When Maya Patel (@maya_climbs) did an Instagram takeover of @captaincutloose account, it was clear she was one very impressive 15 year old. Her posts proved that she was not only an amazing climber, but also an incredibly talented writer, addressing some tough personal experiences.
We caught up with Maya to find out a bit more about these experiences, what she is passionate about and her involvement in climbing.
It is clear you are a very passionate and talented climber. Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself? About how and why you got into climbing and what it is that motivates you most?
I first tried climbing at my 7th birthday party at a small centre in Amersham. I remember being so proud to have struggled my way to the top of the wall and I immediately wanted to climb more. However, although I started climbing at this age, they were quite irregular sessions and it was only when I tried out for the Westway Squad, 4 years later that I began to train on a regular basis.
I find climbing so motivating because of the sense of control I feel over my body and mind when I climb. As my life has gotten busier especially as I have gotten older, I’ve found climbing not a distraction but a way to refocus my mind on my ambitions inside and outside of the sport. I love the fight, the grit and power you have to force into every route because without it the sense of accomplishment wouldn’t be there. The way I can use climbing to channel my emotions makes it, what some may consider a coping mechanism for stress and one of the predominant ways I express myself. But overall, I haven’t found anything that is nearly as genuinely exhilarating as toping a route or boulder which seemed impossible at first. The feeling that you are breaking down walls and pushing boundaries which you never believed you could, is what makes it motivating – it proves that anything is possible. It gives me more faith than anything, that with focus and determination I can achieve things beyond those that ever seemed within my reach.
You recently touched on some of your experiences (in climbing) …. on the takeover of the Captain Cutloose Instagram account. If you feel comfortable doing so, might you share any of these with us?
One thing to make sure I say is that the climbing community as a whole is generally amazing, it is packed with supportive, welcoming and friendly people who I practically consider a second family. It may not be perfect, but especially compared to other sporting community’s I have been in, I have always felt welcomed and accepted in the climbing community. I feel blessed to witness so many of people, with entirely different jobs, lives and backgrounds all come together to enjoy such unique sport.
However, climbing is undeniably a sport where centres are predominately dominated by white people. Personally, I have been surrounded by this sort of environment since a young age and so therefore I remained oblivious to it until a couple of years ago as I began to mature. It is key to acknowledge there are differences in the way people are treated due to their ethnicity within the climbing community, it is vital that we notice this because only then can we progress and make improvements. What people don’t realise is that it only takes a small act of hostility, that might feel entirely insignificant to them, to really affect how someone feels at a climbing centre. This is because for them, this is just one look but unfortunately the likelihood is this is not the person on the receiving end’s first stare, smirk or whisper and it most probably won’t be their last. These little things can really grow on people making them feel embarrassed or distressed within the climbing community, a community where everyone should be welcomed.
I wanted to share one of my most memorable experiences that has really stuck with me despite the fact it was a couple of years ago. I was 13 and it was the hottest day of the year and so like many others, I was climbing in my sports bra and some shorts. I was spending the day with a friend who had just gone to get some water, when a man came up to me and said, “You need to cover up because nobody wants to look at your coloured skin”. Initially, I was quite taken aback, I was only just really becoming aware of the slight differentiation in the way I was treated, and his comment left me devastated and completely humiliated. For me, I climb for this pure sense of achievement and satisfaction I gain from the sport, so when this experience was ruined, climbing felt pointless. I climb because I love it so being in an environment where I was made to feel uncomfortable meant I no longer wanted to stay. Something which I found normally so positive was destroyed in one sentence.
If you take anything away from this, let it be the effects these comments, stares and whispers can have on people. For a few months after the experience, I felt constantly self-conscious no matter what I was wearing, and I remember just entirely despising the colour of my skin because of the way it made me feel and the way it meant I was viewed. I never before that, saw myself as different. I had always thought of myself like everyone else at my school and in the climbing gym; as human. I’m now proud of my heritage and my family history and know that no matter what someone says nobody deserves to be alienated like that. I want people to see me for my personality, my achievements and my morals before the colour of my skin and I hope with a lot of work, we as a community can get closer to achieving this and making a climbing centre a safe environment for everyone.
Interview by Rachel Briggs with Maya Patel