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“It Can Really Ruin a Woman’s Experience.” Why Chelsea Rude Founded She Sends Collective.

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Chelsea Rude’s She Sends Collective is a climbing community aiming to “foster space for femininity in a sport dominated by the masculine.” Started by climbing coach Chelsea Rude, SSC provides support and community for all women, both cis and non-cisgender, as well as non-binary and gender-non-conforming (GNC) humans.

The SSC’s goal is to help women ‘send’ whatever they set their intentions on, whether that be climbing related or not. Climbing reached out to Rude to ask a few questions about the project.

Tell us about the origins of the She Sends Collective. Why did you feel there was a need for a group like this?

My goals with She Sends Collective are to unite women (cis + non-cis), GNC, and nonbinary humans through climbing and facilitate easier access to high-level climbing coaching, nutritionists, and sports psychologists for personal growth and education. My hope is that this empowers our community to feel comfortable working towards their goals both in sport and in life. I felt there was a need for this type of organization within our community because:

  1. Historically this sport has been male dominated, and while that is less so today, I find it really important to hold space to empower this demographic that has historically been marginalized in our community.
  2. Access to high level climbing coaching can be very expensive, which can act like a barrier for most. I believe in the value of my coaching programs, but also aim to be able to provide flexible payment plans and grants to further help those who are seeking to improve their climbing. I believe everyone has the right to have a coach—regardless of ability, financial status, etc.
  3. Access to registered dietitians and sports psychologists are also important pieces of the puzzle in sport and in life, but have been reserved for highly privileged people. We all know that climbing is a beautiful metaphor for life, so if we are able to work on all aspects that help us fill our climbing potential, then the thought is that it will also translate to a better relationship with food and oneself outside of sport. Here I am breaking down financial barriers by creating programs with professionals for the community that are affordable, while also providing flexible payment plans and grants.
  4. Supporting women (cis + noncis), GNC, and nonbinary humans within this community is of high priority.

Can you tell us a bit about Savannah Buik and her influence on this project?

Savannah Buik was a dear friend of mine who unfortunately passed away suddenly from a climbing accident at Devils Lake in March 2018 at the young age of 22. She struggled with disordered eating for years, but just as she was beginning to spread her wings and prepare to graduate from college, she finally was finding peace and love within herself and putting her ED to rest as best as she could. I called her my little sister. She lived in my room (I was gone a lot) during the summer of 2017 and we had the opportunity to travel a bit together that summer. It was during this time that we talked a lot about her ED, her struggles, and what she hoped to do with her new upcoming adulthood. At the time there really was nobody speaking to their ED within sport and no education around the topic. It was a super hush topic still and it was her goal to bring education to the community around ED. She also aimed to help provide resources for those in need during their recovery. Because she was unable to see this through herself, it is my goal through She Sends Collective and The Climbers Fund to help her dream come to fruition by educating the community on ED, and providing financial scholarships for those who need help with their recovery.

Disordered eating is something I’m passionate about and one aspect that She Sends Collective is focusing on in part because of Savannah, in part because of my personal experience with ED as a competitive climbing athlete, and in part because I’ve seen how prevalent ED is within our community as a coach. It’s heartbreaking. I really believe that through education we will be able to pave a brighter future for our sport. I also believe that having an organization such as this within the community may help those struggling feel more comfortable reaching out and asking for help. Climbing isn’t just a sport—it’s a lifestyle—and I’ve found that often climbers feel more comfortable with other climbers.

Chelsea Rude’s “She Sends Collective” is a new climbing community aiming to “foster space for femininity in a sport dominated by the masculine.” (Photo: She Sends Collective)

I noticed on the website you use “womxn.” Can you talk a bit about the philosophy/meaning behind this spelling and why it’s important to you?

I first began using the term “womxn” vs. women because it is widely accepted in the media as trans + BIPOC inclusive. This was extremely important to me a year ago because I wanted trans + BIPOC humans to know that She Sends Collective is not just an organization for cis-white women like myself. However I am removing using ‘womxn’ and will not be using it moving forward; I put out a statement on IG about this, actually. There’s a whole history lesson in how ‘womxn’ came about that I won’t fully get into here, but in a nutshell the term ‘womyn’ first appear in the mid 1970’s from feminists who didn’t want their gender to be associated with ‘men’ or ‘man.’ This group of feminists, however, were not accepting of transgender women and therefore ‘womxn’ came about with the goal of broadening the scope of womanhood. The X was thought to allow space for individuals who identify as gender fluid, GNC, non-binary as well a non-cis gender women.

