Apr 15, 2024

Shauna Invites You to the Great Outdoors for the Climb of Your Life

Despite what you might think when you watch her climb, in Shauna Coxsey’s eyes: “I’m in control on the wall. I’m not in control of what happens in the world.”
by Justin KornSenior Manager Content Creation

At around 3 p.m., I get word that Shauna Coxsey, Britain's most decorated competitive climber, has just landed in Munich. It’ll take her, give or take, two hours to get to our Herzo campus. To kill some time until she arrives for our chat, I binge-watch a few episodes of her 50 BEST 7’s rock climbing series from her YouTube channel.

The series' first episode is set in Sheffield, a short drive from Shauna’s home in England. This episode features a boulder and location with a name that sounds like its proud parents couldn’t decide whether to pay tribute to Lord of the Rings or Cinderella; they then settled on the name The Glass Slipper Boulder in Frogatt.

After exchanging intros between Shauna and the boulder, she stands, a tad unsettled, beside her flat-faced friend. The camera then pans from Shauna to her husband, trotting around the bend and coming into plain view with a bag in hand. Slowing down from a brisk jog, not only are Shauna and her husband relieved—but so am I.

“I love you,” Shauna says to her husband, shrugging her shoulders up to her ears. He then slingshots a bag into her arms. “I have my climbing bag; at least it wasn’t at home.”

Navigating uncertainty with ease

Since taking a step back from competitive climbing, Shauna has been filling up her plate with creating YouTube videos, repping and shaping the future of competitive climbing as the President of the IFSC Athletes Commission, making the sport more accessible through the Women's Climbing Symposium, taking on commentating gigs. She still makes time to climb professionally outdoors (she’s got her eyes set on tackling 8C rocks in the near future, one of the hardest climbing grades) – and oh yeah, let's not forget she's a full-time mom.

Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images

As if her plate wasn't full enough, she’s also one to browse and pick additional climbing treats from the all-you-can-eat boulder buffet. And if something on the buffet menu changes, it's no sweat; she rearranges her plate. She focuses on what’s in front of her and leaves herself just enough room for what’s next.

“Yesterday, I didn’t know whether I would be leaving the country for two days, four days, or three and a half weeks,” Shauna says shortly after sitting down with me. She had plans to commentate the Red Bulls Dual Ascent competition at the Verzasca Dam in Switzerland in the coming days, but the competition was postponed due to poor weather conditions.

She’s okay with that, though. It shortens her trip and lets her get back home earlier than expected. “I’ve been nonstop busy,” she says, “trying to climb a lot and do commentating work, and this little lady is keeping me busy.”

It’s time to meet Frankie

Frankie is Shauna’s one-and-a-half-year-old daughter and sidekick during our chat. She’s wearing an orange beanie, which barely hides her curlicued orangey locks, and a puffer trefoil jacket.

It doesn’t take long before mini-Shauna reaches for the coffee table as she ascends to an altitude of about Shauna’s knees. While Shauna usually indulges Frankie’s climbing habits at their home, where they have two climbing walls, now is not the time nor place for it.

The nanny, who comes along for Shauna’s travels to help out, swoops Frankie up to take her on an outside expedition not far from where we’re sitting.

“Should we go see some birdies? Want to find some birdies?” coaxes Shauna to the little one.

The toddler isn’t entirely convinced at first and would rather hang out with Mom and the coffee table, but those birdies are calling. Once Mom is out of focus, Frankie is all about the birds.

Frankie was one of a handful of major milestones that welcomed Shauna into her competitive climbing retirement.

She whizzes through those milestones as they unfolded.“[My husband and I] had the Tokyo Olympics, he published a book, we got married and fell pregnant.” Then she adds, “All that happened within about a month’s time.”

One constant in Shauna’s life turned into two: climbing and motherhood 

There are many video clips of Shauna clinging onto the tiniest grooves to keep from falling. And yes, she’s afraid to fall. But her identity never loses its footing. It’s just nowadays, there’s another Coxsey in the Coxsey household.   

“I absolutely love being a mom,” Shauna says. “I knew I wanted to try to be a mom. But I didn’t just solely want to be a mom; I wanted to integrate it as part of my professional life as opposed to shift my entire focus.” 

