Girl Crush: An Interview with Alyse Dietel

Every so often, we’ll interview extraordinary girls doing extraordinary things: this is Girl Crush. This week, we’re stoked to feature recent Rock and Ice cover girl Alyse Dietel.

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Alyse had been climbing for 15 years before she  fell off a cliff during her first month of college and was paralyzed from the waist down for 6 months.  Despite being confined to a wheelchair, she defied her doctors and re-learned to walk, and then to climb.

She sent her first 5.13b a year later after intensive training and rehabilitation. Now she has sent more 5.13s and has taken up trad climbing with her boyfriend, Tim.

‘Climbing is everything to us, and we plan on doing it as much as possible while inspiring others to push their boundaries to do what they love. ‘

BB: You’ve been an inspiration within our climbing community – as a sport climber gone trad, evolv athlete, Rock and Ice cover girl and projecting your first 5.13 trad after suffering life-changing injuries.  Tell us about your incredible journey over the past year, and what keeps you going.

AD: Although I’ve been climbing for about 15 years now, this past year I’ve definitely experienced the most growth as a climber. I sent my hardest sport route, started climbing trad, and created my instagram account. It’s been a fun ride seeing just how far away from the wheelchair I can push myself.

I recently somehow pushed myself into the Rock and Ice photo camp and onto their cover, and things have been taking off from there! It’s all been incredibly exciting, but also extremely humbling. I feel overwhelmingly grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way.

BB: We love the story you shared on Instagram behind your Kekuatan tattoo. What does kekuatan (strength) mean to you?

AD: My kekuatan tattoo is a tribute to my mom’s strength during her Indonesian lost at sea ordeal. If she were not the incredibly strong woman she is, both inside and out, I would not be here today. So it seems only fitting that both inner and outer strength has been what has kept me going throughout life.

Climbing has kept me physically strong, which is something I cherish. My accident has improved my mental strength, something I would be lost without. I’m a firm believer that as long as you have kekuatan, you can get through anything.

I come from a family of female warriors brimming with kekuatan, and my tattoo is there to remind me of that when I need it most.

BB: You’ve been climbing for most of your life – how has climbing shaped who you are today?

AD: I have absolutely no idea who I would be today if it wasn’t for climbing. Climbing has taught me to persevere in the face of doubt, has instilled in me a love for adventure, and has taught me to respect nature. It’s made me strong, kept me humble, and expanded my comfort zone. It’s pretty amazing to think about all the incredible places I’ve been and all the awesome people I’ve met because of climbing. Climbing is this whole fun, crazy, mostly dirty lifestyle that I am insanely stoked to be a part of.

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

AD: After my accident, I got into kind of a rut with falling. I just didn’t. I would take, grab the draw, anything to not fall. I didn’t want anything to do with it. When I met my boyfriend, Tim, I became aware of the world of trad climbing. I also became aware of the opportunity it provided.

Trad climbing is notoriously more dangerous, so I was all about it. I needed the challenge. I needed to step up my game in the fear department. After climbing huge spires and splitter cracks with Tim, a fall on bolts seemed trite. Trad climbing made me realize that if I wanted to push myself in climbing, I had to just go for it and not worry about the fall. Which is pretty much the main basis of trad climbing. I also craved the adventure that trad climbing has to offer. I love the idea of seeing a gorgeous spire in the distance, working your butt off to get there, then climbing it.

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BB: Strong (and sponsored) female climbers like you have been growing within our thriving community over the past decade.  What is it about the sport that attracts more women now than ever before?

AD: I think climbing has rapidly evolved from a “manly” sport that only a man does to a sport that truly highlights just how strong women can be. Men are strong, but women tend to have more technique and flexibility.

There’s this balance that doesn’t exist in a lot of co-ed sports, and it’s awesome. People are starting to see that balance more and more as females crush, and it’s a huge inspiration to women who wouldn’t otherwise try a sport because it’s “manly”.

I think the evolution began when Lynn Hill freed The Nose of El Capitan. In her own words, “it goes, boys”. From there it’s been an uphill progression. When I was on a youth climbing team, I was the only girl. Now, the youth team at the gym I work at is pretty evenly divided.

BB: How do you think rock climbing empowers women across all areas of their lives?

AD: I know personally that as a girl, there’s a certain joy in discussing beta or projecting a route or problem with a guy. It’s not so much “oh I’m stronger” or “haha I’m gonna beat you!” it’s more just that feeling of equality. There are no longer genders, just two climbers. And climbing is one of the few times in life that ever happens. So I think the most important thing climbing does for women is that it lets them be free.

Hair’s a mess? No one cares. Wearing ratty, baggy clothes? Big whoop. Haven’t showered in a week? Whatever. You sent that route you were projecting and had fun doing it? Hell yeah, that’s awesome! It’s about the climbing.

It’s about the stoke. It’s about trying hard. It’s not about your gender. I think this really helps women to realize their potential as well as be more aware of the equal respect they deserve in everyday life.

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

AD: Luckily for me, the most gorgeous place I’ve climbed in is right in my backyard. Not only is Sedona/Oak Creek visually stunning, but it hosts some of the most fun, varied, and adventurous routes I’ve been on. There’s not much that compares to standing on top of a spire with that view after climbing a ridiculously fun route
then heading to Oak Creek Brew Co. for some amazing brews and live music.

I’ve been climbing in Sedona for a year now and, without fail, every time I top out a new spire I am astounded by the beauty that’s just a 30 minute drive away.

BB: What’s next on your tick list?

AD: Right now my immediate goal is to send 5.13 on gear. I’m super stoked on trad, and would really like to continue to explore the traditional side of climbing. I’d love to eventually get on big walls such as El Cap, specifically the freerider route. I’d also like to get into guiding as a huge passion of mine is introducing people to the kickass world of climbing.

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BB: Who/What has been the biggest influence in your life?

AD: As clichéd as it sounds, my biggest influence has been my parents. They filled my childhood with camping, biking, and hiking. They took me up Half Dome at seven months old and brought me to the climbing gym when they got tired of looking for me in trees.

My mom taught me the names of wildflowers while my dad taught me to catch lizards. They taught me that experiences are more important than possessions. They cared for me after my accident and fully supported my defiance of my doctors. I would be nowhere near where I am today if it wasn’t for their unwavering love and support.

BB: That just made our heart smile. What advice would you give to climbers recovering from recent injuries?

AD: Unfortunately, life doesn’t care about your excuses. You can’t allow yourself to dig a rut, curl up in it, and lay there. No magical healing genie is going to come lift you out of the rut. You have to do the lifting yourself. Don’t focus on the injury, focus on the recovery. Every time you feel like sitting and being sad about it, make progress. Do some physical therapy exercises, create something, go outside. This isn’t life on hold, so don’t put yourself on hold.

Tough love means being hard on yourself and pushing yourself, being realistic and making necessary changes. But it also means to take pride in yourself, to enjoy your progress, and to love yourself enough to want to recover. I have a personal motto: you can choose to cry, or you can choose to laugh. Always choose to laugh. You’ve got this.

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