Climbers Like Me photo series
If you can see it, you can be it. Anyone can be a role model. Through this series, we want to shine a light on the diverse voices within our climbing community. This is part of our effort to help create an outdoors that is truly welcoming of all. Studies have shown that we are most inspired by people we can relate to - be that gender, age, ethnicity, ability or experience.
As someone who has Pakistani heritage, is a muslim and lives with multiple visible disabilities as well as invisible health conditions (like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) including being a cancer survivor, I’m acutely aware of some of the barriers when it comes to reaching my potential not just in climbing but in society too. Diversify the people you are talking to and meeting. The more people you meet who aren’t like you, the more understanding you will gain of the barriers they experience and how to change them.
I had a bad depressive episode a few years ago. Prior to that I already dealt with anxiety, but this depressive episode sort of knocked me off my feet completely. I got medical help/ therapy and I still take antidepressants. When I think about when it was at its worst, I think about how important the days I spent hillwalking were. They were the days I felt myself again, when I remembered what I loved and why I was fighting.
Realising I was trans and coming out as transgender has also been the best thing I’ve ever done. I had become quite secluded in the years before I came to the understanding something wasn't right. 10 years ago I could not have faced walking into a climbing club hut full of people I didn't know. Dealing with and moving past my own physical and mental health issues allowed me to return to the outdoors, somewhere I spent a lot of my childhood.
I still sometimes find myself doubting my capabilities, mixed up amongst feelings that maybe I don’t belong in this environment, that maybe I’m not good enough to be here.
We don’t live in a particularly diverse world when it comes to alpine sports. It’s more of a man’s world and certainly not one overflowing with women of colour. I’ve found the feeling of not belonging in this field of sports is a recurrent stumbling block over the years.
I’ve always struggled with anxiety but never felt I was capable of overcoming it, or of living a life with the tools to manage it. I had resigned to the fact that I was probably incapable of taking control of my own happiness. Luckily I was able to pursue help, and a lot of CBT later I feel confident in my ability to maintain my own happiness, and comfortable asking for help when I need it.
At the beginning of this year, I changed careers to the great outdoors. Before that I was working full time as a business manager, clocking up over 100 hours a week and my mental health was taking a pounding. I found myself escaping outdoors for sunrises and sunsets before and after work to keep myself together. I had my first
panic attach in work that scared me. I needed a way out.
I wish we could live in a world where everyone was peaceful, respectful and happy. If everyone made a conscious effort to be happier towards themselves and happier towards others a little bit more each day, the world would be a much more beautiful place. All of the barriers and adversities people face will hopefully, in time, become a thing of the past.
The most joy I get when outdoors is just the feeling of not having to worry about anything else. The feeling of freedom and adventure...be accepting of other people from different backgrounds and cultures. Don’t think that just because they are brown or black they are somehow more inexperienced or need your unsolicited advice.
If someone identifies as a climber, then they absolutely are a climber and no one can tell them otherwise. NO ONE is too weak, fat, thin, disabled, short, tall, gay, of an ethnic/racial/religious/gender/sexual etc minority or anything else to be marginalised from the climbing community.
I’ve struggled with my self confidence in climbing and pushing my grade, so it’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can try a bit harder. Something that helps me is getting out with strong supportive women, who don’t let you make any excuses for not doing something they know you can! It’s something I will probably always be working on, but it’s all part of the challenge and makes achieving your goals that bit sweeter!
You can be who you want to be and you can do what you set your mind to do. It does NOT have to be done how it’s always been done before. I believe that it’s about the journey and not the finish line. Most importantly, it is your journey, so do it for you. Like no one is watching! Be unique and embrace and enjoy being different.
I am not very muscly, usually shy, introvert and mostly keep to myself...I’d really like people to be open, kinder and not judge a climber by the way they look. It’s really disheartening when I get to a crag and the assumption is that someone who looks like me will only be seconding or top roping. However, I do relish proving these people wrong!
Everyone has their challenges, and what you see on the outside most certainly will not depict what is going on for someone on the inside. Welcome everyone to climbing with open arms, cheer them on however high or low the grade of what they are climbing is, and remember that quote from Alex Lowe - “The best climber is the one having the most fun”.
More role models coming soon...
Each Friday we will post a new role model. We hope that eventually, everyone coming to this series will be able to see themselves represented in some way. If you can't yet, then maybe it's your turn to share your story and inspire others and get in touch.
Live in the present and don’t have any regrets. For years I felt like I was waiting for my life to start- it was going to happen after I came out, or after hormones, or after surgery. I regret those wasted years, however that regret motivates me to live my life now, taking opportunities as they come and not putting off things until the time is ‘right’. You never know what could happen to you tomorrow, and I strongly believe that awareness of your own mortality is key to living a fulfilling and gratifying life.
At 58 I'd just led my first HVS this century, so I set myself the goal of leading my first E1 before I turned 60, which gave me 20 months. I trained quite hard (for me), which was often a struggle, but I gained confidence from seeing myself making progress and getting stronger, in spite of regular elbow injuries - one of the hazards of getting older! I achieved my E1 goal, which I was happy with. The main satisfaction though was knowing that it is possible to get stronger and fitter when you're older, even if like me you've not been particularly 'athletic' or done regular training before.
I love the resilience being outside gives me. It constantly challenges and teaches me how to pick myself up after each fall. I love how the outdoors can bring people together and help me to form meaningful connections. My biggest challenge to date has been redefining what success and happiness looks like to me and being okay with that rather than being defined by a set of cultural norms and expectations that dictate my happiness of where I should be in life.
For me the most important thing in life is being true to yourself. That’s what led me to come out as non-binary despite doubts hanging over me about whether it would make any “difference” as I’ve always been the same person underneath. What I’ve found over the last year is that by living everyday being outwardly the person I am on the inside, my interactions with the world are more meaningful as a result.