Introducing one of our Alpkiteers, Kumbi Kariwo. She doesn't climb to be the best. She climbs to be her best. Here's how her journey started, what she loves about climbing and how it's changed as she's got older.
I was born in Mutare, Zimbabwe. The geography in this area is similar to Scotland and is referred to as the ‘highlands’ by locals. We relocated from this area to the capital city Harare when I was a baby and then onto Bulawayo by my teens. A large part of my education involved traditional sporting activities as well as outdoor pursuits in ‘the bush’ away from the school grounds. I was always a child that loved adventure and so I was in my element when we were playing sports or exploring the outdoors.
At 16, I went on to swim and represent my region. I played hockey for my school’s first team. At 17, I went on an Outward Bound week in the highlands where we were put through our paces. We woke up at 5am for a 3 mile jog. We wild swam to wake us up. We did team building activities, a three day hike and a wild camp adventure. In this environment, we learnt that anything was possible so long as you were determined to achieve your goals.
This gave me the confidence to travel thousands of miles to my chosen university at 18. Growing up in a mixed culture meant that my transition into learning and now living and working in the UK has been very much one of new adventures, fun and discovery. There are barriers and challenges that I have faced as with anything in life, however my attitude and mindset towards these situations is what allows me to achieve my goals rather than be defeated by what is not in my control.
I climb twice a week at the Boathouse in Llandudno. At 39, I have found that I am not as youthful as I was in my 20s. I have come to appreciate that my muscles take a lot longer to recover, and that I have less stamina than I used to. This initially frustrated me. I had climbed hard before, I was capable of climbing more complex manoeuvres yet each time I attempted to try out something technical, I failed. I have also developed a sense of fear which I found hard to accept. I was once known for my impulsive and fearless nature, yet I now hesitate and at times second guess myself.
I also believe that another influencing factor is that I climb with people that are in their 20s who are able to do physically technical moves seemingly without much effort. I did some research to try and better understand what was happening to me both physically and mentally - why they could do moves that I found impossible.
I came to learn that women in their 30s have a loss of bone density, muscle mass and their metabolism slows down. We also develop more anxiety in our 30s and 40s, apparently for some it’s predisposed, however the silver lining is that it can get better as we get older.
I realised that many of those my age or older tend to be seasoned pros at climbing - graceful and effortless. What I came to learn through many chats on the mats was that this ‘effortlessness’ is the result of many years of dedication and mastering one's individual technique of climbing.
What I learnt was that for some individuals it is not about climbing ‘harder’ but climbing ‘cleanly’. It is about being at one with the rock and nature. Following these chats, I decided to begin practising mindfulness within climbing. I started to reflect on my journey and what I wanted to get out of climbing. One thing I found was that it helps me to de-stress and to disconnect from work and life. To climb well, I have to be present at the wall and there begins my meditation and self-care.
Since I have been able to find this ability to centre myself through climbing, I found a renewed love and passion for climbing and I'm improving. I might not be the next Olympian or have my name in climbing journals, however what I know is that I enjoy it and I can push myself to my limits. This will always give me the best possible release guaranteed. By understanding my limitations, I have gained a new sense of freedom in being able to push myself within my range of ability. The outcome has led me from climbing VBs to V3-5s.
So, I’ll finish off by saying that, “I am my best and that is best!”
Original article appeared in Issue No. 1 of Beta Magazine, 2020 (edited for length).