Grace started climbing with Geckos as a nine year old. By no means the tallest of her cohort, she rose to the top – literally and figuratively – due to a combination of determination and dauntless enthusiasm. She was always hugely popular with her fellow Geckos and the instructing staff, who were bowled over by her cheerful, positive attitude to both climbing and life in general.
As Grace grew older she generously donated much of her free time coaching youngsters at The Castle. Few of those who encountered her there were surprised when, in 2012, she became a national junior climbing champion.
However, on 17 October 2018, Grace was involved in a catastrophic (non-climbing related) accident. What happened and how she has responded to the life-changing consequences almost beggars belief. In April 2021 Grace told her story to Jane Garvey, as part of a series for Radio 4 called, ‘Life Changing‘. Take a half hour out of your life to listen. Her positivity and her generosity of spirit are astonishing and truly inspirational.
Rachel climbed with Geckos for two intervals: the first as a 9 year old, the second as a teenager. She now works as the Comment and Features Editor of a London newspaper and appears regularly on television discussing the media (and cats). Here is her beautifully written and inspirational account of climbing with us and what she got out of it.
I started rock climbing age six. It was inevitable really – I’d been attempting to climb things (boulders, trees, walls) since I could stand, and as my parents hadn’t been able to stop me, they figured I should probably be taught to do it properly. I never stopped. From the week Geckos was founded (I was one of the original class) until today, rock climbing has been a constant in my life. It has taken me all over from the world – from the slabs of Burbage North in the Peak District, to the sheer faces of the Swiss Alps, to the cliffs of Cat Ba Island in Vietnam.
It’s been over a decade since I was officially a Gecko, but the years I spent training with Richard Baxell and his group of instructors instilled in me the skills and confidence that have enabled me to sling on a belay harness and start scrambling wherever I am in the world. No tree or boulder is safe. People think of rock climbing as a solitary sport, exercise for people who don’t like teams. The opposite is true. In what other sport are you trusting your teammates not just with winning, but with your life? From day one I was taught that belaying was far more important than climbing, and that safety was paramount. From before I could read or write, I was learning about trust, responsibility, and discipline. Those are lessons any parent should want to instil in their child from an early age.
As an adult, rock climbing has never been just about fitness – it’s an exercise in problem solving, in confidence, and in resilience. There is no opponent, just you and the rock and your own assessment of what you can do. Of all the sports I’ve ever tried, it’s the only one which engages my brain as much as my body, and the exhilaration at reaching the top of a rock face that looked utterly insurmountable is an adrenaline rush like no other. There is no feeling like gazing down at the ground from 1,000 feet and knowing that you got up there with just your own two feet and ten fingers. What other workout enables you to see the world from an entirely new perspective?
Louis Parkinson climbed with Geckos as a teenage during the 2000s. Having been a member of the GB climbing team, he regularly competes in competitions and coaches at a number of different centre. I bumped into him in early 2020 in Walthamstow’s new climbing gym, Yonder.
Hello Louis, nice to see you again. What are you up to at the moment?
I’m currently working as a professional coach, though I still train hard to enter competitions and attempt my projects outdoors.
When and why did you first take up climbing?
I first tried climbing when I was 13 years old. My younger sister was turning 11 and my parents (correctly) thought that a rock-climbing birthday party at the local climbing centre would be an exciting option. I was TERRIBLE at it … in fact, I got stuck at the top of the wall on my first attempt, and cried in front of all my little sister’s friends! Despite the less-than-ideal beginning, I was hooked immediately, and rapidly became obsessed with climbing.
What did you enjoy about climbing with Geckos and what did you get out of it? How long did you climb with Geckos?
Climbing with Geckos was critical to my development as a climber. Over the years I climbed with Geckos, I learned ALL the necessary skills to keep myself safe while at the climbing centre and rapidly developed my technical skills for movement and problem solving while on the wall. Richard Baxell was one of the kindest and most patient teachers I have had in any discipline or subject, and I feel truly lucky to have had him as a guide in my early years of climbing.
Does learning to climb (or climbing itself) have any transferable skills?
Absolutely! Climbing fosters a growth-mindset, and through it I have learned to be persistent, to have confidence, to solve problems by working with others, and to be patient in my hard work. I have slowly grown in to a well adjusted, self-confident and happy adult, and I would credit my experiences within climbing and the friends I made within the community with the majority of this development.
What advice would you give to children who are thinking of getting into climbing, or have just started?
Get started!! You’ll do things you never thought yourself capable of, you’ll become physically and mentally stronger than you thought possible, and none of it ever will feel like hard work because you’ll be having SO MUCH FUN doing it! Plus, you’ll make loads of great friends and have a reason to travel to some beautiful places around the world.
What do you enjoy about climbing?
This is a difficult question to answer as I have so much to say here! For me, climbing is so many things; it’s my community, it’s now provided me with a job I love, it keeps me in fantastic shape and is my constant source of fun and excitement. I think one of the most useful things I get from climbing is that I have a hobby which continually forces me to be incredibly mindful in my practice – almost like a form a moving meditation.
What’s next for Louis Parkinson?
I’m really excited about the years to come! To be honest though, I’ll just be doing more of the same: training, competing, coaching and travelling, but constantly aiming for bigger and better than I have in the past!
Doug joined Geckos with his best friend when they were both boisterous nine year olds. Doug’s parents had understandably been keen (desperate) to find an activity through which they could direct his exuberance and energy. That he would try to climb anything in sight probably made their decision an easy one.
Doug is now one of our most popular instructors, no doubt because he’s still over-flowing with exuberance and energy and still determined to climb anything in sight. He has been instrumental in helping provide an opportunity for some of the older Geckos (and ex-Geckos) to build on their skills, by organising summer climbing trips to northern Spain.
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