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SPORT - INTERVIEW

Interview with Professional Rock Climber Rannveig Aamodt

On April 26, 2012, Rannveig seriously injured in Geyikbayiri, Turkey. She took a 50-foot ground fall. With the support of her family and her own perseverance, she completed the recovery process and returned to the rocks. I asked Rannveig Aamodt about her career, accident, and thoughts about the importance of sponsorship in rock climbing.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Rannveig Aamodt

Rannveig Aamodt - Photo by Nathan Welton

SPORT - INTERVIEW

by Melisa Kaya

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Rannveig's story is a source of inspiration for all athletes and anyone who has been living great difficulties in their lives. Rannveig Aamodt took a 50-foot groundfall, and she broke her back, both her ankles, her pelvis, and her elbow in this unfortunate accident but she did never give up. She struggled with a very long and hard recovery period to get back into her life and start climbing. I had the opportunity to interview Professional Rock Climber Rannveig Aamodt. In order to learn more about her career, the accident and her thoughts and experiences about sponsorship which is one of the most important issues for the continuation of the career of a professional athlete, I asked Rannveig Aamodt.

Rannveig Aamodt

Rannveig Aamodt - Photo by Nathan Welton

Rannveig, when did you discover the climbing passion that takes you to the rocks? Who encouraged you?

My big brother Terje bought me a pair of climbing shoes for my 15th birthday. He was already a climber and he thought I would enjoy it. I liked it at first but I wasn’t hooked immediately. I also wasn’t a natural at it. But it was super challenging for me and I loved that, and the more I climbed, the faster I progressed. I think what got me hooked on climbing is that I never ran out of challenges. No matter how good at climbing you get, you can always find something harder. Another thing that kept me involved was the community’s supportive and welcoming vibe. Last, climbing is primarily an outdoor sport, and that fit with my love of nature and mountains.

What type of sports did you interested in before your professional climbing career?

I have always loved sports and grew up skiing and playing soccer. I went to a sports school during my teenage years to pursue my love of athletics. Before I was introduced to climbing, I really wanted to become a pro snowboarder and ride big mountains like the famous Norwegian Terje Håkonsen. The other thing that was and still is really important to me is being outside, and that’s a way bigger draw toward athletics and sports for me than the competitiveness of it all. Along those lines, I always wanted to do major expeditions like cross Greenland on XC skis. I actually did that across Norway one winter and was one of the youngest people in the country to do so. A good friend and I made the Norway crossing - from south to north with a pulk and a couple of dogs - during 4 winter months, and we covered nearly 3,000km.

Rannveig Aamodt

Rannveig Aamodt - Photo by Nathan Welton

What happened on April 26, 2012, could you tell us about the accident that changed your life?

On April 26, I took a 50-foot ground fall from the top of a climb in Turkey and nearly died. I dislocated and broke both ankles, suffered a bunch of broken vertebrae, shattered my elbow, broke my hip, and then had additional fractures in many small bones in my feet. I was in the hospital in Turkey for a week or two, had revision surgeries in Norway, and was confined to a wheelchair for months. Through a lot of determination, physical therapy and training, I returned to the best shape of my life. I have some ongoing problems - constant pain in my ankles from early onset arthritis, a lack of flexibility in my back from the vertebral fractures, and a soft tissue injury in my big toe that has basically been a scab for six straight years - but I am constantly amazed with the way the body can heal itself.

I could write a book about how it’s changed my life, but the most important thing that happened is it made me feel like honoring my one's feelings was one of the most important things a person can do in his or her life. It made me feel closer to my core in some unexplainable way, so I started to prioritize the important things in my life and it made me care less about the other things that aren’t important in my life. I guess I’ve learned to filter out the noise.

A near death experience makes a lot of people realize how fragile life is, and I am constantly grateful for the days I have on this beautiful planet. Every year since this accident, I actually am more and more grateful for getting older. Instead of being bothered by a new pain or a new wrinkle, I’m simply happy that I’m still here to experience it.

Rannveig Aamodt

Rannveig Aamodt - Photo by Nathan Welton

Last, I think I’m more brave because of the accident. I had to face down so many fears during the recovery process: learning how to go to the bathroom, learning how to put weight on my feet, or becoming comfortable again climbing and falling on a rope. A practical example of this is speaking in public: I used to be absolutely terrified of it. I’m still not the most comfortable public speaker, but I don’t get the same anxiety any longer.

The accident taught me a lot about how to deal with fear and with failure. I see fear as a road on a map - if you have something you’re scared of, you can just take a different road around it. But now I’m more likely to just walk straight down that road because if I am much more comfortable that it will get me to the final destination. Falling while roped up can still be scary to me, but it is manageable now, and the only way I have learned to manage it is to deliberately practice falling. In the beginning, that was one of the most terrifying things I could do after the accident.

