How to Train Your Vikings Part 1 (Guest Post)

by Abby E

Some people spend Easter eating ham and sweet potatoes with their families; others just hang out for the long weekend. This year, I spent Easter learning how to kill people safely.

My fellow reeanactors and I have been waiting for a few months for two trainers from Edmonton (N and P) to give individual and group assessments. As a new member, I had to do the basic combat safety assessment and display and formation assessments so that I can perform in public shows. In the days leading up to the weekend, I kept telling myself “You got this” and “Don’t fuck it up.”

While the more experienced members were taking their one-handed spear assessments, the fledgling Vikes discussed safety rules and equipment, allowable strike zones, and what you do when you accidentally land a shot outside a strike zone.

To start off the physical tests, we picked up our weapons and, one by one, dealt blows to our chain-mail-clad trainer to make sure we were hitting with the right amount of force. Next, we moved on to practicing “eights” – the eight places/directions to hit your opponent – and how to block each shot, first while standing still, then moving around each other to demonstrate striking and blocking as if we were doing a show.

P (right) is wailing on another new recruit. These guys definitely put us through our paces.
That was relatively easy but the two-minute fights were hard. I’m a deskmonkey and I don’t do as much cardio as I should, so two minutes of fighting while holding a shield is fairly taxing. Of course, this is all for display. Real Vikings would have struck quick and hard to land a killing shot without expending unnecessary energy, but we’re doing this for edutainment purposes, so we want to give the crowds a thrill. I had an axe, which I really like because you can use it to hook your opponent’s shield or weapon, but you don’t have the same reach as with a sword. Additionally, your hand is closer to the fight and completely exposed, so I took a good shot to the ring finger on my right hand. After dinner that night, one of the trainers noticed my swollen, purple finger and said that was a common axe fighting injury, then everyone at the table proceeded to goggle at my war wound. I was very proud.

Of course, the real test was facing off against polearms, which is tough when you have a little one-handed axe. The shield is great protection, but it’s incredibly hard to get in to land a hit when you’re trying to dodge blows and not get pushed around. Your opponent’s options are limited if you get close, so they don’t want you to get close.

I’ve fought against each of the two-handed spear and the dane axe before, but those trainers were clearly wearing kid gloves. They were instructing – this was a test. These guys were WAY more aggressive and even though I never felt unsafe, it was incredibly challenging to block a fast, heavy blow and then recover enough to attempt a strike. Trust me, if you had to face down a dane axe in a real fight, you’d shit your pants. Hopefully, you’d also remember to block the big, scary axehead coming at your face.

A more experience fighter with a one-handed spear and shield facing down a trainer with a dane axe. I don't remember who won, but it was a good fight.
A more experience fighter with a one-handed spear and shield facing down a trainer with a dane axe. I don’t remember who won, but it was a good fight.
I passed my basic combat assessment (yay!) and then it was time to do shield wall formations. I think I had only practiced the shield wall once or twice before and I had a lot of trouble then, partly because my Jarl was shouting in Norse so I kept doing the wrong thing and partly because when we did an about-face, we were raising our shields over our heads, turning, then bringing our shields back down and slamming them together to reform the wall. However, by the time we got around to doing the shield wall during a previous practice, my shoulder was so tired I couldn’t lift the shield. However, N and P taught us to just lower our shields to our sides, turn towards our weapon side, then turn and reform the wall, which is much easier.

Advancing as a unit took a little work, but we got that down pat. I was trying hard to focus on what I was doing and whether I was in step with my neighbours, but it was really amazing to get into formation, march forward as a unit while shouting and bashing our shields, and then stop and go silent all at once. It’s really eerie. I can imagine how an opposing force would see that.

Aside from the usual single- and double-line formations, we worked on the “boar snout,” which is a wedge formation intended to break through an opposing force’s shield wall. The lead fighter stands out front to form the point of the wedge while others stand behind and slightly to the sides with their shields overlapping, and behind them all are several lines of fighters who help drive the whole thing forward. Once the shield wall is breached, you can start nailing your opponents and their whole defense will just start falling apart.

We also worked on a formation intended to protect several lines from projectiles. We had already practiced blocking blunted, low-velocity arrows and thrown spears while standing in a single-line formation, but that leaves your legs vulnerable. This formation has the front line getting right down all fours with their shields on the ground in front of them while the lines behind kneel or crouch, lowering their shields, angling and overlapping them to block unfriendly fire. Naturally, the trainers looked for the holes between shields and poked at us with their spears. [Insert dirty jokes here.]

