status: passionate rock climber, ex-veterinarian, culinary mastermind in training, dark horse pool shark
I met Heather a few years back, on my first trip to Las Vegas. She happily opened her home to myself, my filthy new pup Zeke, and my good friend Chris Weidner - all of us essentially total strangers at the time. Heather is one of the warmest, most inviting and happy individuals you will ever run into - and chances are, you will. She's climbing full time, always at the crag (throughout temps or conditions that even the burliest dudes cower at) and on the move, especially around Colorado and Nevada.
Heather's climbing is in constant evolution, and over the years I've found her pursuit particularly inspiring. Obviously Heather is strong, but it's not necessarily her physical abilities that stand out to me - it's herdrive. I've had the privilege to climb with some of the world's best, but no one that I've met has the ambition, persistence and follow through that Heather exhibits. She gets shit done. It's almost as though difficulty doesn't matter... if she wants it, she gets it - through awful weather, sore muscles, torn skin, and sometimes months of focused effort. I feel like this kind of drive can inspire us all, regardless of our personal ability level... so read on and see what makes Heather tick...
When, where, how, why did you start climbing?
I first started climbing because of the boyfriend I had in undergrad in Ft. Collins, CO, when I was twenty one. He was really into wide crack climbing- perfect climbing for a twiggy little girl to learn on. I thought he was the coolest guy ever and I loved the outdoors, but I honestly didn't love the type of climbing we were doing. I was the stereotypical girlfriend of a climber being drug up moderate trad routes on toprope and I always felt like I was just fighting and wrestling with the rock. My first rock climb outdoors was a 5.7 crack in Fat Crack Country. I trad climbed for a number of years until I finally had the chance to experience sport climbing and I found it suited me so much better and it was way more fun.
How has the climbing scene in Las Vegas changed over the years? Certainly there are ups and downs to the area - what are they in your experience?
When I first started climbing in Las Vegas six years ago, I quickly met so many motivated, supportive, and strong sport climbers. I couldn't believe how close knit the community was, and I had never had such a strong sense of community (albeit small) in my life. I think it has changed a little now, like there is quite a bit of drama between a few select people. The only good thing that comes out of drama is the fact you quickly realize who your true friends are- the ones that stick by your side no matter what rumors are spread or how cliquey people can be. Overall, I feel the greatest sense of home in Vegas and I love the climbing community- they are my family.
You've been a strict vegetarian for well over a decade, and you've even converted your husband, Chris Weidner (well done)!. Why do you choose not to eat meat, and being an athlete, how do you feel it may (or may not) affect your performance?
I don't eat meat for ethical and environmental reasons. I mean, it would be pretty hypocritical for me, as a veterinarian who is supposed to do everything in my power to help animals, to eat them. It just doesn't make sense, but it's funny how even in vet school I was the minority (one of five out of 120 that didn't eat meat). I think a lot of people just simply don't think about eating meat as contributing to such waste and suffering- they just see a "hamburger," just as many religious people never question their belief system. Many people are Jewish, or Christian, or whatever simply because that was how they were raised.
As a vegetarian athlete, I do not at all feel like my performance is affected, but I have no comparison as I have never eaten meat as a climber. I can say that my good friend used to be a trapeze artist in a circus, and she chose to give up meat for her career because she felt so weighed down, like having a rock in her stomach. I can only imagine that's how I'd feel after eating a big steak and trying to climb overhanging limestone.
It is amazing how many times I am asked how do I get enough protein with a vegetarian diet. If only people knew how many plant-based sources of protein there are, how most Americans eat way more protein than they need, and how easy it is to be a vegetarian.
As for my husband, I threatened divorce if he didn't convert. Ha! Just kidding!! The great thing about Chris is he decided to turn veggie on his own. I have been cooking a lot of super yummy meals lately and he has not even thought about or missed meat. I love to lead by example rather than proselytize, and hopefully I can inspire others to consider vegetarianism in this way.
