Climbing as A Pathway to Self-Love

By: Emma Coltoff

Climbing has helped me to tackle two of the things about myself I struggle with the most: my perseverance for problem solving and recognizing the physical capabilities of my body.

I find that many of the climbers I meet are engineers or computer scientists in school or by trade, and I am no exception. However, this comes as no surprise to me; climbing is the physicalization of solving a puzzle. Often, as I lay on the mats at Metro (the climbing gym the Tufts Climbing team uses) staring at the climb I just fell off of, I envision each hold as a different equation or step in one of my heat transfer or differential equations homework problems. The individual steps are generally simple, but often, stringing them together pushes me to my limits, resulting in a battle to reach the end or in me falling to the ground.

In the past three years, I have experienced enormous growth as a climber and as an engineer in parallel. I’ve always known I’ve wanted to study engineering but I’m not ashamed to admit that my threshold for frustration with problem solving is low. I used to get fed up and beat myself up and walk away -- don’t get me wrong, I still do that sometimes. But working through bouldering and top-roping routes at Metro have forced me to get a grip (literally...haha) and keep working through.

I think the first thing I had to learn when I started climbing in September of 2013 was how to fall -- not just how to do it properly, but also that falling didn’t equate to failure. If anything, it had allowed me to solidify what I should or shouldn’t do the next time I tried the problem. Better yet, it gave me the drive to even try the problem again in the first place. Of course I’m validated by immediate success, but now I feel even more incredible when I know I’ve worked my butt off to achieve something.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the effect that climbing has had on the way I perceive my physical abilities. Unlike a lot of climbers I know, I wasn’t athletic when I joined the team. I hadn’t played soccer in five years and only ran sporadically. I had very little, if any, body confidence when I first joined the team.

In order to climb, you have to engage your entire body. You have no choice but to reach with the whole length of your arms, fearlessly execute dynamic movements, and push with all the muscle you’ve got...or in my case, didn’t know you had. I’ve always been ashamed of my lack of bodily awareness and athleticism, but climbing has gently introduced me to these things and I now find myself worlds more confident in my everyday life. Climbing has showed me how strong I really am.

On a final note, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the whole climbing community at Tufts. Everyone I’ve ever interacted with at Metro has been nothing but supportive. I can say in all honesty that without the immense love I’ve felt by being on this team, I would not have stuck with climbing this long. I am so happy that I did. :) <3

Grappling with Grief: How I Climbed Against Cancer

by: Ben Silver

Sequencing is a technique used by rock climbers to gather as much information about a route as possible, in order to best prepare for the initial ascent. In this process, the climber tries to identify the hardest move on the climb, called the crux. With enough strength and willpower, it is possible to overcome the crux of the climb. Sometimes, however, the crux appears to be absent from the climb. It is not until you are planted on the wall and a hold comes loose, forcing you to the ground, that you realize the crux was never something you could have foreseen. When I lost my father following a brief six-month battle with colon cancer, I was certain that this crux in my life would prevent me from ever getting on the wall again.

My father was laid to rest on the grassy hills of the Kensico Cemetery, in Westchester New York where my family lives. Across from funeral procession, I could see The Cliffs Climbing Center on the other side of the highway, where my father used to go after work and watch me train on the bouldering walls. My dad encouraged me to take up climbing as a sport at 14. He would travel with me to competitions all over the Northeast. I found some comfort in believing that his spirit could continue to watch me climb on his hill overlooking my climbing gym, but it was not enough to replace the pain of knowing I would never share a moment with him again. I had just started my freshman year of college, and I was overwhelmed with grief.

My dad filming me climb a V5 at PRG Regionals in 2011.

When I returned to Tufts a few weeks after the funeral, I received an outpour of support from friends, family and peer, but the demanding obligations of student life suppressed the waves of grief that swept frequently. I never let my emotions and feelings rise to the surface. I struggled to bring myself to eat, sleep or exercise. For a few months I stopped climbing all together.

I had started to see Dr. Robert Sills, a psychologist that is blind who worked in Davis Square. Dr. Sills would listen intently during each session, writing his comments down on braille notecards. At the end of our third session, Dr. Sills suggested that I take up meditation. To him, it was healthy for me to set aside time in my day where I would not ignore my feelings, but rather acknowledge them and channel them into something good. And then it hit me: climbing could be the grounds for my therapy: my meditation and my self-care.

At the end of my freshman year, I started to climb again--- and meditate. I would sit and stare at the wall, like I did when I used to sequence. Except I would not try to make sense of all the holds in front of me, instead I would let myself reminisce and remember my father. I would try to piece back together moments that had seemed to slip from memory. I would acknowledge my feelings. This method helped tremendously.

