Interview: Revista Escalando

Recently Revista Escalando (Climbing Magazine in Spanish) did an interview with me about combining a traveling, professional climbing career with work for philanthropic programs like Escalando Fronteras.

Thank you so much, Camilo Castellanos and Revista Escalando! And thank you sponsors for supporting my passion in various ways, everywhere I go! Mad Rock Climbing, Kavu, GSI Outdoors, and Maxim Ropes.

Read the interview on Escalando.Org

English version below.

escalando org interview

Revista Escalando  –
Climbing with Tiffany Hensley

By Camilo Castellanos

For 6 months, this North American climber traveled together with her dog Tashtego to run through 30 states of the United States and more than 20 climbing areas, in a style of a simple life that gave her various life lessons. 

Hensley, like few climbers, has mixed hard competition training with a life of globetrotting. “Since I began climbing, at the age of 7, my life was balanced by the liberation of climbing and the weighted richness of learning. When the two sides are fully grown, they are dangling on each end of the stick I hold while walking the tight line above the world…”

What do you like about competition climbing?

Dedication. Since 1998, competing has taught me to dedicate myself, and has also taught me that we are all strongest when we share dedication with others, even our competitors. I believe this is the best way to channel our motivation, break our own boundaries, and push our own limits. 2. Which kind of climbing do you like the most? When I am completely in the flow of the movement, like when I think of nothing but the movement and the sequence. This a hard place to get to, and it feels like mediation, because climbing can compress the focus into a single focus on a single hard move, but as I explore the sport it seems to expand outward like the series of photos from the quark to the universe. I find bigger perspectives as I find bigger and bigger projects, ones that include more than climbing, but also people.

You went on a project and lived in your van for some months, how was that experience?

Incredible. It’s really hard to understand the vanlife if one’s never lived in a tiny space before. It feels like the world grows much bigger, because you spend so much more time outside your own “controlled space” and comfort zone. Traveling also really opens the mind to a perspective full of new possibilities and new resources, because it’s always solving small problems on the fly – and making decisions about what fits in your life. Also, to travel and see the difference organizations make in widely diverse cities, with entirely different cultures – like Canada and Mexico – opened my eyes to universal truths about community power and individual empowerment.

Which type of training do you think is the best for competition climbing?

The best training for competition climbing is found in The Circuit World Cup and Performance Magazine. If you haven’t looked at it, or heard about it, and you want to train for competitions, this has interviews with world cup competitors about the best way to train. In general, competition training is all-around training that works on your weaknesses. I have to train core and body tension, because I grew up climbing gymnastically and dynamically. And in general, the best thing to train are first, your finger strength, second, your shoulders and back, and third, your core. Bringing this all together with body tension and flexibility is a great start, if you are training to compete stronger. One last ingredient is the mind – as Fernanda Rodriguez, a climber in Mexico, says, “The only muscle you can always discipline, anywhere, anytime, is your mind.” And this is true – Eric Horst even says mentality is 30% of climbing.

How did you started climbing?

I start in a climbing gym when I was seven at a birthday part with other 1st graders. I didn’t want to leave the first day, and my mom obliged to bring me back the next day, and the next…until I went with friends, then got my own car.

What projects do you have now?

My projects recently have changed from short-term goals to long-term ones, mostly because school, injuries, and occupations. In August I broke my ankle, and 7 months later I’m learning to find meaningful life projects to substitute those hard grades. Currently I work a lot, because I love working for Mad Rock Climbing in the climbing industry, and when I’m not on a roadtrip or traveling, I hold a second job to pay the bills and save for the next big roadtrip. But my biggest project right now is Escalando Fronteras, working with a team that helps at-risk youth to grow a sustainable supportive community in the rough neighborhoods, beginning with Mexico. Although I’m training to come back to the World Cups one day, this is a project that means just as much to me, and part of the project is to bring some of those kids to competitive extreme sports, like rock climbing.

How have you seen the development of feminine climbing?

