Rock Climbing Helped Me Empower Other Women Like Me
Growing up, my dad always said that I would do well as an athlete. I loved sports, and I was a very active child.
When I was younger, I really enjoyed climbing things and jumping off them, but rock climbing and parkour weren’t very popular sports in my Brazilian hometown in the early 2000s. Instead, I tried judo, karate and Muay Thai. I learned to swim and played basketball, but my favorite sport for a long time was soccer. I loved playing soccer at school, so when I was about 12, I asked my dad to join a team. Soccer has always been popular in Brazil, but due to sexism and other factors, it wasn’t very popular for girls. Sadly, I was unable to find a girls team in Brasilia, so I joined an all boys team.
In the beginning it was all good, but soon the boys started acting very disrespectfully towards me and trying their best to intimidate me into playing poorly. They would threaten to hurt me if I played well. They would mock me for things that had nothing to do with soccer, like having a period. Every effort was made to isolate me from my team members.
I tried reaching out to the coach, but he didn’t know how to handle the situation. Reaching out for help actually backfired; the bullying worsened and I eventually decided to leave the first team and join another. In the new team, the same thing repeated itself, in the beginning it was fine until it wasn’t. When my new teammates’ masculinity felt threatened, the cycle of bullying and intimidation repeated itself. Some of the intimidation was camouflaged as jokes but the intent was clear. For them and for many Brazilians, soccer was considered a boy sport. Perhaps, this sounds very stupid for someone who lives in USA, for instance.
When I was about 17, I got into skateboarding, I asked my cousin who had a board that he didn’t ride much anymore and he gave it to me, I went on a trip to São Paulo and I bought brand new wheels, I was very excited to start riding it! I changed the wheels myself and I was all ready to go. Then I got to the skate park and noticed that but when I didn’t see any girls riding there, only men.
The trauma kicked in and I had no longer had the courage to put myself out there. I remember getting to the skatepark many times and just sitting down and watching other people ride. I didn’t have much self-esteem to deal with any more rejection at that time in my life, so I just gave up. I forgot about sports for years. As I got older, I dabbled in parkour but I was mainly focused on my acting career during this time. It wasn’t until I was 22 and living in New York that I began rock climbing.
I observed other women training in the climbing gym and felt encouraged. Their presence, and the relative absence of sexist bullying and intimidation, empowered me to be my best. I became the climber I am today, competing and coaching because I found a space where I was respected for who I am and could exist without shame. Among the climbing community nowadays, I have encountered great respect for minorities, both in the USA and in Brazil, and I believe the world in general is more aware in regard to empowering women and other minorities. But I also see we’re still building representation, there is still the issue of unequal pay and the lack of opportunities for women—we have a long way to go.
I’ll never forget my responsibility as a female climber and also as a Brazilian to empower other women to be the strongest they can be on and off the playing field. Last month, I was at a waterfall in Chapada dos Veadeiros near Brasília, climbing some rocks for fun, when a girl approached me to say that I was incredibly strong. She added that she had always wanted to try rock climbing. I told her she should really go for it and she said to me that she was very inspired by me to finally do just that! Being a woman is another reason to be the best athlete you can be at any sport you love, because your success is someone else’s motivation to start.
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