A shield wall formation intended to protect multiple lines of fighters from projectiles.
A shield wall formation intended to protect multiple lines of fighters from projectiles.
Anyway, after some sparring, we all moseyed along for dinner and drinks and relaxed for a bit. By the time I got home I was tired and happy and totally prepared to feel like a rusty tin man in the morning.

Abby E. is a Toronto-based freelance editor who loves science, philosophy, and speculative fiction. She is not a crazy cat lady, just a crazy lady who has cats.

body image · fitness · training

How to Rid Yourself of Body/Training Envy

poison-envyI am a huge fan of Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach. She’s helped me a lot with my own writing habits through her newsletter and blog, one-on-one coaching a few years back, and  continuing resources from the time I did her Extreme Writing Makeover many years ago. This week she wrote a fabulous post about “How to stop envying other writers.”

Just about everything she says can apply equally well to the envy some of us might experience when other people seem to be doing and achieving what we wish we could do and achieve in the training / results of training department. Since I doubt there’s a ton of overlap between Daphne’s audience and ours, I thought it might be fun to share some of her wisdom on envy as applied to bodies and training.

She says: “If you’re a writer who’s envious of other writers, you can be making your own life miserable.”  Yes, you can. And if you’re a runner, swimmer, cyclist, gymnast, yogi, triathlete, body builder, cross-fitter, shot-putter, skier…you get the picture — if you’re any of these and you envy others who do it too, you are very likely making your life miserable.  When we envy others, we shortchange our own selves and undervalue our accomplishments by comparing.

Daphne offers five bits of advice for dealing with the green-eyed monster:

1. Understand that envy is an evolutionary hiccup that comes from your reptilian brain. Also known as the fight or flight response, envy (and anger and fear) cause your heart rate and adrenaline to increase. Your blood pressure rises and your breathing changes. You sweat more and your hands become moist. Acidity increase in your stomach. In other words, you’re going to feel crummy. But don’t blame yourself for envy, because blame will only make things worse. If anything, curse your reptilian brain and take steps for better self-care.
This applies to envy no matter what its source, so no need to belabor the applications to training envy here. She goes on to point out that
2. We don’t know the other person’s whole story. You have no idea about how hard the other writer worked. Was it easy for him or her? Or fiendishly difficult?
It’s so true in the case of bodies and training. We just don’t know. But there’s a good chance that the most accomplished athletes train hard and for long hours. If you envy someone’s progress from year to year, do you envy their training schedule, too? Or do you just want what they have without doing what they do? This has become clear to me over and over again. When did I make the most progress in my swimming? The year I trained diligently, never missing a 6 a.m. training session in the pool.  When did my yoga headstand get solid and strong? The summer I dedicated 20 minutes a day, every single morning, to practicing yoga–always including a minimum 5-minute headstand.
Daphne makes this excellent point:
3. Remember that the success of others has no impact on yours.
Unless you’re at the top of the game, always competing for one of the prize spots at your events, no one else’s success has to affect yours. This is especially true for those of us who are setting personal best type goals.  I’m in the lower part of the middle of the pack in my running. Others’ success has literally no impact on my potential. None. Nada.
And this is most definitely the case for body envy. There are all sorts of reasons not to envy other people’s bodies.  But for sure, if you’re trying to change your body composition (which is no easy task), your neighbor’s body-fat percentage is totally irrelevant.

Here’s the thing. We’re much better off to keep our eyes on ourselves.  Meaning:

4. Focus on yourself instead of others.

Then she lists a bunch of things writers can do to write better. All these things that are under their own control. Same with working out. If I want to do better, I can commit to going to the pool twice this week. I can sign up for a yoga workshop. I can make a commitment to meet some friends to go running. Join a clinic. Make a reasonable schedule and stick to it. Do a challenge, like the one Sam wrote about.

Stewing about someone else’s success or longing that it should or could be mine contributes nothing to my goals (unless others’ success inspires you, in which case you’ve got no worries about envy).

Daphne’s final suggestion is that you:

5. think about how envy harms you and turn your envy into appreciation instead. Envy will poison you and make it even more difficult for you to write.

