Shaping a Story of Rock Climbing & Outdoor Adventure
If you dig into some of pro rock climber Nina Williams’ accomplishments, the impressive accomplishments jump off the page. She’s one of a few women to climb the one of the most difficult grades in the world, a V13. She’s racked up multiple ascents on hard highball boulders that are 45, 50, even 55 feet tall. And most recently, she completed a slew of 5.14 sport routes at crags across Colorado.
While the numbers certainly tell a successful mountain climber tale, Nina is careful to remember there’s more to her story—a lot more.
“In climbing, our grading system is super linear—so moving up through the numbers ladder is considered success,” says Nina. “But the reality is that there are always ups and downs, and progress is never actually linear.”
For Nina, success is less about hard climbing routes and more about learning and personal growth. It’s a philosophy she sticks to in all aspects of her climbing and her life—whether she’s preparing to climb an imposing boulder, training in a climbing gym, coaching other climbers to unlock their own potential, or simply laughing and learning with friends on a climbing road trip.
Live Like You Climb
Sometimes it’s about being adaptable when the weather shifts and climbing plans change. Sometimes it’s about confronting the fear of the unknown. No matter the lesson, Nina sees endless parallels between the way she approaches climbing and the way she approaches life.
As a 12-year-old on the cliffs of New Hampshire, being too high in the air felt scary to Nina. But soon she learned to trust the rope, her belayer, and most of all—herself. Nina began to develop confidence in her abilities, and came to love how it felt to rely on those abilities while high off the deck.
Nina relied on that radical self-trust when, many years later, she climbed some of the tallest and hardest boulders in the Buttermilks, a bouldering area near Bishop, California, including Too Big to Flail, a 55-foot monster of a boulder with razor-edge handholds and the potential for terrible injury in case of a fall. But Nina (ropeless, calm, and confident) coolly made one move after the other, and eventually she arrived on top.
The self-trust and confidence Nina carries in her climbing have also been essential for navigating her life’s most daunting crossroads: Like when she decided to leave college behind to pursue her passion for climbing, despite the pressure she felt to conform to societal expectations. Or when, imagining a professional life beyond competition climbing, she landed on mindset coaching, and eventually decided to return to school.
At these points, says Nina, being paralyzed by inaction won’t help to lead you anywhere. Just like reaching for the next hold when you’re 50 feet in the air, you’ve just got to trust yourself—and then make the move.
Shaping Our Stories
Having long been fascinated by the ways in which humans interact and communicate, Nina works as a mindset coach for other climbers. She helps them shape their own paths, in climbing and in life, by encouraging them to challenge their potential-limiting internal narratives.
“You don't pretend to know the answers for someone else's life,” Nina explains. “But you ask them questions—and my job is to help them realize that they have the answers inside of them.”
Part of Nina’s training was to try it out on herself: When she asked herself the same questions—“What’s something that I’ve always told myself? How have I limited myself in my own life?”—she realized she’d clung to the belief that she wasn’t smart enough for school.
In much the same way as she confronts the fear of falling and failing on a difficult climb, Nina faced her self-limiting belief head-on: She returned to school and dove even deeper into the people-focused journey she’d already started and completed a degree in communication and leadership.
Refocusing on Success
Climbing is unique, says Nina, because there are so many different ways to do it: Gym climbing, bouldering, trad climbing, sport climbing, and alpinism all fit under the climbing umbrella. And while Nina is best known for her bold, difficult bouldering ascents, part of her personality as a climber is her willingness to push into less familiar disciplines.
Whether she’s learning the finer points of trad climbing from friends on a road trip to Sedona, or honing her training for sport climbs near her Colorado home, Nina recognizes that stepping out of her comfort zone often leads to tremendous growth. And being humbled, or even sucking at something (painful as that can be) is all part of the process of growth, she says.
Sometimes the sends naturally follow: In transitioning to training for sport climbing, for example, Nina recently completed her hardest-yet sport route, and immediately followed that up with two more similarly challenging ascents. But sometimes they don’t. And that’s okay, because progress isn’t linear—and there’s more than one way to define success.
For Nina, clipping the chains at the top of a route, or standing atop a boulder, is only one small piece of a much larger puzzle.
“Learning new things, being willing to fail, and growing–that’s what success is, for me.”