Angie Payne: What I’ve Learned

28, Boulder, Colorado.

“The moment before I take a sip of my morning coffee is just as good, if not better, than the first sip itself.”

By Alison Osius | January 17th, 2018


This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 209 (April 2013).


Photo: Keith Ladzinski.
Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

When I was a kid, I was the only girl on the local peewee football team. One of my favorite parts of the experience was at the end of the game when we shook hands with the cheerleaders. They, in their skirts, didn’t know what to make of me, in my shoulder pads. Now I still enjoy surprising people in a similar way, perhaps with a handshake that is a little firmer than they would expect out of me.

***

I only vaguely remember what life was like before age 11, when I found climbing. Members of the Ohio climbing community were diverse in terms of age and background, but all shared a self-deprecating manner. I was taught to value humility and authenticity. I learned that a job done well speaks for itself. I often struggle to find the balance between fulfilling my duties as a pro climber and being true to my Midwestern roots.

***

 I’m a competitor through and through. My dad was my first climbing partner and we went to the gym at least twice a week. Youth competitions were an integral part of  my experience. When I wasn’t at the gym training for comps, I was at home having pull-up battles on the hangboard with my dad, or trying to beat my personal record of laps across our home wall in the garage. Sometimes I’d stay on the wall for 30 minutes, wearing bike gloves to save my skin from jug-rash. I did so many laps that the gloves became tattered. I regret throwing those gloves away.

***

It seemed like every youth competition was the most important thing ever. I would put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself. Now I know that there will always be another competition or another boulder problem, and neither is going to make or break my life.

***

I vividly remember one night at the bouldering gym. I as flailing on a problem with some gigantic sloper, tearing up my forearm skin as I grappled with it. Everyone was laughing and heckling and I was trying my heart out. I don’t remember how it ended, but I carry this memory with me to this day because that crossroad of pain, full effort, failure and community epitomizes everything I love about bouldering.

***

Singing in a choir was a huge part of my adolescent years. that ringing feeling in my chest when the harmonies all clicked—it’s a lot like the feeling I get climbing, when I find my perfect flow.

***

I have experienced  utter contentment a few times in my life. One was lying on the shore of Lake Powell during my first road trip out West. Another was waking up under the stars in Greenland just in time to see the Northern Lights. As much as I relish those moments, I have learned to enjoy the less-than-perfect times too. That’s one reason I love projecting hard boulders. You fall and fall and fall, and then for a brief moment, you don’t. That fleeting contentment would not exist without all of that falling.

***

For the past seven years, I’ve worked at a small animal clinic. One of my coworkers is an 86-year-old man named Ray who still puts in 16+ hours a week. He has had multiple medical scares that we thought would lead to his retirement, but he refuses to stop working. Ray has taught me the power of having purpose.

***

After 13 years of climbing, my luck ran out and I sustained my first real injury when I took an unfortunate fall in the gym and wrecked my ankle. It forced me to take eight months off—the first real break I had taken since age 11. When I came back, my movement was more purposeful and I had a whole new appreciation. I was pitifully weak, but I have never been happier to climb.

***

In 2010 I climbed a V13 called The Automator. I’d like think that was the culmination of 15 years of experience, but I think a lot of it came down to luck. It could have easily turned into a long, drawn-out affair, but everything clicked on the seventh day and it was done. I returned to the same area and began trying Freaks of the Industry, another V13. It felt good and i figured I’d finish it up the next season. More than 40 days and two full seasons later, I have yet to climb it.

***

I rarely paint my fingernails, but when I do, I feel like I can crimp harder.


Also read What I’ve Learned: Steve Swenson

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