The same is true of envy over someone else’s training results. I’ve talked about the inspirational dis-value of fitspo.  For me, the focus on others just doesn’t really get me where I need to go. It keeps me stuck and demoralized, and more importantly, inactive. We think we’ll be happy when we succeed. But, citing motivational expert Sean Anchor, Daphne suggests that we actually succeed when we’re happy.

So there you have it. Envy doesn’t do anyone any good, whether we focus on other writers or other athletes. Instead of spiraling into negativity and comparison (we’ve talked about comparing here too), I find I’m much happier when I do what I can with what I have based on a realistic and self-compassionate assessment of where I’m at today. It’s a lot easier to do that when I stop wishing I had what others have and focus instead, and with appropriate gratitude, on my own life.

Feel free to share your own experiences with envy and how to overcome it. Many thanks to Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, for her wise words about envy. To read Daphne’s full post about envy, follow this link.


Manicure camp for girls, sports for boys. Because it’s 1957.

Blog reader spotted this and wrote this!

Buzzfeed Canada picked up the story and as of press time, Dovercourt had pulled its recreation guide and Richmond Hill announced they would “review” their programming. Feminism FTW!]


First 50 workouts down!

In Checking in with my Facebook fitness friends, I wrote about a couple of ‘fitness encouragement and accountability’ groups I’d joined.

216 in 2016 is based on the following simple idea: “In 2016 there are 365 days. We are going to challenge ourselves to workout 216 times in those 365 days.”

WHY: (1) Consistently doing deliberate exercise is one of the most important factors in developing good health and fitness. (2) Choosing to complete a workout or not is something we can control.

HOW: (1)Workouts are defined as any form of deliberate exercise/movement. Some example are, lifting weights, doing gymnastic, a CrossFit WOD, a hike in the great outdoors, practicing a martial art or yoga. Taking a dance class or playing rec softball with the folks from work. (2) Use a spreadsheet, a habit tracking app, or a notebook and give yourself a check mark for every workout you complete.

I’ve been enjoying it and I was happy to mark the my first milestone, 50 workouts. That’s 50 in 3 months, x 4 is 200, and that leaves me just 16 shy of the goal. I do a lot more in the summer though so I’m not worried.

Here’s my first 50 of 2016.

50. 30 km bike ride
49. Random indoor exercising, treadmill, rowing machine, abs, weights
48. 90 minutes Aikido
47. Run 3 km
46. Urban bike ride, 40 km
45. Ride bike 60 km, first outdoor road ride of 2016
44. Aikido
43. Hot yoga
42.Dog jogging!
41. Treadmill run plus hotel gym weights
40. Aikido!
39. Boxing
39. Fat biking


38. Dog jog, 5 km
37. 90 min bike trainer class
36. 45 spin class, Friends for Life Bike Rally
35. 90 min bike trainer class
34. Aikido
33. 1 mile run
32. Hot yoga
31. Fat biking
30. Lead bike trainer class
29. 90 minute bike trainer class
28. 2 hours cross country skiing and hiking
27. 45 minutes on bike trainer while watching Netflix. Some days you do what you can
26. Aikido! Or as our sensei called it today, origami with people.
25. Two hour trainer class at MEC
24. Hot yoga
23. Bike trainer class
22. 1 hour snow shoe hike with hills!
21. 2 hour cross country ski
20. 2 hour fat bike lesson, riding in the snow!
19.  90 minute bike trainer class
18. 90 bike trainer
17. Dog jog!
16. Aikido
15. Skating in park
14. Boxing
13. Aikido
12. Bike trainer class
11. 2 km erg, abs, weights
10. Dog jog
9. Aikido
8. Run 1 mile
7. Bike trainer class
6. Bike trainer class
5. Aikido
4. Weights
3. Aikido
2. Bike trainer
1. Dog jog!
fitness · yoga

On Re-Connecting with My Inner Yogi on the Beach

Yoga hasn’t always been a part of my life. When I was a grad student in my twenties, I used to look at the older women (in their thirties and forties!) doing yoga at my health club and wonder why anyone would want to do that. It seemed so…tame, gentle, BO-ring.

But when I took it up myself 16 years ago, myself in my thirties and looking for something new to try (this was before it got trendy), I learned to appreciate the slow steady gains in strength, flexibility, and balance that came with a regular yoga practice.

The thing is, I believe in yoga and its many benefits. Despite that, when my triathlon training got more serious a couple of years ago, it started to edge yoga out of my life. First I dropped my regular Tuesday morning yoga class, easily part of my schedule for a decade, because of a time conflict with swim training. Then, I let go of my unlimited hot yoga pass because running took up more of my time at the end of the day and on weekends.

