Girl Crush: An Interview with Irene Yee

Every so often, we’ll interview extraordinary girls doing extraordinary things: this is Girl Crush.  This week, we’re stoked to feature Vegas-based bouldering babe-turned-trad-climber Irene Yee (@ladylockoff)!

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BB: How did you and climbing find each other?

LL: It’s something I’ve always wanted to get into. I’ve dabbled very briefly, maybe a week or two over the years, but never really gave it a fair shot. After moving to Vegas I realized that it was less expensive to climb in gyms here than on the East Coast. I followed a Meetup to a gym, where they invited me outside. There it was –  I was hooked!

BB: How has rock climbing shaped who you are today?

LL:Climbing has become very personal to me because it has changed my life so very much. I fell into one of those low dips that you get in life, and it brought me out of it. I was always independent, but climbing offers nothing short of pushing your personal limits. You are using nothing but your own body and mental fiber to get up that wall. In the beginning, you don’t realize just how much of a mental challenge climbing is. But there is no feeling like the feeling of when you completed a hard climb using nothing but your own body and mind, pushing yourself into a space you never dreamed you could reach.

I also fell in love with the community of climbers I’ve come to know. They have been so supportive; no matter who they are you have something in common. I enjoy meeting new climbers, and encouraging them to push limits they thought they didn’t have, its a wonderful feeling!

BB: What do you think it means to be a badass?

LL: Ah! I think bad-assery comes in so many forms! My personal form is simply to try. When you’re open to just trying you realize:

a) Uh, wow, yeah I just did that!
b) People are so supportive to watch you try!

There is nothing like being a lady and getting up a climb none of the boys can do ’cause you simply tried something completely different. That’s what I love about climbing: there are multiple ways/techniques, it’s for the young and the wise, the beginners and the advanced.

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BB: We heart your lady-focused rock climbing Instagram.  How do you think rock climbing empowers women across all areas of their lives?

LL: It’s self reliance and trust. Though climbing can be social, it’s just you and the rock. Can you get up it? It’s learning that failure doesn’t come because you have to stop, rest, or come down. It’s when you don’t come back, when you don’t give it one more shot. It’s about being kind to yourself, knowing one day it will come you just need sometime to figure it out. It’s a fantastic feeling coming back trying again, figuring the tough spots out, and then sending! Trust is really what you start to gain. You begin to trust your body. You begin to trust your mind. You truly begin to trust yourself. Soon you realize how much that focus and confidence starts to spill over into your daily life.

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BB: We love that you aspire to be ‘a sport climber gone trad’ and appreciate how mentally challenging making this transition can be.  What was your catalyst for making the leap towards trad climbing?  

LL: Height! Trad climbing offers more climbing and higher views! Though heights have never really bothered me I kinda like the slight scary feeling of looking down, it reminds you that your alive. Then it gives the exhilarating feeling of “wow I did that myself!”. But really the thought of 800′ of continual climbing is what really attracted me. Sport climbs especially in Red Rock tend to be really short, so the appeal of continuing up and going hundreds of feet had a real appeal to me. Mentally its just a new and different game. with sport climbing the challenge is in the difficulty of the climbing. With beginner trad the difficulty lies in trusting your gear and placement. You spent a lot more time figuring out where to stop and place gear rather then how your going to get up.

BB: What is it about the sport that attracts more women now than ever before?

LL: That its totally badass! Nothin’ like having a good set of muscles to walk around with! Really though, I think women are finding out that climbing is not just about physical strength. As with many male dominated things, there comes this mystic of physical power, ego, and intimidation. But I’ve seen women with half the muscle I do complete much harder climbs because they have better footwork. I think the emergence of awesome climbers like Ashima Shiraishi, Alex Puccio, and Sasha Digiulian are showing women that they can dominate just as much as men. Women are finding that the great wild outdoors is not just for the burly, but for the creative and motivated.

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BB: Judging from your Instagram feed, you’ve climbed in some beautiful places.  Tell us about the most stunning of them all.

LL: I’m probably partial, and I’ve only so far traveled to climb in the U.S., but VEGAS! It’s where I’ve climbed the most, and am especially blown away by the height and views on the trad climbs. I’ve been caught more than once in a sunset, and it is just spectacular.

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BB: What advice would you give to climbers recovering from recent injuries?  

LL: STOP. REST. HEAL. Hardest routine ever to follow; no one likes to stop doing what they love. When I injured my finger almost a year ago, stopping was super tough. But I sat through it. No climbing for 2 months.  I tried to keep myself motivated by focusing on cross training.

When I finally got back on the wall, my worst fear was that I would be two steps behind where I left off. But I focused on technique. I also did training on holding holds properly (open hand grip) and not constantly over gripping. If I climbed smarter, then my body wouldn’t have to work as hard.

I also found that when you stop, the only thing you really lose is endurance. It’s not like you forget everything you’ve put into climbing since you left, it’s just something you have to build back up to. Stopping can also help you get past a plateau. When your body actually has time to recuperate and rest, it works harder for you then when you’re just pushing it to its limit over and over again.

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