WE LAST CAUGHT UP with British bouldering paragon and adidas Terrex althete Shauna Coxsey in 2016 when the world had just been introduced to climbing as an Olympic sport. But now, two years on, that news has had time to settle in for the MBE holding two-times World Champion.
Currently recovering from injury, but still training intensely, she took the time to talk to us at the 2018 adidas Rockstars event in Stuttgart - running through her involvement in the annual Women's Climbing Symposium, the challenges of routesetting, and training approaches for the multi-discipline Olympic climbing format; as well as continuing sharing her psych for bouldering's growth as a sport.
How have you found mainstream media interest in climbing has changed since it was announced as an Olympic sport for Tokyo 2020, and if so, how do you find that?
I’ve been climbing for over 20 years now, so I've seen a lot of change in our sport. I've seen a lot of growth and a lot more interest, which has been really cool. And since the announcement that climbing is going to be included in the 2020 Olympics there's definitely been more interest from more different places, so the mainstream media now for example want to know what climbing's all about.
For me I think this is incredible, because I think everybody should try climbing. I have such a passion for it, and I think it's a very natural thing for people to go and do and try, and enjoy, no matter how old you are or what your background is. So yeah it's really exciting that people are now talking about climbing and experiencing it, and that there's more interest generally around the sport.
"No-one really knows what approach to take towards the first games, which is exciting, but it's also a little bit strange"
What's your view of the format for the Olympic climbing, with lead and speed alongside bouldering, and how has it affected the way you approach your training?
So the format for the Olympics is definitely an interesting one, with it being a combined format, it's not really something that's been put all together before. So it's quite new for climbing, no-one really knows how to train, or what approach to take towards the first games, which is exciting, but it's also a little bit strange.
I think personally it would have been great to see the different disciplines have their own medals, but that wasn't an option, so the decision made by the International Federation of Climbing for it to be a combined discipline, was the most fair decision that could be made; and it will showcase our sport as the three disciples, so it really will show what competition climbing is. That in itself is really incredible, because there's so many different ways to experience our sport, and as competition itself is only a small part of that, I don't think it would be fair to choose just one of those sports.
"So a routesetter has a hard job, I do not envy them, I think it's an incredible skill"View on Instagram
For any newcomers approaching the article on Mpora, can you briefly explain to us what is involved in the process of routesetting, how you come up with routes and how you keep things creative and interesting?
When you go to a climbing wall you'll see lots of what we call 'holds' on the wall, or some people call them 'grips'. A route setter's job is to put those holds onto the wall in a creative way - and they set routes from beginner level to elite level. One of the things I love most about climbing is there isn't one wall for beginners and one wall for elite climbers, everyone's in the same space, but it's the boulder problems or the climbs, and the way that the route setters put the holds on the wall that means that we can do that. So on the beginner climbs there'll be much bigger holds that are easier to use, on the more elite climbs there'll be smaller holds and crazier shapes and moves, and then there's everything in between.
So a routesetter has a hard job, especially in competition where they also need to set the climb at the exact level where it'll make it a good show. I do not envy them, I think it's an incredible skill.
Can you tell us about your work with the Women’s Climbing Symposium?
So the Women's Climbing Symposium is an event that I've been organising for about eight years now alongside some friends. It's an event that aims to connect, develop and inspire women within climbing. So we have talks on a range of different topics, and a load of different coaching sessions going on. It's really a celebration of the sport, and an amazing day. It's so full of activity and psych and people really do connect. We try our best to bring in speakers and coaches who are inspirational so you can walk away with skills to go and develop your climbing.
"Our sport is very young, and it used to be incredibly male dominated. I think that that will change over the years"
Why do you think there are fewer women routesetters than men?
Our sport is very young, and it used to be incredibly male dominated. I think that that will change over the years, and it's going to be an exciting change and a good change. Routesetting is a very physically demanding job, but it's definitely one that women can do.
Given your involvement with the WCS, and your position in the sport, to you feel a responsibility to encourage more people, and in particular more girls and women to get into climbing, and is that something you’re particularly passionate about?
I am very passionate about introducing people to climbing, and promoting our sport in the best possible way. I have so much love for the sport, and I'm really lucky to have found a passion and for that passion to have become my job.
I started climbing at the age of four and I've introduced people even younger than that to the sport as well as older people. We had a group of old age pensioners come on a class when I used to work at the climbing wall. Yeah I think it's something that everyone should try, and something that parents can do with their kids, it doesn't matter how old you are or what sport you've done in the past, if you can walk up the stairs then you can climb up a climbing wall.
What do you think has led to the notable increase in city-based indoor bouldering?
I think that the publicity has had a big impact, more people now know about the sport and have tried it, and found that it's something that they enjoy. Climbing isn't monotonous, there's always something new to try, and I think that people like that aspect of it. We're now getting people coming to the sport that aren't there for the lifestyle, but just to get fit or to socialise, there's many different ways to experience it. And I think that that's a really cool thing and a different thing that people naturally want to be part of.
And with that increase, and the accessibility of the sport right now, and the Olympic backing of the sport, where do you see the sport of climbing being in five or ten years time? Or where do you hope it will be?
Climbing is growing at a rate that I never imagined. I also never imagined climbing to be part of the Olympic games during my professional career. It's grown already more that I thought it would, so for me to picture where it's going to be in five or ten years is really difficult, because I thought we'd still be on this pathway. But it's really booming and becoming something that's a mainstream sport to do, and people are taking it up and really finding something that they love. So yeah it's hard to say where it's going to be, but I think it's going to be a fascinating journey to see where climbing goes from here.
How has having an MBE affected your life both within and outside of climbing?
I never imagined I'd get an MBE. It still seems a little bit surreal. Thinking back to going to the palace and receiving my honours is pretty insane, and even though it's not something I think about all that often, I'm incredibly proud and feel very lucky to have had that opportunity and the MBE on my name. It's not something that affects me in day to day life, and the reason that I received the honours was for my work with the Women's Climbing Symposium and the work I do for charities and to promote our sport; and those are just things that I do because of my passion for climbing. I've always felt that it's important to give back to the sport, and that's what I hope I'll be able to continue to do.
You can join Shauna at the 2018 Women's Climbing Symposium on Saturday the 6th of October. Find out more about the event.