I have stopped trying to plan my climbs and I have stopped trying to find the crux. It is not easy to predict what type of trajectory life will lead you along, and it is not realistic to know in advance which obstacles are going to be the most challenging. In scaling your personal mountain, all that’s important is finding peace of mind; that’s what gives me the strength to stay on the wall.

If you’d like to support my fight against cancer, come to Relay for Life on April 8th in Gantcher Gym. I will be speaking at the Luminaria ceremony to honor those we have lost to cancer. For those that are interested, please consider donating to my Relay For Life page at or purchasing apparel from

Post #1 with Frankie Caiazzo: Started from the Bottom

Macaroni and cheese—gooey, simplistic comfort. A dinner championed by five year olds mostly, but also incidentally by me. Sitting in Trina’s Starlite Lounge, I found comfort not only in my mac, but in the fact that I had already accomplished my goal for this year’s Sport and Speed Open Nationals. Don’t come in last place. For a while, this goal felt so embarrassing that I didn’t particularly want to say it out loud. However, sitting in this bar, with noise and music crashing down around me, I came to understand that my goal represented something essential and utterly non-embarrassing for me—growth. My coach and good friend Brian looked at me and said “We did it. We competed at Nationals.” A broad smile spread across my face as I realized that no matter what happened in the semi-final round, I had already gotten what I came for.

Turning around after my second qualifying route earlier that afternoon, I felt a sense of crushing disappointment. Seconds earlier, I had been moving confidently through the movements of the climb. As I moved into a steeper section of the wall, I prepared to do a slightly larger move to a good hold. I undershot it by three centimeters, at most. I fell. I found myself standing on the ground and untying my knot. Certainty crept into my mind. I had come in last place, for the second year in a row. Pulling my shoes off, I expelled a stream of word throw up to Brooke. “I was ready, I felt strong, I moved well. If I can’t do it now, I just don’t belong here. I don’t know what happened.” I had already resolved myself to never compete at this level again.

An hour later, an 8 by 11 piece of paper scotch-taped to the front door of Central Rock Gym showed my name one from the bottom, with a Y in the column that said “advance to semi-finals”. However, I knew that while I had climbed well enough to move on, I had not climbed my best. A poisonous attitude has seeped into my climbing, one that I can’t seem to shake— if I’m going to accomplish something, it’s going to feel easy when I do it. My coaches and friends have told me countless times that I need to try harder. You can do every single move on the climbs that they throw at you, you just have to try harder. The next day, I vowed to adjust my attitude, dig deep and give everything that I had. I did just that.

During route previews, I was momentarily off-put by the fact that our route was covered with what is quite possibly my least favorite hold set of all time. The So iLL Bubbies. These sloping holds are a challenge for me and my child-size hands, but I tried my best to shut out my negative thoughts. When the time came, I climbed bravely, busting through sequences that I had felt daunted by during previews. I even managed to advance two places in the overall rankings. I walked away from the comp feeling proud of myself and of my progress.

I have found it particularly difficult to remain focused and excited about rock climbing over the course of my college education. I have experienced month-long slumps, nagging tendinitis, and overwhelming frustration when faced with the endless slew of tasks that I face every day. Rock climbing got pushed to the curb. At first, this semester seemed as if it would fit the same mold. If anything, school had gotten harder and running the Tufts team with Brooke was becoming more and more demanding. However, something is different now.

Last year at nationals, I climbed nervously. I wasn’t confident, my legs shook, and I had resigned to failure before the event even began. After the comp, an old coach told me in a matter of fact tone that I hadn’t been in the right head space to succeed.

In the days following this year’s comp, I had some time to think about what was changing in my mentality during a much-needed trip to the New River Gorge. I had the opportunity to spend my spring break climbing with my closest friends, including my nationals training buddies. In the presence of their support, companionship, and laughter I recognized that I had grown capable of making room in my head for rock climbing again.

After almost three years of living in Boston, I have fallen into a wonderful community that supports me unconditionally. The pep talks, six a.m. training sessions, and confidence in my abilities helped me to believe in myself, something that I have always had a hard time doing. Improvements in movement and strength are shining through in my climbing for the first time in many years. It is impossible to overstate my gratitude to this group of people: my best friend Brooke, Jesse, Brian, the Tufts Climbing Team, the CRG youth team and coaching staff, and my friends down south.

I don’t plan on walking away from high-level competitions anymore—if anything, I am more motivated than ever. In fact, I’ll catch you in May at the Dominion River Rock Bouldering Bash 😉.