The 2,500 Mile Approach by Mad Rock Athlete Sonomi Imagawa
Above: Mad Rock Athlete, Sonomi Imagawa at Washoe Boulders, NV.
Photo by: Nathan Ferreira.
Climbing on oversized volumes and dual-tex holds seem to be all the rage this year. Being 5'2" with a close to negative ape index never was an advantage for me on comp style climbs. But come on...who isn't up for a challenge? Climbing in my local gym one evening, one particular problem caught my eye. Starting on a low bat hang I contorted my body, stabilizing myself with a solid heel hook above my head. With a deep breath to calm my excitement, I cranked my upper body up and over the volume, leaving my left heel behind to maintain stability. I reached for a far left-hand Gaston, which I managed to tag with the first pad of my middle finger. As I crawled my fingers up the volume, I turned my right arm into a palm press. I was so focused, so determined, to get at least three fingers on this far left hold. Just then, my right hand slipped as pain exploded from within my shoulder.
I fell to the ground, "BAM!" immediately I knew this wasn't just another fall. Unable to move my right arm I lay motionless, trying to contain the pain radiating from my shoulder, and tears of frustration mixed with sorrow. Having experienced a subluxation of the same shoulder before, it was obvious I was dealing with an injury much worse than anything in my past.
As the issue for most other young adults in America, I was broke and covered by less health insurance than that hospital gown on the old man trudging down the hallway with his IV stand in hand. So, like many other twenty-somethings of this world, I sucked it up, neglecting to pursue any answers regarding the extent of the injury at my shoulder. And maybe similar to some of you, I was overconfident in my body's ability to quickly recover without the need for rest.
Resting is definitely not in my nature. How many of you are the same way? Busybodies who cannot seem to sit down without their leg shaking, or become anxious at the thought of missing a workout. I spent hours in the gym each day, not climbing, rather occupying myself with core, ring, and bar workouts. I punished myself with leg lifts, sit-ups, squats, and any exercise that I could manage to do with my one good arm. I used my workouts as a means to drown out the voices telling me that I may never be able to climb again. I wanted to climb, I wanted to send harder routes...I let my impatience get the better of me - acting incredibly immature and reckless with regards to my recovery process.
My confidence level was shot and spiraling into a nosedive, as my shoulder was nowhere near even 70% of its pre-injury state. Adding to my angst, the desire to leave Hawaii in order to explore new climbing areas began to take root in my mind. The thought began to grow, and grow...it began to consume me...all I wanted to do was escape from this rock in the middle of the ocean. I was a prisoner in paradise. And then...as if the world itself felt my despair, an answer! One so crazy, the only response from family and friends was, "why?" My gut told me otherwise as I knew I had to regain my sanity. Just like that, I bought myself a one-way ticket to Reno, NV.
"Reno?! You left somewhere as beautiful as Hawaii for Reno?!" I'm sure a few of you are asking yourself whilst shaking your head. As it turns out, though, there are climbing areas galore, both established and being developed, around Reno. Not to mention the endless outdoor activities including skiing and snowboarding, trail running, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and so much more! And, to top it all off, the pristine Lake Tahoe. I digress...back to climbing. The landscape is gorgeous as granite structures grab your attention driving down the I-80 highway, hiding a myriad of climbs just waiting to be discovered. It's no surprise since Lake Tahoe, alone, has more guidebooks than variations of the Bible.
The highlight of my move, hands down, had to be the opportunity to work the sickest job, ever! I landed a position as a staff member at Basecamp Climbing Gym where I have the privilege of being a route setter. Did you know Basecamp is recognized by Guinness World Records as having the tallest artificial climbing wall in the world? Never have I seen an artificial multi-pitch wall. Immediately the sense of the "Keep the Country, Country," mentality from the local climbers reverberated with me. Their goal and desire to protect the climbing areas from getting trashed by visitors and want to preserve the area's natural landscape spoke volumes to me. Coming from Hawaii, where a similar way of thinking radiated with the residents, it was an easy adjustment for me that made me feel as if I was still at home.
Above: BaseCamp Staff, 2018 Halloween Competition at BaseCamp Climbing Gym.
At this point, I've managed to embody the typical Asian lady driving, in a foot of snow. I quickly learned that I did not like the snow. Having driven over black ice and nearly launched off of a bridge, I'd say I've experienced a few close calls. It was after nearly dying that I realized not all trucks are created equal. My non-4wd Tacoma had not only been a rear-wheel drive but a ONE wheel drive! She has thus earned the endearing name: Negative Traction.
The Reno winter also brought along dangers outside of a motor vehicle. One night, after finishing a gym climbing session, in a desperate attempt to escape the bone-chilling cold I decided to make a run for the car upon leaving the gym. Let's just say there's a reason I remain physically active on a wall rather than on a track, as I rolled my ankle resulting in a fracture of the fifth metatarsal of my left foot. The whole incident was quite anti-climactic. I took three quick steps, rolled my ankle, tripped, and landed on the ground with the full weight of my sport-climbing pack against my face. Needless to say, I was not happy when I found out I had to dawn a less than stylish air-cast boot. I didn't wear it well, to say the least.
"Doyle is choss...it's overrated" -- common opinions of locals who unfortunately take such a beautiful place for granted. Yet to others, these opinions are terms of endearment expressed as sarcasm - an "inside joke" so to say. In my opinion, I identify with the latter group of individuals. Yet, it's difficult to write a blog about how awesome the climbing is around Reno without feeling a bit guilty that it may initiate the Bishop effect. Is it okay to rave about a climbing spot and say it's totally rad knowing the boulders may end up looking more like a Bruno Mars concert? The worst part is that if a popularity explosion occurs these bouldering areas will be completely trashed at the end of each season. This is an all too common occurrence with any popular climbing spot. This begs the question, is it possible for the climbing community to establish a common standard for maintenance and upkeep? Why do we even need to ask the question of whether or not people can clean up after themselves, anyway? So I ask you, the reader, what do you think? What do you think is the solution? Or is there even such a problem, in your opinion? I want to know what the vibe is within the climbing community.
Reno was the best thing to happen to me. Before moving, I was insecure, lacked confidence, and felt I was losing my identity as a climber because I wasn't climbing as hard as I was pre-injury. Now, I train and climb with people to achieve common goals: get outside as often as possible, climb as hard as our bodies allow us, and most importantly to have FUN. No judgments, no competition, no drama. I cannot thank the friends I have made here enough for helping me enjoy the path less traveled; a path toward appreciating and honoring my body's process.
It took over a year to recover from these injuries (shoulder and foot) mostly due to mental blocks. Yet here we are again, overcoming self-imposed barriers, training my body to endure physical hardships, staying psyched with help from awesome friends, and looking forward to future seasons, each bringing new challenges to be conquered.
For those currently recovering from injuries, I hope you too are able to take the path less traveled. Knowing that regardless of how hard you train there still may be a possibility you'll never climb again is a difficult pill to swallow. It's tedious, it's mundane, and finding the motivation to get to the gym may feel like the hardest part of your day. I'm not trying to foster the change in your life or be the reason you decide to become instantaneously motivated. No, I want to share my story as a "thank you" to those who have helped me to quit feeling sorry for myself, and to take control of my life by challenging and pushing me. I want you to reflect upon those in your life who you have looked to for help, for support, for that extra push that got you over the hump. Thank them for their efforts that made you who you are. And if you are still dealing with adversity, reach out...make a new friend...you never know who may be the spark to light your flame.