alt=person on ground reaching for a heart shaped rock on a climbing wall;

Returning to Rock Climbing

When I was in graduate school, I started dating my future husband, who was a rock climber. After a few months of dating and not seeing him on the weekends because he was off climbing with his friends, I said I wanted to learn to climb. I started going to the gym with him and fell in love with climbing.

I loved everything about it

I loved the physical challenge, the mental challenge, getting outside, the community, the feeling of doing an “extreme” sport that only those who dedicated the time to develop the skills could do. I felt special. I started climbing more, about 4 days in the gym and almost every weekend when the weather was nice. In the summer when it didn’t get dark until 8:30, I would climb after work, hiking out with a headlamp in the dark.

When I had to move from Colorado to Maryland, my job and life got so busy, and I didn’t have time for climbing. The nearest gym was so far from my house and the nearest decent crag was hours away. I missed climbing and my community so bad, and I ended up moving back to Colorado a few months after relocating. I couldn’t wait to climb again at my old gym and my old crags.

Then came the SI joint pain

Little did I know that right before I was planning to go back to the gym, I would start having pain in my SI joints so bad, I couldn’t move. At first, I thought I was injured and I would get back to climbing when I was better. After a year of struggling on and off with pain, stiffness and fatigue, I was diagnosed with nr-AxSpA. I didn’t think I’d ever climb or do much of anything again since I struggled to even be mobile for the better part of a year.

After my diagnosis, I started on medication (Cimzia) and read all I could about how to lead a “normal” life. I overhauled my diet, I started working out with a trainer, I changed jobs to one less stressful and less physically demanding. I started hiking again, practicing yoga, riding my bike. I found I was able to return to some of my old hobbies, but not at the same level that I used to. I tire more easily now and I know that overdoing it can leave me exhausted and achy. After a year of re-building my life, I had a friend say she wanted to start climbing and asked if I would go with her. I was nervous at first, but I agreed.

Excited and nervous after my first return climb

I was so excited to be back at the gym again but at the same time, very nervous. Could I really climb again? Would it aggravate my SI joints? Would I pull something? I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to climb at the same level that I used to, at least not at first. What weighed on my mind most was the possibility that I would start back climbing, fall in love all over again, and then start having pain and have to give it up all over again. With all this on my mind, I went back to the gym.

After my first climb, my heart was racing, my forearms were pumped, and I was hooked again. I wanted to jump back in, to push myself, to get back to where I was before. But if this diagnosis has taught be anything, it’s to enjoy the small things, to not have unrealistic expectations and to just enjoy myself. I changed my outlook on climbing from chasing grades to just having fun and spending time with friends. I’m fine if I never climb at the level I used to. It’s not about that for me anymore. I feel so grateful that I’m even able to return to my old hobby, I just want to enjoy it while I can.

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