Lauren Lee - Interview

Friday, January 1, 2010

Lauren Lee: In the Present

Interview By: Whitney Boland
Photos: Keith Ladzinski & La Sportiva Collection

I first saw Lauren Lee in a bouldering video on Climb-X Media when I started climbing in 2001. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2008, when we traveled for a month together in southern France for a Rock and Ice story on the Verdon Gorge—the grand canyon of Europe—that I got to see the other side of Lee outside of the limelight of the climbing “pro” media. Staged in a sea of massive, blank, bulletproof walls that stood high around us, the area brought out elements of each of us as we were suspended 300 meters off the deck.

Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, the 29-year-old gymnast-turned-climber, Lauren Lee, landed a name for herself on the comp circuit map early in the game as she came and went from the Midwest bouldering scene. Among her comp victories, Lee finished first in numerous national climbing competitions, and stole an impressive second place finish in the 2003 Worlds Cup in Rovereto, Italy. After she moved out West, where she settled into a calm ranch-life in Hurricane, Utah, she continued to climb hard, only this time on the desert rock of Southern Utah ticking off double-digit boulder problems and a few first ascents. However, while many feel she “fell of the map” while she took a small two-year break from the climbing scene and it’s media while in Utah, Lee came back with not only a vengeance, but newfound confidence, strength, and appreciation for the sport of climbing, where she transferred her natural strength from bouldering into a new love for sport climbing. An all-around climber accomplished in multiple disciplines, within a month’s time in the spring of 2009, Lee nabbed a climbing triple crown. First ticking off Resident Evil (V9/V10), she then proceeded send her long-time sport climbing project, The Present (5.14a), and less than two weeks later nabbed the second ascent of a stunning trad line, Master Blaster (5.13c).

Beyond the exotic looks of a climbing cover girl whose natural strength and talent has vied her a spot not only in the limelight of climbing media but in the ranks among notably American female climbers, Lee reveals new layers of a fun loving soul. Currently settling down back in the east in the hills of the Red River Gorge, Lee takes a minute on a hike to the Motherload to answer some questions, tell us about her new abode and give us a little taste of life on the other side.

(WB) How long have you been climbing in all? Professionally?

(LL) Eleven years. Nine or ten years professionally.

(WB) What’s the hardest part about being a “pro” climber? The best?

(LL) The hardest is people’s expectation, or people expecting you to be super badass all the time. The best is all the climbing you get to do and people you get to meet. It’s super generic, but it’s the truth.

(WB) What was your favorite sport/pastime/passion before climbing?

(LL) Gymnastics.

(WB) How did you use your skills from gymnastics in climbing? Do you think it helped you to get stronger quicker?

(LL) I came into climbing really strong. My body was strong, my core strength was good. I had to learn the technique, that’s what I had to develop through the years.

(WB) Who’s your favorite Olympic gymnast and why?

(LL) Dominique, uhhh.
(WB) Moceanu…Dawes.
(LL) Which one’s the little one?
(WB) Moceanu.
(LL) Moceanu then. I have a fascination with small things. I remember she came to some training camp we had one summer.

(WB) What historical figure or famous person of any era would you want to be?

(LL) Mary Ingles Wilder! She was able to persevere in dire conditions…finding her way through hundreds of miles of unfamiliar terrain to find her way back home to her homestead and husband!

(WB) Sounds very liberating the way you put it… you think you would want to live in her era?

(LL) Yeah, or the mid-1800’s.

(WB) Why?

(LL) Everything was so wild then. It was a time when people weren’t so bogged down on their mobile phones or computers. It seemed more peaceful, maybe more scary. But I think I like that. It gives it that sense of adventure.

(WB) What character in a childhood book or movie, do you relate to most? Why?

(LL) The Rescuers Down Under… Bianca… she was everything a strong male lead was, but instead of being a man she was a charmingly brilliant secret service lady mouse.

(WB) What’s been your weakest moment in climbing? Strongest?

