Jess’ Chicks transformation

I don’t look like a climber.

I don’t have strong, beautiful muscles bulging out of my arms and back. I am terrified of heights. I’ve never been able to do a pull up. I am 6’ tall and weigh 180 pounds (oh my god, I just admitted to that. *Breathe*). So believe me when I say that signing up for my first Chick’s clinic was a huge and scary step for me.

Before my first clinic, I had been climbing on and off for a couple of years. I climbed with people I knew and was very comfortable with, and I still felt incredibly self-conscious every time we would go out. I was certain that people were looking at me, the fat lady trying to climb and wondering why the hell I even bothered. Since most climbers are shaped a little differently than I am, even the gear provided challenges. I felt like I was the only one ever doing the “butt wiggle” trying to stuff my ass into my harness. I had to get a size medium so that I could snug the waist up enough to be tight, but it’s ridiculously tight going over my butt. And the adorable brightly colored bras by Verve that everyone around here is wearing? Yeah, forget about it. Approximately half of one of my breasts actually shoves in to a size large. But I kept going.

I went to crags and climbing gyms whenever I could. I wanted more of those few minutes on the rock or ice where my mind is focused only on my next move and my breath. I craved the feeling of power in my legs as I stand up on a tiny hold. I was fueled by the shift in my energy when I was at home in my own body and feeling the strength it possessed. So with massive trepidation, I went to my first Chicks clinic. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I hardly slept the night before. I envisioned a group of strong, badass women – thin with beautiful muscle definition, who would all be gracefully prancing up the rocks scoffing at me as I tried to haul myself up. I was afraid that I would be paying to go to a clinic only to be hurt and embarrassed. I could not have been any more wrong…

Sure, there were absolutely beautiful, strong, badass women there; women who easily climbed routes that I found to be challenging. But there was no scoffing, no judgment, and no hurt (other than some bruised knees!). I found myself in a new mini-family of women who were all just putting themselves out there, doing the best they could and supporting one another no matter what ‘level’ they were at.

I was both humbled and inspired by the Girly Guides. What an amazing feeling to be coached by the legendary Kitty Calhoun or ass-kicking Dawn Glanc! And even though both of those ladies could run up the routes I was climbing, they still genuinely celebrated MY successes. They cheered the times when I’d feel exhausted and frustrated and on the brink of tears pull out one more move than I thought I could. It didn’t matter that we were climbing 5.9 and these women don’t even sink that low to warm up…they were supporting me the whole way.

Yesterday I wrapped up my third Chicks clinic. This time we were on the ice at the Ouray Ice Park. As it always seems to, the hurtful voice inside my head was screaming loudly as we started to climb. “You’re too fat. Why are you here? You can’t do this. Go home.” But with each swing of my tools, kick of my feet and bit of encouragement from Kitty or the girls in my group, that voice started to take a back seat. There’s no room for such judgment and self-hate when you’re surrounded by such amazing CHICKS!

It’s my hope that more people will discover Chicks. Especially those girls like me who most people would never expect to actually be rock or ice divas at heart. Feeling (even briefly) at home in your own body and being wholly supported by fierce women you barely even know is a fantastic blessing. I am so thankful for the opportunity to climb with these ladies, and I know I’ll keep putting myself out there. Again and again and again. At some point the voices telling me that I’m not good enough or too fat to do this WILL be replaced by the amazing Kitty Calhoun telling me that I am special. Because if she believes that, who am I to disagree? 🙂

My heartfelt thanks to the Head Chick, Girly Guides and amazing sponsors like Marmot, ColumbiaPatagoniaOsprey, Rock and Ice, First Ascent and The Victorian Inn who make these clinics possible. It’s not just about the climbing. You’re all changing lives.

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