I’m writing this article on International Women’s Day. It seems appropriate to share my experiences as a fairly new female climber, in a pretty male dominated sport. I’ve been throwing myself at problems without adequate rest (I’m still working on it) for about a year and 3 months. If you haven’t had the absolute pleasure of meeting me yet, I’m Yas. I’m a 5ft nothing, red headed buzz cut gal who is lucky she has a large wing span.
Firstly, it’s probably good to tell you how important climbing is to me & how it makes me feel. I don’t think I’ve ever felt anticipation or excitement like I do when I chalk up. It’s insane. Starting a journey to accomplish something each time you attempt a problem is magic. Each try is a victory, even if you fall. Cause you got up from the last one, and tried it again. And again. Maybe over 2 sessions - maybe over 10. Then, the feeling when you finally match on that top hold. Wow!
I feel like climbing digs up something extra that I didn’t realise I had. I was really scared of climbing at first. In fact, I couldn’t even go to the top of the wall in the Hangar, I was so scared. Then I had an experience that really catapulted me into the mindset I currently have. I went out with a group of friends for my first outdoor climbing experience. I was really apprehensive, but everyone I was with was incredibly supportive and encouraging, and made me feel like there was no reason why I couldn’t do what they were all doing, even though they were all much stronger, more experienced climbers.
I started my Hangar life out as a customer. I could see how the community was shaped by the staff, and how the relationships were built out of years of mutual respect and psyche. Before long I became a crew member, and that immediately felt like something special. It feels special: literally being a “member” of a “crew”. I am part of the support system that encourages our regular customers to come back every week. I can’t help but feel our genuine interest in people’s journey is a vital component to their experience. It is certainly vital to mine. I serve coffee to the same people who serve me beta, for the solid red I’m trying to crack, and we become our own little team when I take my crew jumper off.
So, it’s International Women’s Day (at the time of writing). I’ve just shared my very short journey so far in my climbing life. At no point could I think of, as a customer or a crew member, a time when I have faced adversity, because I was a woman, and I wanted to climb in the Hangar. Climbing has changed my way of life. It has created a structure in which I can live a healthy lifestyle. And through this, I have come into contact with some of the most genuinely incredible and inspiring people I’ve ever met. Climbing has created bonds that would never have existed otherwise. Climbing has made me feel empowered, worthy, and strong - both physically and mentally. I put this down to one thing: the people.
I’ve fallen in love with sports in the past. I had all the right attributes to be a good sportsperson. I’m dedicated, hardworking, committed. But the one thing that prevented me from sticking with other sports was the people. I felt overlooked, like I didn’t matter. I was constantly being compared to others, and being told if I trained harder I could be like them. I constantly thought “why can’t I just be like me?”
It’s a very special feeling when you find your people. You might have an idea of what they might be like before you meet them; this special group of individuals who understand you. I feel like I’ve acquired ‘my people’ in dribs and drabs over the years. They don’t all stay, obviously. There has been a select few that have stayed. Mostly because of what you’ve been through together, and experienced together. And you’ve matured as you’ve gotten older and grown together. When I joined the Climbing Hangar community, first as a customer and soon after as a crew member, I honestly don’t think I could have ever been prepared for the way it would change my life. I met a group of my people behind the desk, and in the kitchen. And the greatest thing is, it is fascinating how broadly different we all are, every one of us. As soon as I joined the team at the Hangar, I felt at home. Both whilst I was working with my colleagues, and when I was climbing with the customers after my shift.
I actually don’t think I have ever felt accepted en masse in my entire life. Especially as a woman who has enjoyed immersing herself in multiple sports. Karate and football have been a passion in life, but even within those communities I have felt at odds at one time or another with the other people there. Climbing feels really different to anything I have done before.
Climbing makes me feel brave, and challenged.
So, where am I now in my journey? Well, we’ve just been through three f***ing lockdowns! During that time I moved in with some friends, we built a climbing wall, watched climbing films, got PSYCHED out of our minds and helped each other to get strong. Lockdown has helped me, like I’m sure many others, to reflect on the people that I have in my life. I take it in my stride to champion all women; and believe me we have some strong and fierce female champions in our team at the Hangar. I think they will all agree with me when I say, the men who make up the rest of our team treat us no differently. The women in the team are of a smaller majority, but it does not mean we are heard any less.
Once a newbie climber with a healthy fear of heights, Yaz Stewart is now flying high as an improving climber and an important part of our food and beverage dream team. If you see Yaz climbing at any of our TCH venues, why not say hello?