Saturday, May 16, 2015

Changing Passions: From Running to Climbing

For a variety of reasons, I'm interested in passion and how and why people come to develop and express theirs. Not only does it inform the public and private work I do, but it's a chance to hear and learn from different voices. I thought of Mollie Stolbova because of her position and enthusiasm for climbing, and her leadership role with the Madison Women Climbers (MWC). When I started climbing in 1997, MWC was one pathway that led me towards enduring friendships formed that I still have today, and it was largely responsible for upping the presence of women climbers in our community. I really appreciate Mollie's voice and her enthusiasm for sharing how she went from being a runner to a climber and all things in-between her active life. -Vera

I was a runner who liked climbing - not the other way around.  I loved it, especially running long distances. I think I felt like I was a super woman or something for running so far and taking on the challenge of marathons. In January 2013 I ran one of my bucket list marathons, the Disney World Marathon. Basically it’s 26.2 miles of pure Disney magic. I loved every second, especially giving Mickey a high-five at the finish line. I still smile thinking back on this day.

But it was after this my love of running waned. I was tired of the training it took for marathons and half-marathons. It was solitary, exhausting, and time consuming. It distracted me from making gains in climbing or the ability to do anything else physical.  My love of running had ended.

A year or so before this my brother, Cody, challenged me to try climbing (bouldering to be specific). Being the competitive and adventurous person I am, I took the challenge on. I had fun, laughed, met some new people, and overcame (somewhat) my fear of falling off the climbing wall while bouldering. I had fun, even though I could barely drive my stick shift car home my hands and forearms were so sore.

As I kept coming back, I realized this was my new challenge! What I love about climbing is that there’s no end, there’s always a harder route, a new problem, or new beta to try. You can always get better, but you don’t necessarily “top out” on your skill.

It was this that reminded me I needed challenge in my life more than adding another marathon to my list. So I climbed away from running and haven’t looked back two years later. My passion for climbing has become intertwined with my passion for nature, animals, veganism, and my friends.  

My relationship with climbing has not always been rainbows and sunshine. July 2014 while bouldering with a couple of friends, Mother Nature sought to teach me a lesson. I was climbing the route Wingspan at Gov. Dodge (a V3 at the time) at the end of the climbing day and feeling good about this being my last climb. The others had sailed right up to the top out so I was confident I could do the same and we’d be on our way home. The routes at Gov. Dodge are sandstone and subject to weather and other elements. In the middle of the route is a beautiful jug hand hold which I was gripping comfortably in my left hand to reach up for the next hold. Before I could make the grab, the hold itself broke off the boulder and I with it. I went down hard. I was so shocked by the hold breaking that I forgot the rule of falling -- don’t put your hands out. So my hands went back and I hit the crash pad, fell back on the pad and rolled off to the ground. I’m pretty sure that route is now a V4 after pulling the big hold off.

At first, I was shocked, but then some pain set in through my right wrist. No swelling, but I couldn’t clench my fist or bend my wrist back. My friends went into boy scout mode -- using a towel and climbing tape to splint my wrist, helping me out of my climbing shoes and into hiking ones, and they wouldn’t let me carry a thing on the hike back to the car. The hike back had some added excitement of a downpour -- we used the crash pads as lean-tos and rested a bit. Some how I drove my stick shift car home (using mostly my elbow to shift if I recall). Urgent care was closed and the nurses hotline said I could come in the next day if it wasn’t any better.

My husband took me in the urgent care that morning. (Side note: Sunday mornings at 8:00AM are the BEST times to visit urgent care -- no one is there!) I was so certain it would just be a sprain, but the doc came in an announced, “Whelp, you broke it.” I was devastated. All my hard work and gains in climbing and now this???!! Oh the humanity! The doctor reminded me that at the end of your life this moment and these weeks that I couldn’t climb would be just a blip compared to all the other great stuff.

I ended up getting two titanium screws put in my wrist to aid in the healing. On September 15th, I got the OK from my surgeon that I could climb again and guess what I did that very evening? You bet--- went climbing!! I was so grateful for my friends to help keep my spirit up while I couldn’t climb. The wrist still gets sore and I have a scar from the surgery, but I’m thinking about a climbing tattoo to go with it.

Now I am focused on my climbing. I have even added yoga to my regime and feel it has greatly impacted my life. Since climbing and yoga, I feel more grounded, centered, and peaceful. I don’t get agitated or stressed out as easily -- something not everyone can boast.

My passion has also turned to leadership. With my friend Katie, I am the co-chair of the Madison Women Climbers group. This is a group about celebrating women climbing and creating camaraderie in the sport. We host skills clinics, outdoor climbing trips, camping, and other fun stuff. The group had been dormant for a few years until Katie and I were asked to take it on. It has been a great experience so far and hearing positive feedback and gratitude from members makes us feel great and happy we took on this challenge. I am a natural organizer and leader, so this was a great role.

When I think about it, the doctor was right -- that broken wrist and those weeks that I thought of how upset I was I couldn’t get out there is just a blip. Through climbing I have made amazing friends, found my tie to nature, appreciated my veganism more, have become stronger than I thought I could be, inside and out. When you can say all that, how could this not be my passion?

Thank you.

If you are interested in joining the Madison Women Climbers, please contact Mollie at

Mollie is from Wisconsin even though she left for a bit to go to college in the Twin Cities. She lives outside of Madison with her husband, Roman, of 7 years and beloved cats: Gilbert and Sophie. She is an animal lover and has been vegan for over a year (plus one year of vegetarian) and loves to discuss these topics and help others go vegan. Mollie also speaks French and performs with the Madison Community Orchestra in the violin section. She has been climbing for about 5 years. While she primarily boulders, she’s also been known to top rope and sport climb.

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