Before long, I hardly did yoga anymore. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized how I’ve missed it. I’m going to hot yoga a bit more on weekends now. But just last week, on a sailing vacation in the Bahamas, I totally fell for yoga all over again. On the beach, no less.

I’ve never quite understood why anyone would want to do yoga on a beach. Those photos you see in magazines, where they’re on cliffs with the ocean in the background, or on a sandy beach doing dancer’s pose, just seemed so staged to me. Isn’t it too hot to do yoga on a beach (nevermind that I already do hot yoga in a studio!)? Too sandy?

Well, last week that all changed. Most mornings on Stocking Island in the Exumas, you can catch a 9 a.m. yoga class with Agnes under the shade of a big tree on Volleyball Beach. I’d heard her come on the Cruiser’s Net every morning to say she’s teaching a yoga class, but it wasn’t until this time that I decided to go check it out with my friend, Cindi (the same Cindi who was with me when I wrote about muscles and aging women’s bodies last week).

About twelve people came the first time we went. Agnes took a rake to smooth out the sand and then everyone set up their mats or towels facing her, with the water lapping up onto the shore every so gently behind us. A perfect breeze, not stiff but steady, neither hot nor cold, kept us cool through the class.

Agnes took us through a variety of postures, including several sun salutations (what I have come to know as “flows” these days) and the warrior series. She gave guidance but also left us in silence from time to time. During one of these times, in a wide-legged forward bend, I had one of those moments where everything seemed to be just as it should be. The stretch was exactly what I needed. That breeze seemed to whisper soothing words into my ear. The sand felt warm on the tips of my fingers as they spilled off the edge of my mat.

After the 90 minute class, Cindi and I kayaked over to the big beach on the other side (so idyllic) for a long, leisurely swim. Here’s the big beach on the ocean side of Stocking Island:

big beach

I don’t know if it was the yoga, the great company, the calm water on the big beach side of Stocking Island, being able to do yoga in a swimsuit, or some combination of everything. But both Cindi and I felt so totally relaxed, yet strong.

That was enough to get me back out to yoga, this time with Renald joining me, a couple of days later when our friends had left.  Here’s Renald getting ready to do Agnes’s yoga class with me, under the big tree. Those are our mats:

yoga renald

The whole thing so inspired me that this time, when we kayaked over to the big beach, I couldn’t stop! To get over to the open ocean side of the island, you need to walk up to the top of a ridge and then back down again. If you want, you can take a little trail over to a bench that overlooks the beach.

We went over to that bench and it seemed like a perfect spot to do a bit more yoga and take some pictures. It occurs to me now that there actually is something special about doing yoga on a beach, or anywhere outside in nature. It gives an added sense of freedom and energy.

Here are some pictures from my impromptu yoga photo shoot, atop the ridge overlooking the big beach.

The Warrior.

Toppling tree (not the best pose but definitely the best background!).



Never again will I question why or whether anyone actually does yoga on the beach. It’s an excellent place to re-connect with your inner yogi. I know I did!

Guest Post

Guest Post: Paragliding in New Zealand (or Doing Something that Once Terrified You)

by Mallory Brennan


Last time I was in New Zealand, I remember watching people paragliding off cliffs near Queenstown with the rest of my family. Turning to my mother, Samantha, I commented “I could never do that” and she agreed. Well, four years later I’m back in the same place only this time I’m the one running off the cliff with a parachute (and guide) attached to me!

(For those of you unfamiliar with paragliding, Wikipedia defines it as “the recreational and competitive adventure sport of flying paragliders: lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid primary structure. The pilot sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing comprising a large number of interconnected baffled cells”)

What made me want to do it? Well, NZ is known as one of the adventure capitals of the world- bungee jumping, skydiving, rafting, zorbing- you name it, it can probably be done here! While traveling by bus, almost everybody around me had done some form of adrenaline-inducing activity. And nobody regretted doing it. On our way into Queenstown, we stopped for people to go bungee jumping (I watched) and I thought I’d like to challenge myself to do something that scares me. Not bungee (too scary!) but maybe something else.

A quick Google search led me to paragliding- it involves heights (which I’m not fond of), but no falling (hopefully). So, I signed up, paid, and committed myself.

