If you’re on instagram you might have come across Project Chalk, the personal account of Wing-Sum Wong. Despite only climbing 2 years Wing trains hard and as the President of London Ladies Climb she helps to encourage other women to give climbing a go.
Womenclimb caught up with her to find out why she loves climbing and how she’s dealt with recent injuries.
How did you start climbing?
I started climbing in March 2015 aged 31, because I wanted to be more active but didn’t want to join the gym. I already practiced yoga, but felt I needed something else in my life to challenge me. Matt, my friend from university had started climbing the year before so when I asked him about climbing, he suggested I go with him and he would teach me to top rope.
I found my passion for climbing during my first session and I knew it was something I wanted to do again. Matt continued to supervise me when we climbed together until he was confident I could belay and tie in safely. Unfortunately, as Matt had a young family he was often busy. This left me in the position of having no one to climb with.
As a newly competent top rope climber I didn’t have the confidence to start bouldering on my own, or attend top rope drop in sessions at the climbing wall.
“The Ladies Climbing Group” appeared on Meetup.com in May 2015. I joined and nervously attended the first event, and that was when my climbing journey started.
The Ladies Climbing Group, now known as “London Ladies Climb”, gave me the opportunity to explore my passion for climbing and to grow in confidence. My climbing journey would be very different had I not joined this group.
In August 2016 I became President of London Ladies Climb and in March 2017 London Ladies Climb co-hosted a bouldering event with the Castle Climbing Centre to mark International Women’s Day and to support and encourage female participation in climbing.
How often do you climb?
As a London based climber I mainly climb indoors. I am frequently found bouldering at the Arch Climbing Wall during weeknights, and occasionally at the Castle Climbing Centre during weekends when I want to top rope or lead climb.
I climb 3-5 times a week and try to fit in some training too. Training and conditioning is an important part of my climbing routine as I want to limit the risk of injury.
I try to climb outdoors at as much as possible. I’ve already had my first outdoor climb of 2017 in Portland, Dorset, and I have a trip to Spain planned for March, and Font planned for April.
Why do you climb?
Climbing challenges me both physically and mentally. I don’t have a natural talent for climbing, but I constantly want to improve on what I can do. In order to climb harder routes I have to push myself past the physical and mental barriers. When I send a route I’ve been struggling on and have had to really work for, it is the best feeling of achievement ever.
What’s been your most difficult thing to deal with during your time climbing?
Injury. I picked up a finger injury at the end of April 2016 and a hip injury a week later.
I stopped climbing in early July 2016 because I was in too much discomfort and pain. Not being able to climb and being in pain had an unimaginable impacted on my life. I lost my passion for climbing and questioned whether I wanted to climb again and whether I would even enjoy it. I fell into a depressive episode and I lost friends. But there were people who stood by and supported me even when things got really dark.
One person who played a significant role in my recovery was my physiotherapist, Uzo Ehiogu, who is a climber himself. He understood how important climbing was for me, even though I said I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to climb again. Uzo told me in my first physiotherapy session that I could make a full recovery without the need for surgery and that I would return to climbing as a stronger and better climber.
It’s been 7 months since I started physiotherapy and everything he said is true; I am a stronger and better climber than before injury. Not only am I able to climb again, I am able to push grades. Uzo has now taken on the role of my strength and conditioning coach.
I’ve had my setback during the recovery process, but having people around me who didn’t give up on me, and still don’t give up on me, makes a huge difference for when I’m ready to give up on myself. I’m very grateful for this.
I’ve battled with depression and anxiety for years. I’ve gone through the recovery and relapse cycle numerous times. In March 2016, after a particularly bad episode of depression, I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. I felt a huge sense of relief that there was a medical explanation for what I was experiencing.
I’ve found climbing to have a positive impact on my mental health; throughout some of my most difficult days it was the one thing I really looked forward to doing. So when I got injured and couldn’t climb, it wasn’t too surprising I spiralled into another episode of depression.
What would you tell others in a similar situation?
The process of recovery isn’t linear; there will be setbacks and you will doubt yourself. But have faith and don’t give up in believing that your current situation will change.
How does climbing fit into your life?
I work in London in finance. I’m very much a city girl with a professional career, working in an office.
Climbing is a huge part of my life. It helps that a lot of my friends are climbers, so I end up seeing them at the climbing wall. I’m a believer that we will make space in our lives for things we are passionate about.
What’s the best climbing experience you’ve had?
One of the best experiences I’ve had through climbing is my involvement with London Ladies Climb and having the opportunity to support and encourage other women in a way which influences their climbing journey and their willingness to support and encourage other female climbers.
As difficult and as frustrating as it can be, to date, being President of London Ladies Climb has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.
Empowering other women through climbing has become an integral part of my climbing journey and life. I delivered a speech at the Castle Climbing Centre for International Women’s Day this year. This is a quote from it which I would like to share.
“The beauty of climbing is that we cannot know without trying whether we can get to the top. And just because we do not get to the top on our first attempt, or second or third attempt, does not mean we cannot climb to the top. There is no real failure in climbing, only self-improvement.”
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