This winter I began setting routes and problems at the Spire Climbing Center. The gym's head setter, Taylor has mentored me through the ins and outs of setting: from ascending fixed lines to drill on holds for a route, to thinking about foot placements for small and tall people alike.
The first couple of times I set routes I quickly learned that it's no easy task. First you're hauling your body up the rope with a loop hole for one foot and a hand pulling down on the ascender's handle. Then you're lugging up a bucket full of plastic blobs. Then you're bracing against the wall, holding the blobs up, drilling and sometimes screwing them in. All the while you're thinking about movement: how does this hold relate to the ones before and after it? Where the hell do I put a foot hold for normal sized people?
It's no secret that I'm a bit of a weenie. But anyone who has set routes can probably agree that hauling your body and bucket up the rope and sitting in a harness for hours takes no small toll on the body.
So recently Spire held its annual rope climbing competition. For the week leading up to the event, Taylor showed up at the gym between 8 and 9am and stayed most nights until midnight -- some nights even until 1 or 2 in the morning. Sometimes during the day she was organizing, helping the other setters (re: me) find the rights holds for a climb. Most of the week, though, she was in her harness, up on a rope, plotting out her per-usual 5 star routes.
What I'm trying to say here, folks, is that Taylor is a tough ass chick -- not to mention a lovely human being.
Throughout the week she kept the stoke level high, even when the sun had set and the desk staff had left for home. What's even more impressive is the fact she didn't once snap. There wasn't even a sniff of annoyance. Sleep deprived, her thighs wrapped in harness bruises: it didn't matter. The same smile and gracious nature of her usual day-to-day self continued throughout the hours of serious manual labor.
That's the word that comes to mind when I think of Taylor as an athlete, coach, and boss lady to boot: grace. She takes her time when she climbs, moving through easy and hard moves alike with a fluid, dance-like quality. She can bare down on crimps most wouldn't even consider as probable hand holds.
Her passion for climbing is one of genuine love, not ego. Below she writes, "I think if more people loved what they were doing the world would be a much better place. And if you can’t turn your passion into a career, find a career that doesn’t limit your ability to follow your passions."
This quote is what Taylor brings to those around her, and what she offers here in this interview. She's walking the talk as she pursues her passion for climbing. Whether she's coaching kids at the gym or helping the setting crew stay focused and in-sync, she inspires those around her to try hard and to take chances.
Yep, she's gorgeous. Yep, she's a talented athlete. But more than anything, she's a genuine human being, living her life the way she wants to live it.
And what's more beautiful than authenticity? The ability to encourage others to be authentic as well.
Meet Taylor Fragomeni
Climber, climbing coach, and head setter
Kelsey: What sports do you enjoy?
Taylor: At the risk of sounding horribly one dimensional, I mostly just rock climb. I used to do triathlons with my mom as a teenager and downhill ski raced throughout high school. Before that, I even rode horses competitively for a number of years.
Now, I mostly just dabble in skiing, along with a little bit of mountain biking and running in the warmer months. To be honest, I mostly only run consistently when I’m injured and can’t climb. But I have found biking and running to be good solo active rest day activities and great ways to get outside.
K: How often do you workout? What do those workouts usually involve?
T: It definitely varies a lot throughout the year. I try to do something active maybe five or six days a week, but as far as proper workouts go, it’s probably only 2-3 days a week. I’ve been following a training program that has six week cycles of varying focuses, like power endurance, strength and power, finger strength, etc., followed by a rest week each seventh week.
Depending on the cycle’s focus, I’ll do any combination of climbing workouts, weight lifting, hangboard, campus board, cardio, mobility/injury prevention, or core.
Somedays I’ll try to mix in more technique based workouts where I focus on really driving into my feet or moving statically/dynamically, or just climbing a route twice in a row and trying to climb it better the second time.
K: How often would you say you get “out” to enjoy your sports?
T: As often as possible! The non-summer months are a little tough in Montana, but the last few years I have had this goal to climb outside at least once every month. Frozen fingers aside, it’s been working out!
Summers are prime, and I generally take a hiatus from training at that point and just get outside as much as I can. The more fresh air the better. I spend a lot of time in the gym due to my job, and getting outside to enjoy climbing in a non-work setting is really important to my relationship with the sport.
K: What are some of your favorite places to go?
T: Anyone that knows me knows that Ten Sleep, WY is my all time favorite area. I’ve just had so many climbing “firsts” there that it holds a special place in my heart. Plus, it’s beautiful and only a 4.5 hour drive away.
However, I recently went to Shelf Road, CO for the first time last month and loved it there as well. The style there is fairly similar to Ten Sleep, but with spicy runouts and not-so-solid-looking bolts at times. As far as local areas, I’m a big fan of Natural Bridge. I guess you could say that I enjoy limestone sport climbing....
I have an on-again-off-again relationship with bouldering, but by far, one of my favorite places in Montana is Hidden Lakes. There are so many amazing alpine boulders up there, most of which have been developed by good friends of mine, who are always stoked to the n-th degree.
K: Tell us about what you do for work.
T: Currently, I am working at Spire Climbing Center as the Head Routesetter and Assistant Head Coach. I coach kids ages 8 to 18 and it is easily one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. And, as an added bonus, trying to keep up with their fitness and stoke levels has definitely kept me on top of my own climbing.
