In this week’s edition of Women in Climbing, I’m going to broaden our focus. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the people we look up to in the world influence us to the core, and, by extension, our climbing. Thus, I asked the team to describe women who inspire them and satisfy two rules: they cannot be family members (immediate or extended), and they cannot be Lynn Hill (I think everyone knows, for a lack of a better phrase, we want to be her when we grow up).
As High-Clip continues her “Women In” series, I was very excited to A) be a part of the discussion, and B) have an opportunity to shine a light on an extraordinary woman who has personally and professionally influenced my life. In 1997 Martha Nussbaum published a book called Cultivating Humanity. As a philosophy professor, I’m faced with the constant challenge of defending the discipline as an endeavour that belongs in modern academia. It’s not only philosophy, but there are some who would write off the entirety of a liberal education as being worthless in the modern capitalistic west. As classes get cut from the core, and “fringe” degrees get eliminated from the curriculum, the weight of imagining a world without Hypatia, Wollstonecraft, or Shelley weighs heavily on me. I wish things like classics, literature, philosophy, and liberal arts in general weren’t the types of things that would ever need a last line of defense, but here we are. In a world of quantifying relevance it’s dangerous to allow ourselves to deem the unquantifiable irrelevant. Martha Nussbaum’s Cultivating Humanity is an example of what happens when really smart people write really smart things! It should be required reading for everyone…especially law makers and education administration. I love this book and writer, Martha Nussbaum’s defense against the perception of irrelevance is a confidence builder which translates easily to all disciplines and activities where quality of life supersedes the quantity of wealth. In this sense philosophy and rock-climbing make for comfy bedfellows! Cheers Dr. Nussbaum!
After giving the team the task of discussing women who inspire them, I realized that this was a bit of an arduous task. Not because women aren’t inspiring, or that they don’t do important things, but because the majority of my interests lie in traditionally male dominated fields (climbing, math, backpacking, physics, mountain biking, computer science, lifting, etc.) where historically men were the pioneers/more noticed/more accepted in these fields.
My first semester as an undergrad, I took this upper-level, abstract, proofy math course that was, at the time, a bit over my head. From the first day, I knew it was going to be the best course I’d ever taken. Partially because the subject is the coolest area in math, and partially because it was taught by one of the coolest mathematicians (let’s call her Dr. M for math). I’ve been truly blessed with fantastic math instructors in my lifetime, male and female, but Dr. M was really something else. She has such a command of the subject, and she would explain anything to you, drawing connections to other studies of math. Moreover, she consistently speaks at conferences across the globe and is well-respected in her field. On top of that, she’s honest and humble. One of her most admirable qualities is her ability to admit she doesn’t know everything in all of mathematics. Sometimes, she would say, “you know what, I don’t know the answer to that, but let me find it for you.” That might mean she would pull out a book from her bookshelf and look it up right away, or that might mean she would bring an extra sticky note with her to the next class to remind herself to explain her findings to us. Needless to say, I was really intimidated by her at first. Not because she would call me out whenever I said something that wasn’t mathematically sound (though she would call out anyone and correct them when needed), but because I realized she is the goal. And not the goal for me as a woman, but the goal for any human as any gender. She is at the top of her field, she has a life, and she lifts other people in her field (students, post-docs, other beginning professors, etc.). She’s not afraid of being challenged and she’s not afraid to challenge others. What else could you possibly need to be inspired?
I didn’t realize how hard it was to recognize influential people in our lives until I was tasked to do so. My mother has always been my go-to answer because of the place she holds in my heart. Therefore, not being allowed to highlight family members made the selection process somewhat challenging. It took three days of constant interrogation from Carrot for me to find THE one.
After Carrot’s relentless efforts to help me find an inspirational woman for the post, I finally had a person in mind: Tibisay, my former P.E. teacher. My heart skipped a beat and my mind found peace the moment I said her name out load. How come I had forgotten about her? Tibisay, the woman who believed in me. The teacher who taught me about respect for a craft and humility. Tibisay is strict, relentless, demanding. The type of teacher who expects her students to succeed, to be devoted, to respect authority. I found her to be very intimidating on our first day of class. A woman with an imposing aura, only exceeded by the size of her heart. It took me a whole semester to realize that her strict, relentless demeanor was a façade.
Tibisay is a woman who respects people that take pride in their work. She expected you to work hard, without restrictions and hesitations. We bonded my second year of high school, when we got to select our P.E. specialization. Tibi came from a competitive Rhythmic Gymnastics background, and back then, I was a dancer and theater actor. I was used to a strict training dynamic and blunt feedback, so taking her class made sense to me. Our shared passion for the arts and our dedication for the craft transformed into a beautiful friendship. She became my mentor and encouraged all my crazy artistic ideas. I admired her and, I want to believe that, at some point, she admired me back.
I have not talked to Tibisay again. We lost contact soon after I moved to the U.S.; the last correspondence we had was via e-mail. She was doing fine, she was overcoming her battle with cancer, and she was proud of me. I was pregnant at the time, young, and scared. Tibisay and I hugged from a distance and reminded each other to be strong and humble, just like at the gym.
Tibisay is modest, loving, rebellious. The kind of teacher who protects her students, enables them, and inspires them to be humble fighters.
Volleyball or rhythmic gymnastics? The cool kids chose the former, I chose her.