Melise Edwards On Anger And Self-Kindness In Climbing

#SheAdventures is our dedication to empowering a community of outdoor women; to inspire dreaming big, overcoming challenges, and living an adventurous life, whatever that means to you. Our #SheAdventures scholarship program helps to give women the education, technical skills, and confidence to achieve big things.

We sat down with one of our fiercest climbing athletes to hear her take on celebrating women in the outdoors. This is what Melise had to say.

OR : Tell us about life as an extension of the OR brand. What does #SheAdventures mean to you?

M : I try to navigate my days embodying the #SheAdventures spirit, which is to foster a sense of adventure and participate in a community effort that strives to highlight strong women getting after it! Women are so incredibly powerful, resilient and intuitive in any arena; #SheAdventures has been a fun way to connect with others, feel inspired and share in the inevitable highs and lows of any sport or personal story.

OR : How do you see women being represented in mainstream outdoor industry culture? From media to retail, or from climbing comps to neighborhood crags?

M : This is such a tricky question, and one that has changed drastically from the time I started climbing to now. Women have always seemingly been objectified and touted for their physical attributes rather than incredible feats and, when I say women, I of course mean straight, white women because women of color or of any underrepresented community have long been forgotten in the narrative of female adventure. This year, for the first time in my climbing experience, I have seen women of color noticeably present on my social media feeds, advertisements, campaigns, etc. The first time. I’m 27 years old. I saw the first ever woman of color on a Canadian climbing guidebook, and that was a very special moment to me.

OR : Can you tell us about a challenge in your sport or industry that you overcame, and how that experience changed you?

M : Gosh, there really have been too many to count. I think the most challenging thing I’ve experienced has probably been this entire year. It has been hard to focus on climbing with constant “white noise” in the form of our political climate and constant pushback when talking about important issues. I have been really angry this year. My climbing experience suffered as a result, as did my mental health. It is hard to train, pursue climbing and be at your best when you feel so mentally depleted. The experience is changing me for the better, I think. I’m trying to be kinder to myself in climbing and remember that it is for me. It is my source of joy. It’s whatever I want or need it to be. I spend more time investing in nonprofits that do good in the community, and devote a lot of energy to education and trying to become a neuroscientist. I feel desperate to see and contribute to changes that will create positive, lasting effects.

OR : What has your experience been with women’s-specific climbing clothes?

M : Women specific climbing clothes, specifically athletic wear, can sometimes be less mindful of the fact that women come in an array of body types and *shocker* we have muscles too! I used to wear large shirts just so they would fit over my arms!

OR : What’s the significance in having strong female representation in outdoor leadership roles?

M : It is absolutely essential to have strong female representation in outdoor leadership roles, media and within the outdoor community as a whole. The outdoors and outdoor sports have traditionally been dominated by men. I think women are collectively acknowledging that we are equally passionate, competent, strong and leaders in the outdoors and beyond.

OR : What does dedication mean to you?

M : Dedication is a quiet promise to offer the best in you each day to something that gives you life. Right now I juggle a full time job with neuroscience classes, rock climbing, GRE studying, board duties for an amazing nonprofit and a puppy. These things are all important to me, and while it may ensure my progress in each is slow to build, I try to show up to each day telling myself, “today, I will try to give my very best to the things I love and believe in.” It isn’t always pretty. I’m not always successful. I just keep trying.

OR : How would you encourage other women – regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other adaption – to chase their dreams?

M : One way to encourage others is by giving myself permission to chase my dreams too. I have been inspired from seeing other ladies bravely share their successes and failures while pursuing incredible goals. When we see women that we identify with succeeding and trying, it can be contagious and make us want to try a little harder too. I have had the absolute honor of knowing two women of color who have completely changed the way I saw my dreams. They are both women in neuroscience going for incredibly challenging graduate programs in a field that is largely white and male. It gave me the confidence to accept my dream as a very possible reality. This year I am applying to graduate school so I can pursue a PhD in neuroscience.

Another way to encourage other women, no matter who you are, is to just be supportive. I think a fair number of women are wary about stating their needs or challenges because the pushback can be so intense. (IE- events that cater to women, LGBT communities, women of color, etc.) It is surprisingly shocking how much negativity surfaces when these groups ask for community support and recognition.

OR : Anything else you’d like to share?

M : It is extremely impactful and important to see someone that looks like you thriving and excelling within a given community. This is why it is important to see a diversity of women not only reflected in our community but in leadership roles. It can be incredibly isolating to navigate your way through a community that doesn’t reflect you or, worse, chastises you for speaking out about a lack of diversity. We need to be inclusive, we need to be supportive.

As a last note: ladies, you are not being too sensitive. You are not navigating your challenges alone and you are allowed to feel the highs and lows of your hobby or personal life. You are not weak or emotional or too much or a stereotype, you are human. Women the world over are slowly waking up to the fact that we are powerful beyond measure and capable, brilliant, athletic, brave, valid and do not need permission to be so.

Inspired by Melise? Celebrate with us by tagging your Instagram posts with #SheAdventures. We choose a new winner every month to applaud the hard-charging moms, sisters, daughters, partners, and friends who inspire us to do more outdoors.


Images courtesy of Marc Bourguignon and Stefan Baatz.