In the summers, I also work as a climbing guide for Touch the Sky, a nonprofit dedicated to getting kids outside through climbing. We primarily take trips around the western US and abroad. Last summer I was fortunate to guide the first TTS trip to Rocklands in South Africa. I had never been off the North American continent before and that trip was really formative for me. The boulders there kicked my ass, but it was okay because there was always freshly baked bread at the end of the day.
That trip was comprised of all girls, aside from the other guides, and it was super inspiring to see a bunch of young ladies deal with the sometimes-soul-crushing nature of bouldering and not letting it get the better of them.
A couple of them even sent some of their hardest boulders ever on that trip. Watching all those girls learn a little about who they are as rock climbers was that best part of that trip for me, and it’s really often the best part of coaching and guiding in general.
K: Why did you pursue a career in climbing?
T: So, I have a degree in Geographic Information Systems, but as I neared the end of college I began to realize that working in the GIS field was going to involve many hours of staring at a computer. At that point, I had already been working at the gym for a few years routesetting and instructing and really loved it. It just didn’t make sense to me to do anything other than turn climbing into a career.
Once I let go of the internal and external pressure to pursue a career in science, I never really looked back.
There were two people who really gave me the courage to do that. The first was my friend Olivia, who was a spitfire of an individual and always spoke her mind and pursued her passions no matter what anyone thought or said. She was a kickass skier and climber. When she passed a couple of years ago, I think I started to look at my life a little more critically. She lived each day to the fullest, and I wanted to do that too.
The second influential individual is Leigh Spokas. Leigh used to work at Spire instructing, still guides for Touch the Sky, and is just a general bad ass and genuinely kind human. She too had a degree in science and decided to pursue climbing instead. When she and her husband Joe (who had helped me get a job routesetting at the gym initially) decided to move to California, Leigh started mentoring me in how to teach some of the intro courses and youth programs at the gym. She full on rocks at her job and watching her teach inspired me to fully commit to climbing as a career.
K: The career path you’ve chosen is unconventional. Have you received any doubts or “naysaying” about your choice?
T: Absolutely. And most of the time I think it’s unintentional. People will say things like “Oh, it’s great that you’re doing this while you’re young,” or, “At least you have a degree to fall back on.”
They’re trying to offer admiration, but at the same time I think statements like that kind of minimize my choice; like it’s a phase rather than a legitimate path. But, for every person that has had a response like that, there has been three others that have poured out nothing but support, and I am so grateful for that.
K: What advice would you give others wishing to pursue their passions yet feeling like they can’t or shouldn’t?
T: You are going to be most effective in your community, and just life in general, if you are doing something that you’re passionate about. I think on a whole, our generation is taking a very hard shift away from the typical “American dream.”
Yes, there will be people that tell you you can’t live off passions, but there are so many more people making it work. I think it’s so important to be excited to go to work, or at the very least, to not dread it. I think if more people loved what they were doing, the world would be a much better place. And if you can’t turn your passion into a career, find a career that doesn’t limit your ability to follow your passions.
K: What does beautiful mean to you?
T: This is something that I have really struggled with and reflected on in the last couple of years as a result of a pretty relentless injury cycle. It all started with a shoulder injury and then progressed through rotating phases of nerve impingements in my forearms and general tweakiness in my wrists, elbows, and fingers.
I spent a long time trying to ignore the pain because I was scared of what may be causing it. I’ve since found out that I had a lot of nutritional deficiencies (you know, iron, fats, proteins, and other things that you need to function), as well as sensitivities to wheat and almonds, of all things.
But what I really learned from the whole experience was that I feel most beautiful when I feel healthy. Take care of your body and yourself, and if you want something to change, do something to change it. Get to know your body and what it needs and respect it. I think the healthier you feel, the happier you’ll be, and smiling is always beautiful.
K: How has your sport shaped your body image and your relationship to your body in general?
T: Climbing has definitely taught me to trust myself more than I ever had previously. The whole nature of the sport forces you to be very body aware, whether it’s shifting your hips just a fraction of an inch to do a move, or recognizing the days where you should or shouldn’t get on certain routes.
I think the risk management aspect of climbing has really forced me to learn what I’m capable of and when. In that sense, I’ve become more aware of when there’s a disconnect between my head and my body. It’s most noticeable when I get all jittery before trying a hard route and my brain is all, “Are you sure about this, you might fail,” and my body is like, “Shut up brain, I got this thing.”
I think being aware of when your head is holding you back is so useful in all areas of life. Our bodies are not separate from our minds, but they sure can be on separate pages at times.
K: What advice would you give women and fellow athletes in general to better enjoy their unique bodies?
T: Get to know your body the best you can. And be okay with not loving it all the time. Everyone has days when they don’t perform the way they want to. It is so incredibly normal. And on those days, don’t let yourself see your body as separate from who you are. I think I spent a lot of time feeling like my body was against me when I was caught up in all my injuries and inflammation. When I gave in and accepted that it was just trying to tell me something, I finally started enjoying it again.
Don’t let anyone, even yourself, tell you what your limits are. Recognize that your body is unique. It’s entirely yours and it’s entirely different from anyone else’s.
We live in a culture that floods us with images telling us what we should look like, especially as women. The reality is, we are all different. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, we should celebrate each other in all of our uniqueness.
Thank you, Taylor, for your lovely and keen words and for being a part of the series.