Climbing is hard.
Climbing is harder at 21 weeks pregnant.
Climbing is hardest at 37 weeks pregnant.
But then again, that’s Katrina for you. She’s spent the past 5 years making vertical progress on the rugged faces of the South Australian Norton and Waitpinga summits. During that time, the rock has taught her a lot about patience, frustration and discipline, both in the sport and in juggling the demands of raising two young boys by herself for the first few years. Now, she patiently awaits the arrival of her third little boy who, while still tucked away safely at 38 weeks, has scaled more daring and technical cliff faces than most of us will in our lifetimes.
As a teenager, Katrina was a talented athlete, a member of the South Australia Sports Institute for track and road cycling, and finding success in national championships. Further down the road, she has found her calling in outdoor adventure, falling in love with climbing, mountain biking and surfing, passions that she shares with her partner.
For Katrina, there wasn’t a shadow of doubt in her mind that she would pursue her athletic endeavours throughout her pregnancy. She says “when I found out I was expecting, I had already spoken to my physio who is passionate about helping women to stay active during their pregnancies. We spoke about my body, abilities and the time frame of my pregnancy to determine what training and climbing styles would suit me best.” With the help of her physio and precious advice from fellow friends who had climbed through their pregnancies, Katrina has felt supported and confident enough to set some challenging yet realistic and informed for herself, and has been pleasantly surprised to find how the experience has consolidated her relationship with climbing.
Despite the unpredictability of pregnancy and the occasional tough day, she has found that climbing has helped her manage her hormones and improve her mood. She says “some days I have felt super strong, whereas other days I have really struggled. But the vast majority of the time after I have finished a session, I have felt so much better in my body and mind.” With the help of her physio, friends and the advice from the incredible online community of female climbers (she especially recommends Beth Rodden’s blog), she has educated herself on how to alter her technique and adapt her equipment to accommodate her changing needs. “I’ve progressively been climbing easier grades,” she explains, “ I stopped trad and big walls and lowered my expectations of my climbing during my pregnancy. I’ve certainly found my protruding belly has changed my approach and ability for certain climbs. Also the weakening of my abdominal muscles and strain on them has decreased my ability or desire to climb overhung and roof. I moved to using a pregnancy harness quite early on, around 17 weeks as I was uncomfortable in my normal harness.”
To her surprise, Katrina has seen her motivation skyrocket throughout her journey; “in some ways I feel that being pregnant has given me greater expectations of what I can achieve when I come back post-partum. It’s also helped me realise how much I love climbing for so many different aspects, not just ticking a climb or pushing grades. Aspects like being out in nature, staying healthy and fit, being around great like minded people.” Despite the decreasing difficulty of her tackled climbs, the logistics of climbing pregnant have kept Katrina’s mind ticking over; “I also can appreciate the mind work and puzzle solving in climbs. With an expanding belly I’ve had to find different beta on a number of different climbs and moves,” she says.
Unfortunately, people often seem to have unsolicited opinions about women’s bodies and Katrina has had to deal with the occasional negative comment from bystanders regarding her active pregnancy. She says: “I’ve had varying degrees of negative feedback from others regarding my choices. I have either stopped discussing it with them, occasionally tried to explain the benefits, or just stayed silent while being berated. I have never really taken anything personally because I’m aware that our society has an attitude of fear mongering towards pregnancy, women and parenting. Most people seem to excessively err on the side of caution rather than embrace the abilities of our bodies to adapt and thrive on exercise.”
Katrina firmly believes that whatever educated and informed choices women make are their prerogative. From what she has gleaned from her own experience, she recommends to be finely tuned to their own bodies. She says “just go for it! Listen to what your body tells you when you exercise. On some days, you’ll feel fantastic and on others, you’ll not feel like pushing yourself. The best thing to do is find a professional you trust to talk to about your sport. Do the research. Find supportive people in your life who know you and your love for being healthy and fit. And most importantly, ignore people who give you their opinion about what you’re doing with your body.”
To those reading this article, whether it be mothers-to-be, or anyone else, she says: “I hope you are encouraged to remain healthy and fit no matter what stage of life you are at. Young, old, mother, pregnant, injured, or in the strongest form you have ever been. Remember that only you have the ability to know your body best. Trust that, especially through all the amazing and crazy changes your female body goes through.”
Written by Celeste Botton