Just as we as humans are continually evolving, so is our society, and with that evolution it has been brought to my attention that using the term ‘womxn’ can be causing more harm than good. GNC + nonbinary humans do not seem to identify as ‘womxn,’ and using the term ‘womxn’ can make trans-women feel excluded or of not being a woman. The historical goal of the term ‘womxn’ is no longer serving our population and is causing more pain.  With that said, I want to make sure that women (cis + noncis), GNC, and nonbinary humans know that this space was created for them to come just as they are—it’s important for me to hold space for and uplift these marginalized demographics within climbing.

Since you started climbing in 1998, how has the sport changed in terms of accessibility/community for women overall?

Wow, holy cow, it has changed so much that it’s not even recognizable anymore. In 1998 and through the early 2000’s, climbing was still very much a male-dominated sport. Yes, there were women crushing it, but they were few and far between—especially in the Southeast, where I grew up and began climbing. For every 20 guys in the gym, there would be like 2 to 3 women.

I didn’t have much of a female community of climbers growing up either, and it’s definitely something I really longed for. And I would have just LOVED having a female climbing coach, but never had the opportunity to have that because, well, there just weren’t very many (I only knew of one). I loved climbing with my guy friends, but even without understanding why, I always imagined it being more fun and *different* with a crew of women. Today we see just that—even in the Southeast—crews of women sessioning together, Team USA women training (and living) with one another, women traveling to outdoor climbing destinations together, women-specific coaching programs, and more women coaches. It’s literally 180 degrees from where we were even 10 years ago.

Today, I know why it is so much more special sessioning with a crew of my girlfriends, and I really cherish my time when I’m coaching my clients who are all women, too. Today there are a lot more women-specific programs at gyms and a lot more women coaches for our community too. With that said though, I know it can still be difficult to find and have a women community depending on where one may live. Women definitely used to be a minority in this community; but we aren’t anymore. Instead I think more women are on the face of climbing than men and it’s really cool to see. While women may not be the minority anymore, women of color including GNC and non-binary humans are still a minority in our sport—and it’s important that we hold space for them to feel safe and welcome in this community, too.

(Photo: She Sends Collective)

What do you think are the main barriers to entry for women in our sport? What unique obstacles do women climbers face?

I’ve found that some of the main barriers to entry are primarily mental barriers:

  • Self imposed feelings of inadequacy with regards to not feeling strong enough, or knowing enough skills to feel safe, fear of feeling embarrassed and/or not good enough

I know a lot of them have entered the sport by way of a significant other, which definitely more often than not may not create an ideal environment to learn from. There’s a statistic out there that 65% of female respondents felt uncomfortable in certain parts of a climbing gym, while literally only 29% of males respondents felt the same way.

Unique obstacles for this demographic include, in my opinion, feeling the need to prove ourselves, because apparently 76% of respondents in a recent survey stated that they were assumed to be weaker and/or less experienced simply because they identify as a woman. I’m couldn’t find statistics on this with regards to trans, GNC, or non-binary humans, but I would have to imagine it’s somewhat similar. The foundation of climbing was built on cis-white male constructs that have been followed for many, many years.

I’ve definitely felt I had to prove myself on more occasions than I can count ever since I was 13—just because I am a woman. It still happens to this day, where a guy will see me trying something difficult, think it must be easy, and come up and try to show me up. It honestly just makes me laugh at this point in my career, but it’s real and can really ruin a woman’s experience altogether.

Chelsea Rude, founder of She Sends Collective

What are your overall goals for the project? Where would you like to see the She Sends Collective in five years? 

I am starting a non-profit called The Climbers Fund which will be the main contributor of grants to go toward community members who need assistance with ED recovery and who want easier access to RDN’s (registered dietitian nutritionists). She Sends Collective will start off by giving 25% of all of it’s income to The Climbers Fund and hopefully be able to give more over the years.

My overall goal with She Sends Collective is to provide honest education with a no BS approach to coaching to help women, GNC, and nonbinary humans to face their fears, chase big goals, and finally learn to celebrate what their bodies are capable of with climbing and beyond. Additionally, I want to give leadership opportunities to women, GNC, and nonbinary humans by way of an ambassador program and help support women in this industry by hiring them to help me with SSC! In five years I hope that we will expand so that more people are able to participate, and host international holistic climbing retreats.