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Seven years ago, Anak Verhoeven walked right up to me. It was at a World Cup in France, where I knew no one. She was the first person to say hi, to introduce herself and start up a conversation, and I’ll never forget how warm she was. She placed third there and went on to win many other World Cup medals.
Verhoeven has been climbing since about the time she could walk. Both her parents are climbers themselves, and her dad has always served as her coach and mentor. Verhoeven began competing on the international circuit in 2010 as a youth competitor, and she’s always been a talent, earning herself a spot on the podium in almost all Youth Cups and Championships she entered. Her results as an open competitor mirrored her youth successes. By 2014 you could count on her to make finals, and over the span of her competitive career she earned three gold World Cup medals.
But it hasn’t all been rosey. In 2017, Verhoeven felt a tightness in her right arm. She visited specialists, had myriad examinations and tests, all without diagnosis or alleviation. In 2020, during the pandemic, the pain and tightness grew worse. She finally found answers in 2021, when a physiotherapist explained that her symptoms were due to a lack of mobility in her shoulder, which was causing constriction in her blood vessels. She was given strengthening and mobility exercises which got her on the path to recovery. Around the same time Verhoeven announced to the world that she was moving on from the world of competition climbing—she wanted to return to her outdoor roots, which she’s done with wild success.
Perhaps more than any other female climber, Verhoeven is pushing the sport forward with her first ascents and a lengthy tick list. She is the first woman to establish a first ascent of 5.15a, with Sweet Neuf (9a+) in Pierrot, France. She also FA’ed Ciudad de Dios pa la Enmienda 5.14d/15a in Santa Linya, Spain. She’s sent Joe Mama (5.15a) in Oliana, Spain, and, in July of this year, she ticked Inferno 5.14d/15a.
Now 26 years old, Verhoeven recently sent yet another hard one—Las Meninas (9a/+, 5.14d/15a) in Rodellar, Spain, a long and overhung route tracing a line of crimps and tufas, that was established by Jorge Diaz-Rullo in 2020. “The route requires a lot of endurance and the relative resting positions are scarce,” says Verhoeven. The first half is a pump-inducing crimp fest, followed by a crux made possible with a technical heel hook—”one of those where you’re thinking ‘Don’t slip, don’t slip…’”—and a series of drop knees. After that comes a roof roof sequence on tufas. “It was difficult for me to find the beta here,” she says, “but once I had understood how to solve it, I felt fairly confident climbing this part.”
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Verhoeven made quick work of Las Meninas. After just a few sessions working out the beta, she went for a redpoint attempt and fell relatively high on the route. Next try on another day was even better, she says, but by the second attempt of the same day she was too tired. She sent the following climbing day.
For training, Verhoeven prefers long sessions in the gym. Like six to seven-hour long sessions. “During those sessions I climb hard routes and do exercises in those routes; repeaters for example,” she says. She does some hangboarding, pull-ups, and core exercises, too. After one or two training days she takes a rest day, doing mobility, rehab, prehab, and stretching. Through plain and simple hard work, Verhoeven earns her success.
“I’ve always liked challenges and climbing is full of those,” she says. “And I’ve learned to suffer a bit—or a lot if necessary—while climbing and training, but also while working routes.”
She is returning to Rodellar soon, and is interested in trying the extension of Las Meninas, which goes at 5.15a/b. It would be the first of the grade for her. “I want to keep pushing my limits in sport climbing,” she says, but added: “The first challenge is always trying to find projects in which all the moves are possible for a female body. Not easy, but challenging in a good way!”