Rannveig Aamodt

Rannveig Aamodt - Photo by Nathan Welton

What was the motivation for you in the recovery period? Did you ever think that you will never climb again? Who were always with you?

My whole life has always been centered on physical activity, so being able to return to that place was the biggest motivation in the world. I knew I’d survive, but I didn’t know if I could live with myself if I got years into the recovery and realized that I didn’t try hard enough in the beginning and had limited myself in some way. I had to look ahead to what I wanted, and then I had to realize that the only way to get there was to give every drop of energy I had toward rehab.

For a while, I wondered if I’d ever climb again. At the beginning of the process, it was so far into the future that climbing was an abstraction. I was more concerned with walking than I was with climbing rocks. I could only focus on one step at a time, and climbing was way too many steps into the future for me to really get my head around.

My husband Nathan was always there for me and providing support. My family and friends were always with me. The support I received was powerful and unwavering. My dog Sonja was always with me too, and she was so scared of the wheelchair that she would jump into my lap.

One of the most important people in the process was my trainer Stian Christophersen, who was at the time the coach of the Norwegian national climbing team and an incredible physiotherapist. From the beginning, I put complete faith in him and his training ideas and never once questioned what he told me to do. I wish that one day I am able to be for someone what Stian who was at the time for me.

Rannveig Aamodt

Rannveig Aamodt - Photo by Nathan Welton

How did this accident change your life? How did you become more successful after this accident?

I had a number of sponsors beforehand, but the accident helped me grow as a climber and athlete, and as a result, my career took off.

I got better at saying no to things, and like I said, I started to boost the important things in my life up on my list of priorities. And much like I had put my faith into Stian with his rehabilitation wizardry and knowledge, I put a similar amount of unquestioning faith in my own path as a professional climber.

As a result of all this, I became a much stronger climber - which in turn made my story much more appealing for the brands I work with.

Who do you prefer to climb with? Where do you find your favorite climbing routes? What was your biggest rock climbing achievement?

I prefer to climb with positive and motivated people who are more excited about their partners’ successes than they are about their own. I want to climb with people who simply love climbing - I don’t care nearly as much about their skill level as I do about their excitement and passion. I want to leave the egos at the door. And of course, I enjoy climbing with people who are safe and conscientious, which helps me shed any residual fear and allows me to really fall deep into the flow state.

There are too many favorite routes to mention, so I’ll talk about my favorite areas. One is Kentucky's Red River Gorge, and endless maze of sandstone crags in a magic forest. I love the variety and amount of climbing there, and I can just disappear there. In an opposite way, I love Oliana in Spain - it is has a very small collection of routes, but they are generally the best and some of the hardest routes on the planet. I can go there and disappear into the process of trying one route that’s so hard it can take months or even seasons. The Greek island of Kalymnos is my happy place - countless limestone cliffs towering above the Aegean sea. No matter what you climb that day, you walk down the hillsides walking the sunset, and you realize that the world’s beauty completely drowns out the act of rock climbing.

My biggest achievement is to simply climb on rocks after my accident. The amount of stress and fear that I had to overcome in order to climb again far outweighs any particular route or difficulty grade I’ve ticked. My next proudest moment was climbing a route called Just Call Me Helmet, which is a technical and powerful limestone route in Thailand. Its grade is 8a, and never before in my life had I climbed one. I climbed that route nearly 8 months to the day after the accident, and clipping the anchors made me realize in a very tangible way everything that I had put into my recovery. It was one of the most fulfilling moments I’ve ever had in climbing.

Rannveig Aamodt

Rannveig Aamodt - Photo by Nathan Welton

Could you tell us about your sponsors? What are the brands you collaborate with?

prAna is one of the most environmentally conscious outdoor brands in the industry, and I’m very proud to represent a business that puts so much effort into minimal impact. They were one of the first companies to eliminate plastic from their shipping process (there are a few pieces of clothing that still need bags because of color bleeding), and one of their huge goals was to have their entire cotton line be 100% organic. They focus a lot on fair trade and fair wages as well, and all said, the company is run in a way I’d aspire to run a company. Even better, they are an industry leader and they lead by example.

My shoe company is La Sportiva, which hands down are the best climbing shoes made. When I put my shoes on, I can immediately feel they’re the result of dozens of genius brains and decades of fine craftsmanship. Climbing shoes are really really hard to design well, and nearly every shoe in the Sportiva line excels at what it does. The generalist shoes do everything at 95%, and the specialist shoes allow me to climb routes I simply would be unable to climb without them.