The morning of, the bus picked us up in Queenstown and drove us out to Coronet Peak. And we start driving up, and up, and up, to a point high enough up the mountain to go gliding. My instructor introduces himself, straps us both in and gives me these instructions: “When I say go, start running!”. So, we start running and, as we near the edge of the cliff, the parachute lifts us up into the air and we’re flying!

It was awesome! Drifting peacefully over the valley, beautiful scenery below and around us. We drifted gradually down before landing in a field where the van met us. Would I do it again? Definitely! Not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. Who knows what else I’ll try while I’m here? NZ is full of opportunities to try new activities and to realize that they’re not as scary as you once thought. We’ll see!

Paragliding in NZ

link round up

Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #72

This is where we share stuff we can’t share on our Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Usually the posts are about body image, sometimes there’s nudity but we’re all adults here. Right?

Beauty of the belly

Today we’re honoring the muses of art history whose bellies cannot and will not be contained.

Bad Fat Broads

the bad fat bitch perspective on everything important

Happy trails on women

It’s been a while since the full bush came back in style, finally liberating women from the burden of getting hot wax poured on their privates. And last summer we pretty much all agreed we should grow out our pit hair. But now it’s time for another body-hair revolution. This spring, let’s embrace the far more stigmatized “happy trail,” the patch of hair some women grow between their belly buttons and their bush.


Reasons not to shave your legs this spring


I haven’t shaved in years. I choose to let my personal preferences dictate my body hair maintenance rather than societal expectations. That said, winter melting into springtime has made me reconsider shaving my legs in the past. Don’t get me wrong; I adore the fuzzy aesthetic. But spending so many cold months in jeans and leggings used to have the potential to genuinely make me forget why I was making some of my beauty choices. The first few times I wore shorts or skirts as the seasons changed were characterized by a certain measure of embarrassment, ultimately forcing me to rebuild self-confidence in my body.

Sixty year old swimsuit model

Sixty-year-old model Yazemeenah Rossi proves this point flawlessly in new campaign images for a swimsuit collaboration between online specialty shop The Dreslyn and lingerie house Land of Women.

She makes it perfectly clear a company doesn’t need young models to draw attention, making us wonder why this is still such a rarity in the industry.

Body positive underwear for men

Male underwear models are nice to look at and everything, but most guys aren’t walking around in a continuous state of “photoshoot ready.” American Eagle is getting their Dove Real Women on with a new line of underwear celebrating healthy male body image, #aerieman.

Bearing the tagline, “The real you is beautiful,” the campaign is part of a recent shift in marketing towards men that favors more diverse images of masculinity, as seen in Axe’s “Find Your Magic” commercial or IMG’s new plus-sized male model division.

Plus sized male model signed by major agency and people are stoked

IMG Models just introduced a new plus-size men’s division called “Brawn,” according to WWD

fitness · health · motivation

On Ritual, or Moving Religiously

Today is Easter Sunday. For many Protestants and Catholics, that means attending religious services—on Saturday night, at sunrise on Sunday, but mostly on Sunday morning in churches jam-packed with folks who attend Christmas and Easter services but not other times of the year. There’s even a term for them: chreasters.

With attendance dropping and congregations aging, some churches will go to great lengths to attract and keep these twice-a-year attendees coming after the holidays are over. One pastor used a live lion and lamb in his Easter sermon (it’s true; check out the picture here).  But, according to many sources (like here and here), lots of self-identified Christians just don’t prioritize the ritual of regular church attendance. So today the pews will be packed with suited and hatted and patent-leather-shoed folks.


easter church


Next Sunday, those people will return to their newspapers, computers, kid soccer games, brunches, and other activities, while their churches will look more like this:


after easter


I don’t know what the “chreaster” equivalent is for exercise or physical activity. There are the “January people” at the gym, misusing the equipment and clogging up the locker room. And in cycling, there are the “Freds”—cyclists whose experience is far outstripped by their extremely expensive bikes and gear (although Freds tend to ride regularly). There are probably other derogatory and sports-specific terms floating around.

But that’s not my aim here. The arrival of Easter has me thinking about exercise ritual and committing oneself to it, moving religiously as a part of fabric of one’s life. And by “one”, I mean me.

