By: Coach Lou
Most of you could probably guess this based on my job description, but I love coaching. What you might not know is that in addition to coaching gymnastics, I also coach rock climbing! I love teaching people to do the sports that I love, and I love watching them conquer fears, get to know their bodies, and get stoked about movement.
In 2018, I started volunteering with Young Women Who Crush, a rock climbing and leadership development program serving young women (primarily young women of color) and gender-expansive youth from NYC public schools:
“YWWC empowers its participants to recognize their own power and potential through climbing, mentorship, and community. YWWC’s curriculum is designed to help young women recognize their own strength and realize their potential through a discipline they may not have experienced before: climbing. The YWWC program empowers girls to become not just climbers, but leaders in both their communities and the outdoors.”
We spend the school year meeting monthly at The Cliffs LIC to learn technical climbing skills, like proper footwork and how to give a safe belay. During these sessions we also have group discussions where we practice expressing frustrations, sharing successes, managing fear, breathing, and building an inclusive community. Then, after nine months of indoor practice we take the mentee's upstate to “The Gunks” (aka Shawangunk Ridge) to test out their climbing skills on real rock!
The outdoor trips are definitely the highlight of the program. For a lot of the mentee's, it’s their first time going out into the woods, getting covered in dirt, using outhouses, and befriending snakes, newts, and centipedes. Then, on top of all that, they attempt to climb up 100-foot cliffs! All our mentee's get the opportunity to face their fear of heights, learn to trust rope systems and belayer's (friends and mentors), and nearly all of them discover that they are mentally and physically stronger than they knew.
I could keep talking about how amazing all of the high schoolers that I have met through YWWC are, but they have their own voices and you can hear them tell you all about their adventures going to The Gunks with YWWC in this short film made on our trips in 2019:
You might think COVID-19 would put a pause on a program like this, but our YWWC family stepped up and figured out ways to stay connected when we couldn’t physically be together. Mentors hosted various offerings online, including lessons on Indigenous lands, rope tying, outdoor safety, and how to pack for an overnight hiking trip. I personally hosted Friday afternoon Jazzercise sessions to help everyone find joy and keep their bodies moving. We even got to have a Zoom meet up with rock climbing superstar (and young woman of color) Ashima Shiraishi! Ashima had so much fun with us on Zoom that she decided to start joining our climbing sessions at The Cliffs this year. We had our first modified small group sessions this month and it was a joy to see the community come back together in real life!
Check out our website if you want to learn more about YWWC or donate to help us keep this program going!