Setting For The Heist: Interview with Flannery Shay-Nemirow

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Now that Labor Day is past, and we can smell autumn in the air, we can feel the excitement building not only for “sendage season” here in New England, but also for all of the great comps that happen in our fair city in the coming months. We are really fortunate to see so many amazing climbers from all over the country right here in our backyard. One of the comps we are super psyched about is The Heist, an all female produced climbing comp, with an all female setting team (that’s right, all women set this comp, which makes it unique in the US). This year the head setter is the one-of-a-kind, super strong, Flannery Shay-Nemirow. We were fortunate enough to catch up with Flannery to ask her about her process in setting for The Heist, and also learn about the gal behind one of our fave climbing videos (if you haven’t seen it, you MUST click here, it’s a rule, sorry) where she talks about eschewing the conventional path of going to college, and instead embarking on her own educational journey through climbing. Read on for more about Flannery and The Heist!

CXC: How did you get involved with The Heist? How are you feeling about being the head setter for this event?

FSN: I got involved with The Heist through what is best described as a top secret internet headquarters for female setters. I probably shouldn’t be saying this at all, but basically any time there’s a job posting that fits the requirements we all get a beacon. It’s like if the Bat Signal were a Facebook message.

I’m looking forward to being involved with The Heist. I guess the best way to describe my feelings would be a drawn out alcohol metaphor: imagine a gin martini, except the gin is excitement and the vermouth is nervousness. Something about the addition of nerves makes the excitement that much more flavorful. I’ve set a lot in the past, commercially and for comps, though I’ve never headed such a high profile event before. That’s where the nerves come in. But I’ve been involved with the behind the scenes comp stuff for years, competing, setting, forerunning, judging, coaching, so I know what to expect.

CXC: What are you most excited for about this competition?

FSN: I’m really excited to get to watch some of the top female competitors test their mettle on problems set by their peers. I love having an intimate knowledge of the problems and routes before the competition starts and then seeing how that plays out for the athletes. The comp environment really allows these people to shine, and I’m really just looking forward to being a part of that.

CXC: In terms of the setting, without any spoilers, of course, what do you have in mind? How will you approach this comp? Is there anything that you might keep in mind differently since you are setting for all women vs. if you were setting for a co-ed comp?

FSN: I’ve been staring at this question all day and have no concept of how to answer it. Girls should climb on cool stuff. I’ll set cool stuff for them to climb on.

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CXC: Sounds like a good plan! So, you’ve been involved in the climbing world more than half of your life at this point. What, if anything, have you seen change? And what do you think about these big sends by women lately?!

FSN: What’s changed in climbing? Well, kids keep getting stronger, faster. Things that seemed like a big deal 10 years ago are old hat now. People are better, boulders are bigger and everything gets done more quickly. I’m not surprised by any of Angie’s, or Alex’s, or Shauna’s (the list goes on) recent accomplishments. It’s been obvious to me, and to so many others, that it was just a matter of time until climbs of such a high caliber were done by women. I’m just glad to see them taking their unmistakable talents out of the gym and into the wild. And I hope they’ll continue in that fashion if that’s what they want to do. When someone like Angie sends Freaks of the Industry, I think it puts an infectious psyche into the community.

CXC: What do you think about what seems like a recent outcrop of female-only climbing events (comps, symposiums, clinics, etc.)? Is there a need for it at this point?

FSN: This is a really tricky question, and I could go on for days about it. But here goes, the abridged version: I see inequality in climbing, not as much as in a lot of other sports, but it’s there. I think that female competitors might be the most well represented bunch, but the rest of the sport (setting, specifically) can be really intimidating for women to break into. It’s possible that these women’s only events will help to bridge the gap, but I worry about it being an exclusionary practice. Empowerment shouldn’t be at the expense of anyone else. I’m with Bell Hooks on this, “feminism is for everybody”. I think female-only events are an easy first step, but they certainly shouldn’t be the end goal.

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CXC: I’d like to catch up on what you’ve been doing since Squamish. We loved that video from Savage Films where you talk about running off to the wild, ditching school, and pursuing your dreams! Still living out of your car? Have you gone back to school, or still doing your own self-education? Give us a picture of what life has been like since that video.

FSN: It’s funny that you mention that video! I’m writing this in Squamish, in the same car and in the same parking lot. Even though I’m back to my old tricks a lot has changed since then. I moved out of my car and into a van, then out of the van and into a real house! But then I moved back into the car. I even tried going back to school, too, at a small place in Truckee, CA. It didn’t stick, but it’s probably worth attempting every couple of years. Mostly the interests and drive change, but the basics stay the same. Still climbing, still reading, still psyched.

CXC: One thing I noticed about in my researching you is this ethos you seem to have of “always keep learning”-whether it’s about some facet of climbing or Russian literature. Where do you think you got this way of looking at the world? How do you think this viewpoint serves you (or doesn’t serve you-though I’m pretty sure it does…)?

FSN: I can blame the always learning ideal half on my upbringing, and half on my education. My parents are both very academic, always reading and discussing. My childhood home is filled with books. I can’t remember a family meal that didn’t involve someone consulting the dictionary to end a dispute. My teachers and coaches were the same way, I really lucked out. In Social Studies I would question everything, and take these really in depth, minuscule notes, then once a week I’d get the teacher to eat lunch with me, and we’d lay into it. I remember feeling so invigorated in those meetings, and coming away the most visceral need to question everything.

CXC: You are known as being big on training for climbing. That doesn’t necessarily appeal to every climber. What do you think appeals to you about training? Are there any tips you would give to someone who hasn’t really trained on how to get started/what to keep in mind?

FSN: I like training because it adds an objective aspect to a subjective activity. I like seeing measurable gains, especially when it comes to very climbing specific things like campusing.  When getting started it’s important to remember training for climbing is all about doing the most efficient thing as safely as possible. If you’re interested in getting fully into the training scene, keep in mind it’s just like anything else. The people who look like they know what they are doing didn’t always. Ask questions, try new stuff, but most of all, don’t be afraid to fail publicly.

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CXC: As a climber, what are some of your own weaknesses that you work through on a regular basis?

FSN: My biggest weakness is that I’m a total head case. I’ve usually got power to spare, so I rarely encounter a move I just can’t do. But once there is some threat of sending something hard-ish, I lose all confidence. I start over thinking everything, including over thinking. I’ve tried a lot of things to deal with it, meditation, sleep deprivation, apathy, but I can’t kick the thinking thing.

CXC: Yep, we can relate to that. What are some of your favorite or proudest accomplishments in your climbing career so far?

FSN: I’m always proud when I send something, especially if it offered some sort of greater challenge for me. But my favorite part of the climbing day is working out something difficult with someone else. I think it comes back to that learning thing. Almost always I find the process to be more rewarding than the execution.

CXC: What are some of your climbing goals?  What about non-climbing goals?

FSN: My climbing goals are just like my goals for everything else. I want to do what I want, when I want. That should be pretty easy to attain, right?

CXC: Big final and most obvious question: What do you love about climbing?

FSN: Saving the toughest one for last, hey? I don’t know if I love climbing (I know, I know), but I do know I need it. It’s the one outlet I can approach in a highly analytical and methodical manner. My life is curated chaos, and I like it that way, so I need climbing and its internal logic to maintain balance.

CXC: Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, we can’t wait to see what you come up with at The Heist!

For more information on The Heist, check out their official website and to register click here!

Photo Credits: The Heist official poster courtesy of Central Rock Gym, The Spot Route Setting Blog, Adam Bove, and Flannery’s Blog.

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