I’m no “chreaster” (I really dislike that term—I won’t use it again, I promise) exerciser, but in the past couple of months, I haven’t made as much time in my life for movement as I would like, or as I need in order to feel good and strong and agile. Yes, I’ve been walking and doing yoga. But I have not been on my bike trainer much at all (why not? No idea). And strength training? Hasn’t happened. Yes, I’ve done some scuba training, some kayak training, but these aren’t regular, daily, extended physical activities that work on cardio, strength, endurance, mental toughness.  All of those things are what we get from making exercise a ritual—an ingrained habit that is deeply embedded in who we are and what we do, an activity we wouldn’t even think about skipping.

moving religiously

Renowned choreographer and dancer Twyla Tharp wrote a book, The Creative Habit in which she talks about the power of ritual:

I begin each day of my life with a ritual; I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where I workout for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.

It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it — makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about.

This quote is from an interesting article on the power of ritual to help lay down and embed habits. How to establish and maintain habits is well-trodden territory in this blog and elsewhere, but I liked the idea that a ritual can be “the on-ramp” for behaviors.   So I’m now going to be shopping around for some rituals to help me re-establish more regular cycling habits. Readers, what are your favorite rituals for exercise? Do you put your helmet next to your bed? Do you have favorite running gear that you keep by the door? Do you go to the same coffee shop at the beginning/middle/end of your workout? I’d love to hear from you.

And Happy Easter!


Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 12.13.00 AM







Sat with Nat

Plan to live forever, live like you’ll die tomorrow

My mom called Thursday night with sad news. My aunt Suzann had died. She had not been well after a serious stroke before Christmas. She was in her 60s. It seems so sudden and while I had not seen her in quite some time her adult children and grandchildren are in my thoughts. 

When I think about fitness I often think of the long-term benefits of reducing risk of heart disease. Some of my exercise is motivated by wanting to live as good of a long life as I can. I balance that with the immediate payoffs of feeling good so I do activities I enjoy. 

My fitness activities can’t come at so high a cost to my current goods that I feel I’m only living for the future and not having fun now. I also know if I don’t think about the future I won’t do as much today. 

The more I learn about cancer & heart disease the more I realize much is beyond my control. It’s not about being fatalistic but more recognizing that genetics, socioeconomic status and my environment have a very real part to play in my longevity. 

My partner and I have had a lot of extended family members in thier 60s die. It’s hard on our parents and other family members and there’s not much we can do. 

 It’s sobering to think about death but also I am sure to create a life where I’m fit enough now to do what I want today. 

I hope your Saturday is a mix of current goods and things that will make your future good too.  

my neighbour Tara took this beautiful photo of my home after a storm last week. Sprng storms mean warmer weather is coming.

Ashima sends V15 (Guest Post)

Ashima Shiraishi is, objectively, amazing. Just a few days ago, the 14 year old climber from New York became the youngest person ever to send a V15 boulder problem. If you’re not a climber, you might not have a good sense at just how remarkable an achievement V15 is, but it’s the kind of grade that most of us regular climbers would never even dare to dream of. I don’t know it totally captures the sheer difficulty of what a V15 boulder problem looks like, but note that the photo above is not a top-down shot.

I remember seeing the short film Obe and Ashima (trailer) at a Reel Rock film festival a few years back and loving its coverage of the then-nine-year-old Ashima and her coach Obe Carrion, once also a world-class climber.

There are several sports in which women do not seem to be given the same competitive opportunities as men (see Tracy’s post here) but in outdoor climbing, the rocks don’t get switched out for different climbers. When Ashima sends V15, she’s not sending a women’s V15, she’s sending a V15 boulder problem that anybody could try, but only a handful of people in the world (of any gender) could successfully complete.

Now, there is certainly still sexism in climbing and I’ve seen enough examples of it myself. But part of the beauty of climbing rocks is that it’s all about matching your body and its capabilities with the holds that are there for you. There are lots of problems in which a larger, more powerful climber, might make a big move that might not be possible for a smaller person. But a more compact person with smaller hands might see more potential handholds and use finger strength and balance instead of shoulder and arm strength.

There are not many big names in women’s climbing, with some exceptions, like the spectacular Lynn Hill. And certainly many more first ascents have been made by men. But there are also a lot of misconceptions about climbing that make it easy for people to think that it’s better suited to men. For instance, while a strong upper body is certainly a good thing, someone using good technique will use their core and legs as much, if not more, on many climbs. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more women and girls demonstrating the diversity of ways in which people with different kinds of physical strengths can solve problems. And I also can’t wait to see what Ashima does next.