Rock Roots Linda Lee: Guest contributor Lily He has been hitting up the crags and gyms, scoping out the best stories behind the everyday climber. Today, we feature her interview with Linda Lee – the mother of a talented and dedicated climbing family whose story brings new meaning to the idea of “Rock Roots”.
First, you notice the kids. Andy Lamb is 19 and just podiumed at ABS Nationals (don’t worry, I heard from *someone* that he couldn’t get to the top of the walls at Boston Rock Gym when he started climbing). Katie Lamb is 16 and climbed her first 5.14a, Cold War, at Rumney this summer (perhaps the youngest female to climb 5.14 at Rumney. Don’t have any embarrassing stories about her).
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Then, you realize you see that guy in the glasses…everywhere. Charlie Lamb, their dad, expertly belays the best climbers in the country (read: doesn’t short rope) at every rope competition. Finally, you put it together. That lady at the climbing gym who is confidently giving sound advice to her friends before, during, and after they rope up is the matriarch of this amazing climbing family. As fascinating as it is to see how this family fits together, what’s even more interesting is discovering that Linda Lee has come a long way from being a passive observer to a dynamic climber who is taking charge of her own progress.
Interview With Rock Roots Linda Lee
LH: How did you begin climbing?
LL: I was supposed to be the belay slave. Two years after Charlie first started taking Andy to the Boston Rock Gym, Charlie asked me to get belay certified since a 9-year-old couldn’t safely belay a full-grown adult. Part of the belay class was showing you could climb, so I found myself 2/3 of the way up the wall feeling petrified and sure that death was imminent. I thought to myself, “I’m doing this for Charlie and Andy!”
I’ve come to a rather huge distance from that point 10 years ago. I never thought I’d be the type of woman who climbed; that woman always seemed different than me. I’ve gone from “I have to do this”, to “I kind of enjoy this for myself”, to “this is very exciting for me!”
I’m the weakest climber of the bunch – our family goes to crags where everyone else’s warm-ups are at or past my limit – but I enjoy being together as a family. It’s a true gift that we can all climb together.
“It’s been really fun to watch my mom improve and push herself, trying harder climbs and leading. I think it’s nice that our whole family climbs, it gives us something to share.” – Andy Lamb
LH: Is there something you can point to that’s been fueling your progress?
LL: I joined the adult team at Central Rock Gym, which was the first time I’ve climbed without a family member. Climbing with friends at the same level allows me to grow, as well as gives me the right amount of push. When you climb with your family, who are all much stronger, they can sympathize but not necessarily empathize with you.
I was trying Tropicana (5.11a) once when Andy was working on Predator (5.13b) (the first pitch of Tropicana ends at the ledge where Predator begins), and Andy shouts “Just use that sidepull”; “What side-pull??”; “Also Mom, just stand up”; “Andy, where is the ledge?!” (But this was a while ago; I went to BKB Somerville with Andy recently and he’s gotten much more helpful since he’s started coaching his college climbing team.)
It’s also easier to throw a tantrum on a supportive spouse but is less acceptable on a supportive friend. The coaches, Kevin and Luke, do a great job pushing you just a LITTLE more than you think you can do. If there’s someone telling you to try a move you’re 50% sure you can’t do, you’re still forced to try it. The team also requires me to work on my weaknesses. When you climb socially, it’s easy to climb to your strengths since the point is to have fun. One of my weaknesses is power, and the coaches run us through conditioning exercises that help me with this. It’s been empowering to gain power, especially at my age.
“I think it’s easy for adults to think that they can’t improve and there is no use to training, but it’s great to see her be motivated to train for competitions and projects outdoors. She’s definitely been climbing better than she ever has before!” – Katie Lamb
LH: You recently competed at the Ring of Fire. You’ve been to over 100 climbing competitions, but this was your first time as a competitor. In what ways did you feel prepared, and what did you learn for the next one?
LL: When qualifiers began, I almost took a route card because I’m usually the judge! As a judge, I’ve spent a lot of time watching different people climb the same route, so I have experience reading sequences. At upper levels of competition, people don’t really mess up on the sequence and it comes down to execution.
Unfortunately, looking and doing are not always the same thing. I didn’t feel like I climbed to my ability at the Ring of Fire because I didn’t commit. Every time I fell it was because I did something half-assed, and when I looked back up, I realized once I passed that hold I probably could have completed 5 more moves. To me, committing means hitting the next hold better – maybe an inch or less! – but the difference means you have a slightly better grip, or that you’re in a better position for the next hold, or you can more easily shift your weight. A lot of options can flow from there.
LH: You’ve had to balance your own climbing goals with those of your kids. What’s it like being a “climbing mom”?
LL: Like any other mom, my head is crowded with thoughts of work and family. Climbing requires me to clear my head and focus on what I’m doing, because I’m trying to avoid that unpleasant jolting feeling of falling. Alternatively, when I’m doing yoga I know I’m supposed to be breathing and focusing, but “shoot, is there any milk in the fridge?” can creep into my head.
I was once also a soccer mom, and the attractive thing about being a climbing mom is that you can climb at the same time your kids are at practice. I love to look around the gym and see people of all ages doing the same thing – climbing is a lifelong activity. As a parent, you can also participate in competitions. Whereas in soccer there is a lot of existing manpower because it is an established sport, a climbing competition needs a lot of parent and climber volunteers to run smoothly.
I’m also a software developer, which is a family-friendly industry. You definitely have to bust your butt, but once you’ve done that you don’t have to stick to appointment-driven activities. I am able to get Katie and Andy to where they need to be, but sometimes have to pay the price by working at night.
Linda, I am constantly impressed with how much climbing theory and knowledge you’re able to apply to any situation. It’s clear that many people admire you for your ability to use the woman that you are to become “the type of woman who climbs”. Linda, we love your rock roots!
Photo Credits (in order): Andrew Palmer, Garrick Kwan/Gkwan Photo, Lori Ella, Garrick Kwan/Gkwan Photo.