WHY I: CLIMBING WORLD CHAMPION SHAUNA COXSEY

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‘The Beast From The East’ has done it’s best to thwart our travels, but a group of fellow sport and fitness journalists and bloggers have triumphed, huddling together in the freshly constructed Plymouth Climbing Hangar in the Western tips of the UK.  We’ve battled the ‘Beast’ to reach the all-new climbing facility for an exclusive Redbull training session with climbing sensation, World Champion Shauna Coxsey and training partner and fellow climber Leah Crane. 

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Hailing from the North of England, 25-year-old climber Shauna Coxsey MBE is the reigning IFSC Climbing World Cup Bouldering Champion (two years on the trot), something the British climber admits still hasn’t “quite sunk in”, but she’d “always dreamed as a kid of winning the World Cup and being World Number One and getting my name out there”.  Getting her name out there she has indeed achieved, and with the next summer Olympics on the horizon in Japan, climbing is set to make its much-anticipated debut alongside surfing and skateboarding as a new sport added to the Olympic roster. With two consecutive World Titles under her belt, Shauna “knew what I wanted was to be World Number One, and not just win the odd World Cup here and there, but to really assert myself at the top. So to do that and then repeat that again twice was just insane…I feel really privileged to have the opportunity to compete on the world stage.”

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Climbing has been a constant in the tenacious athlete’s life, grappling with her first boulders at the tender age of 4 having been wowed by climbing on the TV and falling “in love with it instantly… (I) decided that’s what I wanted to do”. Honing her internationally lauded skills at kid’s clubs in the UK and by asking her dad if she could “learn some belay”, Shauna was competing by the age of 7.  The first phase of her climbing career was based predominantly indoors, but gradually progressing to outdoor.  For now, the World Champion’s focus is on “competition climbing…so indoor is my focus”.

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For those of us who have given climbing a go, and with a group of us at this training session led by Shauna and Leah readily attesting, it is as much a physical sport as psychological.  The physical prowess and strength of Shauna and Leah is astounding.  For every mind-boggling route they chart on the wall, requiring super-women levels of strength and skill from their finger-tips to their toes, yet somehow executed with the dainty quietness and grace of a ballerina, there is the mental focus, decision making and fear-fighting at play too.  Shauna agrees, suggesting that climbing is as much “a psychological sport as much as a physical…the psychological element is different from many other sports…the pressures, the nerves...”.   With Shauna explaining how her training programme sees her training 6 or 7 days a week, with 2 or 3 climbing sessions a day she continues that

“Experience is one of the things you can’t value enough, … the more you get out there and do the things you want to be better at, the better you’re going to be. So if you do get nervous and you don’t want to, putting yourself in those environments and learning new skills is a good way to try and improve”.

Watching Leah and Shauna together it’s clear how much joy that take from training and climbing, and together they admit that they try and make every training session they have as fun as possible, often to the bemusement of other climbers who watch their methods which include “yogabatics” (acro yoga), ball games for focus and agility, and generally trying to have a blast (the girls admit many spectators often ask for tips afterwards, seeing how much fun the girls have.)  An incredibly positive disposition and approach to her sport is palpable in Shauna, and infectious – many of us, under her guidance and encouragement are attempting holds we haven’t before and with stoked-out success.

Sitting out the next World Cup whilst recovering from an injury, Shauna is also busy in preparation for the upcoming Olympics, which will include 3 disciplines – sport, bouldering and speed climbing, a “tri-discipline medal, so I’ll have to compete in all 3, which was a little bit daunting initially, but I’ve started training now and I’m very confident that I can make sure I’m in the best shape for the Olympics.”  With bouldering Shauna’s preferred discipline, it seems the other 2 are not far off Shauna’s mark, having made finals in a lead climbing World Cup last year.  Seeing the structure of a tri-medal as a positive in that “if I can train and become a stronger, fitter, better athlete, that’s my main goal and always my main focus and that’s what motivates me.”

When surfing and skateboarding were contentiously added to the Olympics there was a divisive split between those purists who argue it is against the heritage and freedom based DNA of the sports, and those who see it as positive progression and an opportunity to see their sport showcased on a global platform, climbing too caused similar divides.  “In my opinion" Shauna begins, "I think the more exposure a sport can get the better.  The Olympics is the most prestigious sporting event in the world.   If our sport can be showcased in a positive way then that can’t be a bad thing. If more people are getting involved in the sport, finding a new passion, finding a way to lead a healthier, active lifestyle, that surely can only be a good thing.  I can see why people would be apprehensive about it but I think it’s really a good thing in that the more people will see climbing will go and try it.  If one person finds a passion, just a small percentage of what I have in climbing, then that’s incredible”. 

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It is clear Shauna has a relentless passion for her sport and for anyone else finding as much joy in it that she has, something that led her to create the Women’s Climbing Symposium 8 years ago, and which ultimately she was awarded her MBE for by the Queen for services to her sport.   An all-female led event, Shauna explains that “Initially it was an event about barriers and tackling them. I didn't realise when I started climbing that there were women who were afraid to climb with their boyfriends, or get big muscles, or climb when they were on their period, or there would be things that I never would have considered…I wanted to open up a dialogue and give an opportunity to ask questions, talk and learn from it and other people’s experiences."

A consistently sold-out event, the Women’s Climbing Symposium gains in momentum every year, drawing together 100’s of women and girls to collectively celebrate climbing and meet, train and share;

“Over the years the event has really developed and grown into a celebration of the sport. It isn’t an event about women, it’s an event for female climbers to celebrate that they do the same sport and get together and get some advice get some coaching, hear from other people ad just really embrace climbing as good as it is and that community, which is really strong.”

The future looks incredibly exciting for the Champ, and as we dust off our chalky hands and share high fives with Shauna and Leah, it isn't hard to imagine seeing Shauna on the Olympic stage with the same energy, an emboldening mix of positive vibes and super-hero strength and talent.  

 

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