Five Questions With Climber Naomi Risch

Our athletes and ambassadors shred gnar and send hard lines, but there’s much more behind the scenes: other careers, balancing family life, creating art, giving back. To dig deeper into the adventure lifestyle, we’ve created Five Questions, an ongoing feature asking OR athletes the hard questions. And sometimes more than just five.

How did you get started in your sport?

After my first year in college, I transferred to the University of Maine, Orono, from Lyndon State in Vermont. One of the nights of my orientation, they offered rock climbing at the gym. I tried it and had fun, but wasn’t hooked. A few months later I started dating this dude who went to the climbing gym sometimes. The climbing stuck, the dude didn’t. I still remember the first V2 I finished at the gym. It was yellow and traversed through an overhang. I worked it for a month and was elated to send. Soon after, I went outside for the first time and never looked back. I’ve identified as a climber ever since.

What keeps you climbing? 

I love being in high places. I love feeling the wind in my hair and on my face. I struggle to find the same feeling of freedom in my everyday life that I get when I’m on a climb and everything is flowing and smooth and I never want to come down.

What is your typical day/ week schedule? 

I’m a full-time social worker for adults who have severe mental illness—folks with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, for instance. I spend a lot of one-on-one time with them in the community, helping them achieve their daily life goals. This keeps me busy Monday through Friday, but before work, after work and on weekends, I try my best to do something for myself. Sometimes this means running up my favorite mountain before work in the summer, going to the local crag in the evenings or training on my home wall during the winter. I spend weekends somewhere else, climbing as much as possible!

Finish this sentence: In high school, I was … a runner and totally crazy psyched. My best friend and I even had our own nickname combining the two of us because we spent so much time together. It was Jaoni, for Naomi and Joanna. We were loud and silly and had too much fun. I think I bring a bit of this psyche to my adult life, which is good because being psyched is fun!

Any advice to young people getting started in your sport?

Stick with it. Seriously. Unless you’re the next Lynn Hill or Chris Sharma, you’re going to suck at first. Everyone does. But the more you do it, and the more you learn, the better you’ll get.

Favorite place on the planet?

My house. This past summer, my boyfriend and I bought our first house and it’s incredible! We’re two miles in on a dead-end dirt road, up on a hill in the mountains of Vermont. It’s the best place ever. If I had to pick somewhere else, though, I would pick southern Spain. I took a sport climbing trip there a few years ago and have been dying to get back ever since. The scenery is the best of anywhere I’ve ever climbed, with majestic views of the hills and olive groves. It makes me feel warm just thinking about it.

If you could leave aspiring athletes with one important piece of life advice or words of wisdom, what would it be?

Find something you love and do it with all your heart! If you’re not passionate about something, even if it’s reading books or counting the petals on a flower, you’ve got nothing!

What are you looking forward to this year?

In April I’m taking my first all-girl climbing trip! I love climbing with other women—it’s a really cool experience, and taking a trip with some of my best girlfriends is going to be the bomb diggs. Also, I think I’m going to take another climbing trip to Utah with my boyfriend, Matt, before he heads to Pakistan for seven weeks!

What’s your favorite piece of OR gear?

I don’t think I can pick just one piece. My Ferrosi hoody [LINK] is pretty amazing. I wear it all the time. It’s light and breathable, but just enough of a layer to keep you warm when you need it. I also really love my Frescoe hoody. I practically live in this shirt. It’s soft and comfortable and is my go-to when I need something to take the chill off, whether I’m climbing or headed out for a night with friends!

Where do you live now and why?

I live in Huntington, Vermont. I love living in Vermont because it’s close to everything New England has to offer. There is amazing trad climbing on either side in New Hampshire and New York. Sport climbing isn’t too far and getting down to world-renowned places like the New River Gorge or the Red River Gorge is only about a day’s drive. Our house is totally amazing with beautiful views and a 250-square-foot bouldering wall above the garage that we just finished this past fall. My friends and family are close and the Green Mountains offer endless entertainment. Maybe someday the option to go out West and live there will exist, but for now I feel like I have everything I need, and if I need a little more, I’ll hop in my car or buy a plane ticket and go!