She even gave Frankie a bouldering crash course while in utero throughout the pregnancy. “I climbed right up until the day I gave birth,” Shauna recounts, adding,

"I was climbing in the evening, and I gave birth the next morning."

Shauna CoxseyCompetitive Climber

And while that decision led to some "judgment,” Shauna felt it was important to convey that women who are pregnant should be allowed to "trust their judgment." Even with an extra 20 kilos of carry-on luggage weight, Shauna says, “I carried out a risk assessment every day, and for me, what I was doing on the wall wasn't risky.”  

What was risky was when Shauna’s husband, also a professional rock climber, tried scaling a boulder with a watermelon under his shirt in solidarity. It was recorded, and "it was hilarious," according to Shauna. 

She continues, “He was really good. It was so annoying. The only thing he struggled with was getting off the ground. Climbing-wise, though, he was pretty good. There was only one part with the watermelon he couldn’t do that I could do with my baby bump.”  

The watermelon did sustain the occasional scuff, but it was all in good fun. And I hope this video makes its way onto Shauna’s YouTube Channel.  

Nowadays, Shauna gets to show off her creative side  

Shauna’s 50 BEST 7’s web series, which has her traveling all over her UK backyard to visit rocks, is one of her latest ongoing creative pursuits.  

For how the idea came about, she says, “You have to be self-driven and self-motivated to find rock climbing projects that you want to try.” And after some plotting, the 50 BEST 7’s made its debut in the summer of 2023. The 7’s refers to the grade of difficulty—not too difficult for Shauna.  

The series takes you mountainside with Shauna, up close and personal. A few of the locations she’s visiting for the first time. And to engage with the climbing community around her, she even called for suggestions on which mountains to include on her list. 

While the series is cleanly spliced together and has a National Geographic-produced feel, you still get an earthy Shauna. Through talking head interview shots, she’ll share memories from her childhood and give you some background info on the rock in question. She’ll even call out unique physical attributes of the rock’s face, like someone drawing attention to the discreet dimple of a smiling friend.  

It comes across as off-the-cuff and wholesome. You also witness Shauna's transformation throughout the series. “It feels like an authentic and genuine way to experience rock climbing in the UK as I become a professional rock climber from a competition climber,” Shauna says.  

And if Shauna’s got you googling bouldering hotspots near you by the end of an episode, then she’s accomplished even more of her goals as a professional rock climber.  

The mountains are here for everyone 

Shauna’s relationship with the mountains started when she was four. It's a bond that’s had a long-lasting grip and never waned. Now, she wants everyone to have the opportunity to embark on a similar relationship with her craggly friends.  

Talking about bringing more women into the sport, Shauna tells me about the Women’s Climbing Symposium, which she started years back when teaching classes in Liverpool. “It’s an event to create a space for women to be female climbers, and now our goal is to connect, include, and inspire.” 

But it doesn’t stop there for Shauna. “There’s a lot of work to be done with our sport so that it can be accessible for all backgrounds and all abilities – not just women.” 

Shauna is also the President of the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) Athletes' Commission and is attempting to make the sport more inclusive in the competitive arena. In the immediate future, she’s waiting to hear back if para climbing makes it into the Paralympics.   

Looking to adopt a pet? Why not adopt a few boulders to climb? 

Boulders might seem cold and distant from afar, but once you get to know them as Shauna does, they tend to adopt you as their extended family – and they don’t mind when you climb all over them. That’s why Shauna wants to “keep improving the sport so that everyone feels welcome and safe.” 

She acknowledges that she also needs to consider environmental factors: “I’d like to teach new climbers ethics and how to respect the rock and the outdoors.”  

In her competitive climbing retirement days, Shauna says she’s found her “climbing rhythm” to conquer her rock-climbing masterplan. However, her definition of retirement is somewhat deceptive. She laughs at the notion that there are only so many hours in a day – and from what I’m gathering, she’s bound to find time for what’s important to her, especially if we’re talking about her favorite climb.     

"My favorite climb is one where I’m with my husband, and it’s sunny outside, and I could climb and feel good; and if Frankie is there too, that would be great… as long as she’s happy and it’s not too cold."

Shauna CoxseyCompetitive Climber

With her support cast by her side to uplift her and ensure she doesn't forget her climbing gear, the mountains are lucky to have her on their side.