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Hear Alex Honnold’s mom Dierdre Wolownick in person as she speaks about balancing her love of climbing with her son’s risk taking when she joins us at the O2 Outdoor Women’s Festival. Held September 16-19 in spectacular Carbondale, Colorado, the O2 Outdoor Women’s Festival is four days of intimate and inspiring conversations and hands-on empowering clinics. Other speakers include Meagan Martin, Delaney Miller, Steph Davis, and two dozen extraordinary women who are making a difference.
Dear Mothers (of a climber, surfer, skier, spelunker, etc.),
I’m the mom of that kid you couldn’t bear to watch in Free Solo, who made your palms sweat as you wondered aloud, “How’d you like to be that kid’s mother?”
I didn’t have a choice. My son, Alex Honnold, was born climbing, and that’s all he ever wanted to do. So at 59, since I wanted to be part of his life, I tried it, too.
At 66, I became the oldest woman to scale El Capitan in Yosemite.
In the short time between those two events, a lifetime of learning happened.
I’ve always been a teacher, a writer. A mom. Basically, I spent my life at a desk, in a classroom, in the kitchen. Not exactly athlete material. But you never know until you try.
As I began climbing, I learned a lot about fear; my imagination was far worse than anything that really went on during Alex’s expeditions or climbing trips. Fear comes from not knowing.
At the beginning, I was convinced I’d never be able to climb a wall—I was no athlete! I just wanted to see what it was like. So I climbed a wall at a climbing gym. Then another. Next I followed my son up an outdoor wall, both terrified and thrilled. He believed I could, so I did. It’s as simple as that.
By the time we tackled El Cap, several years later, it no longer terrified me to hang on a rope 3,000 feet above the Valley floor.
The earth is our mother, regardless of our gender. Kids know this. They crave the mud, the dirt, the wide-open spaces. Getting outside is going home, beneficial to us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Science has amply proven what we knew as kids intuitively.
Afraid to try something new outdoors? You’re not alone. But fear comes from not knowing, or from letting others—especially the media—tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. Once you’ve experienced the awe of a towering sequoia, or the mystery of a desert jumbo rock, or even just the pleasure of an easy walk in a green park nearby, your body and your mind will tell you how good it feels and how much good it can do for you.
If you’d said just 10 years ago that I would someday scale El Capitan, I would have laughed myself silly. You just never know what you’re capable of until you try. And the way to get there is by baby steps. No one starts by setting a massive goal, like El Cap. Keep it simple: One short hike. One tiny rock wall. One small, modest adventure. Then another. Your mother, Nature, is patient and eager to teach you that you can be more than you think.
Dreams are insistent—and if you can dream it, you can do it. One tiny baby step at a time will get you anywhere your dreams are directing you.
If I can climb El Cap, you can do whatever you dream of!