Women are closing the gap in climbing. There will always be the hard line between the basic anatomical differences, and we would not be women if we did not have our unique hormonal, behavioral and biological signature. But as rock climbing has as many styles and many disciplines as running, there are many chances for the development of feminine climbing to excel, primarily in endurance, the mental game, and perhaps just in my personal opinion, a certain beauty of style.

What do you think is the most important thing about traveling and climbing?

The education. Education is not a textbook, education is seeing and believing, living and experiencing, exploring with the hands and eating with the eyes. Climbing brings us traveling, and has the opposite extremes of a yen for the untouched and the competitive craze of the controlled urban closeness. I believe there are many sports in which we can explore the different disciplines and remain sheltered. Climbing is absolutely not one of them. Climbing gives us self-awareness, and traveling opens us to world mindedness.

Climbing Borders
How is working as a volunteer in Climbing Borders?

Working as a volunteer is a very genuine, life-changing experience; like workers in the “Banker to the Poor”, the local director Dr. Nadia Vazquez walked us through the neighborhoods on our first visit in order to see the world from the perspective of the kids. Genuinely hanging out with these kids brings volunteers into their world, their emotional turbulence, their frustration. Then makes me wholly aware of yourself and what you know or don’t know. The kids are always motivated to do something, and keep us on our toes.

What do you think is the most important thing of working with those kids?

For me, I see the most important thing is just being there, a mentor. It doesn’t matter who we are, or where we go – we could be skateboarders, or runners, or bikers – just that we are there for them. We talk, we listen, we guide them, and we’re there to offer a different perspective of the world so they can see outside their influences.

Do you think the project has saved those kids from involving with drug cartels?

There’s no doubt Escalando Fronteras makes a difference with the kids every time they go outside. From the first visit to the second, their behavior changes; their physical awareness grows; their attitude towards the mentors is tiny bit more open. I’ve taught climbing for 8 years to kids, adults, beginners, competitive athletes, and learned myself as a student from amazing teachers, and every climbing session builds character, strength, and self-awareness, because climbing is a channel for recreation, problem-solving, and self-expression. Even if there is no teacher in the room, the student needs to learn independently by adapting for each move, each problem, each style.

Which aspects of climbing do you think help the most to develop personal abilities?

Adaptation and self-awareness. Climbing helps them realize they can change, that the world can change, and that they can change with it by learning about themselves.

Do you think this program could be done in other countries?

Easily, I visited a program like it in Vancouver, Canada that worked particularly well, called Climb’N’Conquer, and was well directed by a community leader named Joseph Smith. With the use of any facility, even the outdoors (such as with CEU, Centro for Escalad Urbana in Brasil) anyone can be introduced to the sport, even once, and changed by the physical challenge, the community feel, and an unforgettable perspective of the world from above.

Which is the importance that famous climbers participate as volunteers?

The message: Don’t ever give up. Here’s proof you can be what you dream.

Famous athletes are only a part of the program, because volunteers are the labor of the operation and resources from donors keep the program working like a philanthropic machine. In fact, everyone who participates lends something of themselves to the mission, which is an incredibly selfless and thoroughly laudable.

The part about famous climbers in particular is that they are examples of dedication, they are heroes, they are role models. We follow their steps in our dreams; our heroes are who we think about when we are pushing our hardest. When we need inspiration, when we are starting to fail, we think of what our idols would do in that situation. My inspiration was Chris Sharma, and seeing him in my home gym regularly gave me an example to follow, which was that someone from a small town gym, a kid like me, could be the best in the world. A young snowboarder has a poster of Shaun White, a skateboarder of Tony Hawk, etc, and climbing has those same names for the growing climbing community that is reaching developing, rough and closed-off places.

Pro Climbers International was founded on this basis, that achieved athletes can impact and inspire those on their way simply by appearing in person – and it works. If a kids hears about someone being amazing, and they meet them, it’s a lifetime experience. It’s unforgettable, so it’s worth a lifetime of inspiration. And that moment stays with the kids whenever they feel tested.