My gear company is Black Diamond. I have used every type of camming device over the years, and the BD cams are basically indestructible. They are the first company to use a dual axle design, which means that one cam has way more range than cams from other companies - which means you don’t need as many on your harness. I also know I have a much lower error rate when selecting a cam to protect a particular move on a particular size of the crack.

This year I also picked up a unique sponsor: Wonderland Beds, a locally made bed company in Norway. Every single piece of the bed, which you can remove and wash, are made in the mountains, cities, and villages near where I grew up. Wonderland follows a lot of the latest sleep science and makes their beds based on that research. Over the years as an athlete, I have realized how important sleep is when it comes to performing well.

I have a number of smaller sponsors whose products I just absolutely love. Trailnuggets is my bar sponsor and what I love most is that their products are made of simple, real foods. One of my favorite books is the Omnivore’s Dilemma, and what I learned from it - the big takeaway - is “Eat food, not too much, and mostly plants.” If you look at the Trailnuggets ingredient list on the packages, they are fruit and nuts and nothing else.

FrictionLabs has after a lot of research managed to make the best climbing chalk on the market!

Send Climbing, Climbskin, Squadra Holds also provide some support, and I love that they are run by extremely passionate climbers who create extraordinary products.

Rannveig Aamodt

Rannveig Aamodt - Photo by Nathan Welton

What contributions does sponsor companies provide you? What do they expect from you?

My major sponsors provide a salary and a gear allowance, my medium sponsors provide a gear allowance and a travel stipend, and my smallest sponsors provide products.

They expect that I’m visible in the community and that I represent their products and values when I’m out in public and in all social media appearances.

Sponsors need their athletes to be visible and have as high an influence on the community as possible. That doesn’t have to look a specific way. For some athletes that means to climb the hardest route or to do groundbreaking first ascents or win World Cups, while for others it can mean running climbing clinics, developing new crags, or traveling to interesting areas and coming home with photos, articles, and videos that inspire people to get outside. Part of our job as athletes is to be content creators and have super interesting stories to tell.

Not all sponsors require that you have a million followers on social media, but some sort of public appearance is necessary. That means being a good writer, having a lot of good stories, doing slideshows, teaching people with clinics, or providing videos and photos of you that they can use.

For better or for worse, there is nobody telling you what to do, how to do it, or where to go. You have to find your own niche and build on it.

What are the common problems of rock climbers? What type of sponsors is most important for climbers?

I think a common problem for rock climbers is that we all truly just want to go rock climbing and many don't know how to (or want to) deal with the business side that makes you attractive to sponsors. You can be the strongest, most talented climber but if nobody knows about you and you don’t create content, you won’t be of much value for potential sponsors.

There is no real obvious path for how to succeed as a professional rock climber, so, unfortunately, there is not yet a standard for what is expected of you or how much you’ll make. This can be very challenging, especially early in your career. We all eventually need financial support to pay our bills.

What is the best way to attract sponsors' attention? Do you have any advice for extreme sports athletes who want to pursue a professional career?

Create content, have something interesting to tell or show. Show that you’ll have a big influence on as many people as possible.

Rannveig Aamodt

Rannveig Aamodt - Photo by Nathan Welton

You are not just a rock climber, you are also an author, photographer, and speaker. Could you tell us about your life apart from climbing?

To feel content, I like to stimulate my brain in other ways than through rock climbing. I studied animal acupuncture for five years, but running a pet clinic and having patients would require me to stay in one place for too long. This obviously clashes with my nomadic lifestyle as a climber, so I’ll save that for later in life. Every summer for the last 9 years I’ve worked as a second photographer for my husband, who runs a successful wedding photography studio. This leads me to start my own photography business 3 years ago.

I also like to write for climbing and lifestyle magazines about my adventures around the world!

And every once in while I speak at events about my career as a rock climber, my trips or about my comeback from the accident that I talked about earlier in the interview.

What do you think about social media? How did it affect the popularity of rock climbing? How can our readers follow you?

I think it’s a giant time sink and very addictive, but because of that, it’s an effective way to link people together.

Hopefully, it has inspired a lot more people to get after it!

You can follow me on Instagram @rannveigaamodt, Facebook : Rannveig Aamodt or on my websites: www.aamodtstudio.com and www.rannveigaamodt.com

What is next for Rannveig Aamodt?

I started as a trad climber but because of my accident, I’ve been avoiding long approaches and heavy loads for the last 6 year, because of arthritis in my ankles.

I’ve slowly started to get back into trad climbing even though the arthritis is still there.

My next is to get back into more expedition style trips, and I have my eyes on Mongolia. More details to come :)

Thank you Rannveig for this enjoyable interview.

For more information, please visit website of Rannveig Aamodt





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