Your hardest sends (i.e. Power Windows, Mon Pote Assis, Gay Science, etc.) are not your average 'girl' climbs, they are burly, steep and powerful. Few would likely guess by looking at you that you excel at powerful climbing - how did you develop this style? has it become your favorite style? What do you have to say to the stereotype about women being exclusively tick-tacking crimp machines?
It's so funny because I used to be the tick-tack crimping girl, until I started sport climbing on the limestone outside Vegas. I quickly learned by climbing at areas like Mt. Charleston and Mt. Potosi that if you don't adapt to its burly style, you won't be progressing in the grades. These areas are just plain hard- reachy, bad feet, pockets, and sandbagged. Routes like this are always hard for me, but once you red-point them it is so much more rewarding. I kind of gravitate toward them now and oddly they have become my favorite style.
It is inspiring to see women that climb out of their comfort zone and try the boy routes, and it's cool how often times once one girl does a route, many other girls will try and do the route, too. It's like once a girl sees it's possible, she will try it. I like to be the girl to see if it's possible in the first place.
Your climbing has come a long ways in the last two years, it's super impressive. Has something in particular motivated or inspired you recently? What direction would you like to see your climbing go - this year? in 3 years? or in 10?
Thanks J Star! Being able to climb full time for the past year is super motivating in itself. Simply being able to climb more days in a week and not be completely exhausted from a 60 hour work week helps my climbing a lot, and with my health in general- both physically and mentally. Short term goals include climbing another 5.14 this year in Rifle, CO, then traveling to Europe in the fall with my husband and getting some mileage and a bigger base with sport climbing. In the next 3 years I think it would be amazing to climb 5.14b, and in the next 10 incorporate more trad climbing and traveling abroad. Above all, my goals with climbing are always to keep it fun and not get injured.
You are not afraid to hunker down and try hard on a project. You certainly have a level of determination and persistence that very few climbers, even at a high level, exhibit. Do you feel that you learned this approach from climbing, maybe from Vet school, or perhaps elsewhere? Has this drive influenced other aspects of your life as well?
Those who know me call it "Taurus mode," where I become so determined, focused, and down-right stubborn that no matter what it takes to accomplish my goals I will do it. I am a fighter and I usually find a way to get what I want. Having these traits is usually a good thing, especially for projecting difficult routes. But sometimes I can be so tough on myself and hyper-focused to where I temporarily lose sight of the big picture. I can let my ego get in the way and become self-degrading, but ultimately this thought process makes me work and try harder.
Nothing has ever been easy for me in life and accomplishing my goals. I have never been one of those naturally super smart or athletic people. In veterinary school I had to study really hard, similarly in climbing moves are hard for me and I have to put my time in on hard routes. My biggest strength I have in all aspects of my life is the fact that I don't give up easily, and I am not afraid to work really hard- to dedicate myself to something that holds value to me.
I've always had a solid work ethic, even as a little kid and through my teens. I think it is something ingrained. Whether it's regarding education, climbing, or relationships, I'm not afraid to dive right in and dedicate myself whole-heartedly.
We've enjoyed many-a-long-nights out seeing concerts and listening to music together, but even at the crag, you wear headphones every single time you climb. Can you describe your relationship to music with respects to climbing? Does it motivate you, help you get in the zone, or just drown out the crowd?
I am so hooked on music. I first started wearing my headphones while climbing at the Virgin River Gorge. I got in the habit there because all you hear while climbing there is traffic whizzing by and you can't communicate with your belayer anyways, so why not listen to some rad tunes? I've always found techno and trance music beats super motivating and uplifting. Climbing to this type of music gets me psyched and puts me in a different zone for sure. Usually I save the headphones for when I am ready to redpoint a route, and the music helps put me in a dream-like state. It's just me, the rock, the movement, and the music- no other distractions. It's beautiful. I love it.