Rock Climbing, Abseiling & Canyoning

The Shauna Coxsey Interview | A Chat With The UK’s Most Successful Competition Climber

From the walls of Sheffield to the main stage in Tokyo, British climber Shauna Coxsey opens up on her competitive career, the Olympics, and a change of focus moving forward

Within ten minutes of meeting Shauna Coxsey MBE, I’m in awe. It feels less like an interview and more like a catch up with an old friend. Our instant camaraderie is all down to her – she is confident, informed, and friendly. She’s open to discussing everything; from the fame that comes with being the face of UK climbing, her pregnancy and motherhood journey, to, of course, the Olympics and her retirement from competition climbing.

Shauna is the nation’s most successful competition climber ever, the UK’s first-ever Bouldering World Champion, founder of the hugely impactful Women’s Climbing Symposium, and star of a new documentary feature film, The Wall – Climb For Gold. 

Pictured: Shauna Coxsey (Credit: adidas)

Climbing since the age of four and competing internationally since age thirteen, Shauna and the sport have grown simultaneously over the years – and that’s not just the climbing itself, but the culture and community that comes with it. Instrumental in the rise of female participation, both at the wall and the crag, Shauna is dedicated to letting the world know that the sport is welcoming to anyone who wants it.

I sat down with Shauna ahead of the launch of The Wall – Climb For Gold, a uniquely emotional documentary feature film which follows Shauna and three other elite climbers, Janja Garnbret, Brooke Raboutou, and Miho Nonaka, as they attempt to compete in the first ever Olympic climbing competitions at Tokyo 2020.

As climbing grows in popularity, especially for women, there’s a lot of discussion around the role it can play in female empowerment. Do you feel empowered when you climb?

I’ve climbed my whole life, so for me it’s just such a natural thing to do. I climb the way I want to and I’m in no way restricted because I’m a woman. I choose my own way through each climb, and I’m confident in my ability and process to get to where I want to be. I wouldn’t say I feel empowered when I’m climbing, because I just feel like me, which in itself is very empowering.

Pictured: Shauna Coxsey (above) with Lyndsay McLaren (below)

How do you feel about being widely described as the face of UK climbing? Has this changed your experiences at the wall or at the crag? 

I am fortunate in that I was not an overnight success. My success within climbing has grown as climbing [as a sport] has grown. It’s always been consistent in the development of me as a person – and of me as an athlete. My coaching and management team has always helped me figure out what my values are and where I want to take my climbing, personally and professionally. As my career’s progressed I’ve been very conscious of the role I play, and I do not take that responsibility lightly. I work hard to ensure that our sport presents a welcoming environment for everyone. We, as a community, need to keep pushing for accessibility and inclusivity. I decided from a young age that this side of the sport was just as important to me as the performance side.

You mentioned community. What does the climbing community mean to you? 

The climbing community is so incredibly important within the sport. It has played such a key role in my development as a climber and helped get me to where I am now. I love that I can go to the climbing wall and can climb on the same wall as a total beginner. Sure, we will be on different climbs, but we are in the same shared space. There is no segregation, and we are all in that space together.

When I was training for the Olympics, there wasn’t as much time for engagement with the community at the wall, which was something I really missed. I have always looked to events and social media to bring me closer to everyone. In fact, when I set up The Women’s Climbing Symposium eleven years ago, that was my way of finding a place to connect and give back to the community.

Pictured: Shauna Coxsey (Credit: adidas)

The Women’s Climbing Symposium does an incredible job of promoting accessibility within the sport, especially for women and marginalised groups.  How has accessibility within climbing changed over the years?

I’ve seen a huge increase in participation. I mean, there are more climbing walls now than ever. It blows my mind that climbing is where it is right now. If I think back to twenty years ago when I was starting to compete, we had to drive all over the country because there were so few climbing walls – now there are multiple walls in every major city. So yes, climbing is more accessible in that sense, but it still has a long way to go to be inclusive to people of all backgrounds. Things are changing in a good way, but we all need to keep our foot on the gas.

“As my career’s progressed I’ve been very conscious of the role I play, and I do not take that responsibility lightly”

As someone who has been climbing since the age of four, have you ever experienced the barriers that many other women speak of when it comes to accessibility? 

Before I was pregnant, I didn’t face the same barriers. That’s why I set up the Symposium, because my experiences were so different from that of what I was hearing from other women who were coaching or climbing at the time. These were things I hadn’t contemplated and I was oblivious to the barriers that existed in the sport, but yet they were so present for so many different women – and they still are.

Every year I walk away from the Women’s Climbing Symposium feeling so incredibly inspired, even though I never felt like I personally needed that dedicated women’s-only space – I still always benefit from it.

Pictured: Shauna Coxey (Credit: adidas)

The Symposium sells out every year. It’s an event that women want. Every year we send out a feedback form and ask if participants want women’s only events to continue and the feedback is always 100% yes. When we ask why, there are always endless different answers. All the reasons that come back make this event and these dedicated spaces so important. The fact that there’s not just one reason, but so many different ones, makes them even more important.

