of being able to give a talk in this forum was incredible but what marked me more was the women, their desire, the atmosphere, frankly, everything. I was very honoured to be approached through the day by women facing their own challenges, that level of trust is very humbling. I also got to hear the other speakers, greats such as Lynn Hill and those looking to help others make their own change like Emma Wood. Of course, I got the chance to be a fan girl and got a selfie with Shauna Coxsey (who wouldn’t?!)

For me, the day was more than a talk. After getting hurt, I became scared of climbing. I have been climbing as part of my recovery process but that’s just it, nothing more. No leaving my comfort zone and not really enjoying it. I was getting frustrated with how limited I was finding myself on the wall and how the likelihood of me returning to full fitness in time for the remaining competitions was feeling more and more remote. Just as much as the women were there to find themselves, I was there to try and find myself. I needed to make sense of what had happened, of how, yet again, I was having to come back from a pretty brutal setback and repair a somewhat broken heart.

I had been told that the Women’s Climbing Symposium was amazing, the atmosphere life-changing but it’s way more than that. It’s a place where women can safely question themselves, challenge themselves and discover themselves without fear of judgment or any pressure. There is simply support and it’s there in bucket loads. I came to the Women’s Climbing Symposium, having somewhat lost my love for a sport which has become my lifeline. I left energised. Yes, I’m not back on the competition track and my season is pretty much toast but I’m finding my connection with climbing again. The Women’s Climbing Symposium community helped me to find myself again.

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