(LL) The moment right before I scream, ”Take!” Strongest moment would be the first time up Dark Boy’s (5.13b) headwall!

(WB) How often do you climb? Train?

(LL) I don’t train, and I climb as often as possible… At least four days a week. I want to train to see what kind of new levels I can achieve.

(WB) Are you/ have you been scared of heights? What’s your biggest fear?

(LL) Yeah!!! I’m really scared of heights. I think that the biggest fear standing at the edge of a huge precipice is the thought that I could just jump off it! I think that I could get into base-jumping should I find myself with some extra time and cash.

(WB) How do you overcome your fear?

(LL) I think about the system and how everything functions… Plus dealing with the fear is better than dealing with my own self-inflicted disappointment.

(WB) You listen to music a lot when you climb. What’s on your Ipod right now?

(LL) Yeah… I often listen to music when climbing. SOJA, Broken Social Scene, Santogold, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Beirut, Leona Neass, Concious Roots, The Good Be Tanyas, etc….

(WB) What song gives you inspiration?

(LL) It usually changes…. But I like something that is fun and light spirited. Songs that make me want to dance. I really like salsa music and ballet…I’m really into visual arts. I was also a ballerina for a little while. Oh, and I like reggae.

(WB) So if you like music that makes you dance, do you like hip-hop and rap?

(LL) That’s how I got into dance music. But it’s allright.

(WB) Ahh, well I saw Snoop Dogg on Jay Leno last night. It was sick! If you and Snoop Dogg could sing a song together, what would it be titled?

(LL) Haha, I don’t know. Crimpin’!

(WB) What else gives you inspiration?

(LL) People trying hard!!!

(WB) Do you ever scream when you’re trying hard? Like let out a winger?

(LL) I’m pretty quiet; I think I whimper more than scream.

(WB) Whimper because you’re scared? Or pumped?

(LL) Oh, pumped. If I get to the point of [whimpering], there’s a slim chance I’m pulling that off!

(WB) What is your favorite place you’ve traveled? Least favorite?

(LL) Portugal… South Korea.

(WB) What's inside your refrigerator right now?

(LL) Left-overs, ice cream, veggies…

(WB) Bar for climbing lunch or sandwich?

(LL) Both!

(WB) What's your strangest food craving?

(LL) Garlic stuffed olives.

(WB) Did you have a stuffed animal or blanket you ALWAYS carried around with you as a child, like as a safety blanket? If so, what was it? Was it named?

(LL) I had a doll that I called Lolly Dolly… I didn’t really rely on it as a safety, and I usually slept with my books. I think that I have traditionally always relied on people or my puppy dog rather than an inanimate object.

(WB) What's the best birthday present you've ever received?

(LL) A trip to a Cirque du Soleil show… Zoomanity.

(WB) I secretly always wanted to be a Cirque member. Do you think you would even want to perform like that?

(LL) Oh for sure. I’ve always kinda fantasized about that. The ribbon work is so graceful!

(WB) If you could be a professional in another sport, what would it be?

(LL) Soccer or Tennis not really sure which one would be better.

(WB) You took time off climbing, right? What was the thing that motivated you and inspired you the most to work to get back to top level?

(LL) I never stopped climbing and I actually climbed my first 5.14 when I was a.k.a. taking a break. I spent a lot of time mountain-biking and studying… I ended up missing climbing immensely and I realized that I hadn’t fulfilled my insatiable appetite to climb.

(WB) Tell me about the new pad?

(LL) Yeah, it’s in the Red River Gorge. Quaint, It’s got five bedrooms, a sitting room, a kitchen and family room with a fireplace. I love that room.

(WB) Is that your favorite room?

(LL) No my bedroom is.

(WB) Ok, so you’re in a parting shot in a magazine, last page, last impression. What is the shot of you?

(LL) Well there’s one route I’m fixated on. It’s called Walking on Water. It’s in the Narrows, and it’s a serious adventure to get to. I’d be on that.

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