Now it’s interesting for me, because I’m pregnant and I need to look to other women for inspiration, guidance, and collective knowledge for how to go through this journey. Now suddenly I’m like, ‘Oh I get it now, I need other women.’

“We live on the circuit for so many months of the year, we’ve seen each other go through hard times – through injury and breakups – through life”

What advice do you have for people who want to try climbing but experience imposter syndrome when they show up at the wall or the crag? 

Share your honest emotions with the people you’re with. I am exactly the same if I go to a skatepark. I get really overwhelmed, but as soon as I confide in my friends and tell them, they help me. Often it’s when we don’t communicate that people assume we’re fine, and then we can get left behind.

In the past I couldn’t relate to it from a climbing perspective, but now being five months pregnant I don’t climb the way I used to. So, it’s different for me. Someone recently said to me ‘You really look like Shauna Coxsey.’ I think it was because I backed off a climb, because obviously being pregnant, I’m not falling at the moment, but in their head they thought that Shauna wouldn’t have backed off that climb.

Pictured: Shauna Coxsey working hard (Credit: adidas)

The Wall – Climb For Gold, is an astonishing and inspiring insight into what it takes to be an Olympian, and indeed what it means to be human. Although the four climbers featured – you, Janja, Brooke, and Miho all identify as women, how do we make sure people know that this is a film for everyone, not just women and young girls? 

No one thinks films featuring just men, like the Formula 1 documentary, are just for men to watch. Surely, we’re at a point now where you can look beyond the fact that we are women and see us as athletes. Janja is the most incredible competition athlete, arguably beyond any sport, male or female. This is a film about female climbers, yes, but there are so many ways in which men can connect with women, so long as men are open to connecting to women.

The film portrays the difference in each of your backgrounds and culture but how the magic of climbing brings you all together. What is your relationship like with the other athletes?

I’m a bit older than the other girls and can remember them all coming on to the scene and seeing their rise and successes. It’s weird to be at the other side and look back on that now. I have been so fortunate to have a successful career and share podiums with these girls. It’s such a privilege to share the journey with them. In climbing, people always seem to want a rivalry story, but the rivalry is never about each other, it’s about our performances on the wall. We all want to be the best on our day and to beat someone else on their best day. We would never wish someone to have a bad day just so we can win.

I’ve had my fair share of battles with Janja and Miho for podiums and we’ve shared so many great competitions together, with so many wonderful experiences. We live on the circuit for so many months of the year, so we’ve seen each other go through hard times – through injury and breakups – through life. Brooke, I’ve known since she was tiny, as I know her mum and family. It’s so incredible to see her step into her stride now. She fully deserves to be in that space – she’s got a lot left in her.

I honestly just feel so privileged to have had these experiences with them and now I can’t wait to see how their careers progress and see them grow.

“We, as a community, need to keep pushing for accessibility and inclusivity”

Last year you announced your retirement from competitive climbing to focus on rock climbing. Congratulations! I’m so excited for you to return to the crag. What are you most looking forward to conquering and why? 

With rock climbing, the thing I’m looking most forward to is having options and not knowing what it is that I want to do. To have so much there waiting for me is exciting. With competitions you are so restricted, and you have to perform on that day, at that time, regardless of how you feel, how you slept or what your conditions are. You are always on a schedule and when you come back after the season, you’re straight back on the grind – it’s constant and so regimented. With rock climbing I will have the freedom to decide exactly when I want to go climbing – if the little one plays ball of course. It’s having that freedom and opportunity to choose what my projects are and be in control of those decisions. I always knew that I wanted to compete and that I wanted to do that while I was able and psyched, but at the same time I always knew that I wanted to rock climb too, so I can’t wait for this new journey.

Pictured: Shauna Coxsey, Janja Garnbret, Brooke Raboutou, and Miho Nonaka (Credit: adidas)

Climbing while pregnant is not the controversial topic it once was. Have you had any heated discussions on this yet? 

I’ve had a lot of people comment and say I shouldn’t be climbing but, for me, I am more comfortable on the wall climbing easy stuff than I am walking down the street. Climbing is my world and I know how to climb safely. Post-games I wasn’t falling anyway because of my knee injury, so I was taking no impact then and I’ll continue to take no impact until after the baby. This is my decision and I’m climbing within my limits, with guidance from a women’s health physio. I’ve never considered stopping climbing and I’ll eventually stop when my body tells me to. I’m fortunate to be a professional athlete and know how to listen to my body. I feel so much better when I am climbing than when I’m not, so it makes no sense for me to stop right now.


The Wall – Climb For Gold is available to buy now from Amazon Prime, Google Play and Apple TV.

Watch the trailer for The Wall – Climb For Gold here.

Photos courtesy of adidas.


Lyndsay McLaren is the founder of Neighbourhood Skate Club.

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