Jen Alger is a whimsical and hilarious commentator on training, climbing, and all things LIFE related. Jen’s background in theater scrupulously shines throughout her storytelling and writing. We are fortunate to be able to share Jen’s three part series on her past, present, and future endeavors in climbing. For a more detailed look at what Jen has been up to, check her out on Instagram @chubbygirlclimbing
You’re an Amateur and that’s OK: My future in climbing
I have been fascinated with climbing for a long time. Way before I actually started doing it regularly. I tell many people about my family’s obsession with watching Cliffhanger. If you’ve never seen it, the beginning involves Sylvester Stallone free soloing a ridiculous route and then yeeting a chick and her teddy bear from thousands of feet in the air. I may be paraphrasing a little.
Vertical Limit – another classic that was often rented. This also starts with a climbing scene that shows Robin (of Batman fame) cutting the rope on his own dad. A bald eagle calls as dad hits the ground floor. Robin looks mopey the rest of the movie. Similar to Batman. Also paraphrasing.
You might be like, “Jen you were not obsessed with climbing you were obsessed with tragedy please seek professional help.” And I would say, “Shut up, you.”
Despite every bit of rock climbing media I consumed ending in a horrific manner, I still insisted that I would be doing that someday. There was an undeniable freedom that could be attained from a skill like climbing. Parts of your world that were once blocked off could now be open.
But until my late 20’s the dream of scaling heights was only that-a dream. Part of that was accessibility. I lived in a suburb and the closest gym was some distance away. Part of that was fear. I had realized in high school after freezing on a challenge course that heights were not my strong suit. I was probably about ten feet in the air and felt like I was on top of a skyscraper. Non climbers might say that’s a healthy fear. The old, badass climbers of the 70s that used folded towels as crash pads would say to stop being a sissy.
Of course, my ego would never let me tell anyone that I was afraid, so I told my teacher my head hurt and sat on a log the rest of the day. Yeah, I was that kid.
Still, climbing fascinated me. Maybe because of the anxiousness it gave me. For years, I followed the top athletes in the sport, I continued to watch terrible movies depicting it, and I over-analyzed why Sylvester Stallone’s enormous muscles couldn’t save that girl from falling. JUST LIFT HER UP, SYLVESTER, GOD.
But this post is supposed to be about my future. And since my challenge course embarrassment a gym opened near me and I was finally able to climb. Now as you may have gathered from my first two posts…the fear and the ego…that’s still something I’m very much working on.
“Ok,” you might say, “But will you work on those things and start competing? 2020 Olympics is coming up, yooooo! Also, you are very beautiful, like, the prettiest person I’ve ever seen and I’m very intimidated by you, maybe we can go out sometime?”
Thank you. That’s flattering. You can call me later. But right now, I will address the first question.
Obviously, yes, I’ll be at the 2020 Olympics competing in sport climbing right after I free solo El Cap in record time and shove it in Alex Honnold’s face.*
*JK Would die just looking at the wall and thinking about jumping on with no ropes.
Now seriously, no. What I’ve discovered, and what’s so interesting about a hobby you’re passionate about, is that you can simply enjoy it for its own sake.
Is this to say that I never want to improve? Absolutely not. Climbing has already helped me make great strides in self-image and athleticism and I want to continue on that trajectory. But it is to say that even if I never top a 5.12, I’ll continue to love the sport.
G.K. Chesterton, a prolific writer in the early 1900’s, wrote a lot about giving props to the amateur. “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”
So often, our perceived value of any pursuits lies in whether we have a talent for it or can monetize it in some way. But, maybe, in 2019, we need to re-learn how to just love something. Even if we’re bad at it. Even if there’s no future goal of winning a gold medal.
I will continue to struggle with my self-consciousness and fear. I will also continue to attempt 5.11’s and V5’s that I probably have no business being on. I will improve, but I won’t put so much stake in improvement that I forget why I became entranced with the sport in the first place. If an amateur means to love what I’m doing, I will stay an amateur.
“A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.” ~G.K. Chesterton
Now, excuse me while I attempt not to cheese grate my face on this V3 slab.