It seems like most climbers we meet didn’t start off as climbers. You have the gymnasts, the martial arts, the ballet dancers, the ninja warriors, the runners, the snowboarders, the skateboarders, the couch potatoes, the ballers, and the performers of nearly every other activity you can think of who somehow end up scaping knees and knucks as they make their way up walls. With the right mindset it’s not difficult to see how most activities offer some advantage in the climbing world. Think of the balance offered through ballet, the endurance attained through running, the strength acquired from lifting weights, and even the patience earned through parenting. There are potential climbing advantages that come from almost any sort of activity.
So, this week theDIHEDRAL crew is tasked with picking a non-climbing skill which best translates to their climbing success.
Prior to climbing, my life centered around becoming a professional philosopher, playing basketball, and paying for life by working construction. While philosophy and basketball clearly lend themselves to some advantageous climbing skills, working construction has to take the cake. Working in construction has some obvious climbing advantages. Swinging a hammer comes in handy for grip strength. Carrying plywood or bundles of shingles along roof ridges while avoiding nails, builds balance, strength, safety, and eliminates any would be fear of heights. Trying to envision the finish product of a re-mod, clearly helps envision the moves on a route. And the callouses earned from construction prepare your hands for long days of hanging out on the rocks. There are clearly lots of physical advantages that help segue a builder into a climber. But, the real advantage for me however is mental. Learning to overcome physical exhaustion after roofing for 14 hour days, learning that time and practice provide unimagined gains, learning the fine line between strength and finesse, learning that failure is okay, but is not a reason to give-up. I could go on and on, but the point is that any success I have on a wall, or anything else for that matter relates directly to my education from sitting on milk crates and surrounded by sawdust, tools, and asphalt shingles on hot summer days and cold winter nights. I never identified as a builder, but my experiences in the trade are indispensable to my life…both as a climber and otherwise!
It’s true the strength and endurance I acquired throughout my life playing various sports helped my climbing and gave me a leg up when I started climbing. I could and continue to draw on strength/endurance from these just like any type of cross training, and it gave me a seemingly permanent muscular build. But these things can be learned and trained, and I don’t think they had as big of an impact as my mathematical proof-writing techniques. Writing statements on a chalkboard and climbing walls seem unrelated, but they are truly parallel acts. When I have to prove a theorem, I start with what I know and try to look for angles that will allow me to use what I know to prove something new. When I look at a route, I start with what I know (clipping, flags, heinous piano matches, etc.). In both cases, I try one angle. It might work and be clean, or it might not. In the event that it is not clean, I try a new angle. In a proof, this might mean I go for a contradiction, or maybe I’ll need to cook up cases to prove. On the wall, this might mean I use a foot as a hand, or consider each way I can bend my knee to get the right power and balance. Sometimes I hit a dead end in the middle of my proofs like I do when there’s a sequence on the wall I can’t seem to get past. I’ll seek help from my more experienced mathematician buddies like I would solicit beta from my fellow climbers. They may have creative solutions, but if they don’t, I will just be stuck. Math has made me comfortable with being stuck—I’ll sleep on it, and in time (knowing me, it will be in my dream) I will find the right approach, construction, or lemma to help my proof. And thus I am okay with being stuck on a climb. I’ll come back another day, and that day I just might have the right mentality and beta to send.
I guess diverse aspects of our life play into our development in x or y activity, so I recognize that both my experience as a trail runner and dancer lent a hand in climbing. The latest physical activity I had practiced before trying rock climbing was trail running. It had already been two to three years since I hadn’t put my running shoes on. I was lacking discipline and trail running seemed like a thing of the past. However, something about climbing put me in tune with those past experiences. The gym atmosphere, the mental fortitude, and the tolerance for pain rang loudly in my brain. Those qualities of running soothed the way into my new-found endurance sport. I think that if I had not already had that close relationship with extreme outdoor sports, I probably would have not been as seduced to climbing as I was at the time. Another discipline that I found helpful in the sport was dancing. I grew up dancing and, although I am not as technical and I wish I was, I benefitted a lot from my limited dancing knowledge. Dance helps you develop body awareness, balance, and flexibility; qualities that I deem important and useful in climbing. To be honest, writing this post has made me want to trail run and dance again! Ha! Better get all type of shoes ready!
So… What shoes (or not) helped you transition? 🙂
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