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Women's Climbing Symposium

14 Nov 2011

Two Saturdays ago I attended the first ever women’s climbing symposium in the UK.  It was held at the Climbing Hanger in Liverpool and organised by top comp climber Shauna Coxsey and wall owner Ged Mac.

I was immediately keen to be involved as these types of events are really important.  I know for many women their ‘heart sinks’ at this type of thing, thinking it’ll either be lots of men bashing or ‘aren’t women great’.  It was of course neither.  The point is women make up the minority in our sport and in anything where there’s a minority it’s good to sometimes get together.

I went in my capacity as coach along with Lucy Creamer, Emma Twyford, Shauna Coxsey, Alex Puccio, Diane Merrick, Audrey Seguy, Kitty Wallace and Mina Leslie Wujastyk (who were all also coaches) and 96 attendees.  Shauna and Ged did an incredible job and the turnout was fantastic.

To start off with the British Team psychologist Vicki Cassel did a talk about how we can improve our climbing just by thinking about our mental approach.  Many things can influence whether we even get on a climb, let alone manage it successfully.  Sometimes women, certainly in this country, seem to lack that self belief more than men.  The circumstances Vicki talked about, that can influence us, include our previous climbing experience, other people’s encouragement or getting a boost from watching someone else you know complete a climb.

Then we all split into groups for some coaching.  My station was ‘arm strength’.  I set up some circuit training including push ups, lock offs and pull ups.  We only had 20 minutes per group so I thought I would give some tips while showing just how hard to have to try to make training work.  Anyway there was no doubting the effort everyone put in.  It was really impressive to see everyone working together and giving it everything.  There was plenty of huffing and puffing and red faces.  I wonder whether it being a women only group meant people didn’t care what anyone thought and went for it 100%.  Or whether the atmosphere the day created, meant people were on a mission to learn as much as they could.  Or probably it was both.

After lunch we did a Q&A session with the coaches and the audience.  I think we could have carried on for another hour at least.  The question that got things going was ‘do women have to be like men to be good’.  The answers depended on how you interpret the question and gave for good conversation!  But many people wanted tips on how to improve and I know that people found this a really useful session.

This was followed by a talk by top American boulderer Alex Puccio.  I was particularly interested to hear what she had to say.  She is known for her muscular physique as much as her climbing performance.  And she talked about her feelings towards her body, and how she felt the world/media perceives the ‘athlete’s’ build.  Until I had Vanessa I was very muscular.  Now my muscles have shrunk somewhat.  But I always felt very self conscious of them and have always been unsure of how a very muscular woman is actually perceived (it’s not always positive) despite the muscles have a clear cut function.  It was great to hear Alex so confident about her appearance and happy about how well her body functions.

And then suddenly it was almost 6pm.  Some carried on climbing, I had to drive back.  But all in all a very positive day.  I look forward to next year!