Foxy Fridays: Isabella Cueva

I first met Isabella a few years ago now in a climbing class with my son. While these kids were struggling up 5.7, way more interested in swinging on the ropes in between goes, I noticed this 12 or 13-year-old girl actually paying attention and getting to 5.10 pretty fast. I talked to her mom about some private coaching with Isaac Palatt and she was on her way. It was incredible to watch how strong she got only climbing one day a week and doing a little bit of strength work at her house. Her lessons were always at the same time I climbed so I got to know her and watch her progress. One day Issac was going out of town and asked me to sub in so she didn’t have to miss a week. We have been climbing together ever since. 

Isabella is before anything else, stubborn. She doesn’t do anything she doesn’t want to do. Top of that list includes joining the climbing team or getting a new climbing coach. Further down the list is trying a problem she doesn’t like the looks of or that too many other people are trying. It’s this same stubbornness, though, that becomes tenacity when confronted with a problem just out of her reach. She will try and try again obsessively until her fingers can’t take it…then come back the next day. I’m thinking of the Pearl V5 Kraft Boulder specifically.

She is 15, but her main concerns are school, grades, politics, her carbon footprint and her family budget. She is wise beyond her years and I love every second I get to spend with this special human.

-Jennifer Rau

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Photo by Jennifer Rau.

ISABELLA CUEVA

Age: 15

Location: Los Angeles

Profession: Highschool

Flash Foxy: Do you play other sports? 

Isabella Cueva: I am the least athletic person, EVER. I’m that one girl who is always the last one to finish her mile, the one who could be right next to the soccer net but still misses the goal. My hand-eye coordination lacks and I seem to have two left feet. So to answer you question, no I have never been any interested in sports. My mom tried to get me to play volleyball, soccer, dance, etc., but none really stuck for the reasons I listed above.

FF: I find that a lot of climbers didn’t come from other sports before they started climbing. Of course there’s a lot of jocks in climbing too–but I think for those of us who didn’t like competitive sports growing up, climbing offers a fresh and different take on physical activity. It’s mental–there’s a problem solving element to it and it is independent. How is climbing different for you than other sports?

IC: I think that climbing is a whole other obstacle course from usual sports. While soccer focuses on scoring the most goals by running back and forth across a field, climbing focuses on one movement at a time. You really have to center your mind, focusing your emotions into the extension upward, the twisting of your hips, the outward flag of your legs. Every slight rotation of your body determines whether or not the climb goes. If you flag too hard, it can throw the whole dynamic of the climb off. Unlike most sports, climbing does not prioritize winning, but instead the technique used to complete a problem. Physically, climbing is demanding of all your body whereas most activities use one central body part. It is really interesting feeling the difference of using your legs to post or drop-knee compared to the pumping feeling in your legs when you run.

FF: How did you get into rock climbing?

IC: I got into rock climbing, almost three years ago I believe, when I started to do pull-ups. Like I said, I’m not athletic in the slightest so when my mom saw me doing pull-ups on the door jams (which she always made me clean), she was thrilled to see me doing something active and therefore googled ‘Sports/Activities to do with Pull-ups’. She quickly discovered climbing and put me in classes at a gym. Once I outgrew those, I was fortunate enough to be coached individually by Isaac Palatt, someone who is very knowledgeable and extremely gifted in climbing. However, he moved away onto bigger and better climbing adventures and from then on I have been climbing with my “climbing family.”

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Stoney’s Point. Hot Tuna. Photo by Jesse Weiner.

FF: Are you primarily an indoor climber?

IC: I would say I am definitely a gym rat. I’m only fifteen, I can’t drive and my mom has other children to focus on. She cannot take me to and fro climbing trips outside whenever I please. So gyms are much easier and I can go primarily every week. And through that gym I met my climbing family, Mike and Jen who have taken me under their wings. With them, I have been to Red Rocks, NV a couple times as well as many other local places. But overall, I am totally more of an indoor climber, but maybe as I get older that will evolve into more outdoor excursions. I have always felt a deep connection to the Earth, preferring to sit outside than to be cooped up all day on a phone or any other electronics.

FF: Any climbing areas you’re dying to check out?

IC: Well, I am getting excited for my bouldering trip to Tramway in Palm Springs coming up. And if it works out, Priest Draw in Arizona, later this year. Otherwise, I haven’t really researched or heard about cool climbing areas. But hopefully one day I can explore them all 🙂

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Gym rat at the LAB. Photo by Jennifer Rau.

FF: Tell us a little bit more about why you like to climb.

IC: Typically, I am a pretty shy, reserved person. I am not a huge fan of meeting new people nor putting myself out there. That’s why I’ve stuck with climbing. I love how it is an individual sport where you can rely solely on yourself. You are the one who motivates you to send something and you are the one who gets to feel the accomplishment of finishing a project. I love not having to rely on a teammate to help me and I like that through climbing, I can focus on myself and center my energy into every movement. Though I am not a huge fan of bouldering in front of people, it is always encouraging when you are struggling and someone says ‘C’mon you can do it!’.Whether you can climb a 5.14 or a 5.9, v2 or v8, everyone who climbs comes together as a community to cheer one on or give them advice and that is what I love about climbing. I love that it is an individual sport where you can be yourself, but together, it can also be a community that everyone is welcome in and is able to express who they are without any judgement.

FF: Who do you like to climb with?

IC: Since my real family doesn’t climb nor do they have any desire to try, I have been somewhat adopted by my climbing family, Jen and Mike. Words can’t describe why I like to climb with these training-obsessive, crazy people! Maybe it’s because they motivate me to try hard, or maybe it’s because their psychotic nonstop training is inspiring, but I wouldn’t want to climb with anyone else. Jen and Mike have been nice enough to take me to Red Rocks, Malibu Creek, Stoney Point, soon-to-be Tramway in Palm Springs, and all over Los Angeles for some local climbing. They have become mentors to me, whether they planned to be or not, and have helped me better myself as not just a climber, but as a person too.

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Malibu Creek. Photo by Jennifer Rau.

 

FF: What about a team doesn’t appeal to you? Why don’t you want to compete?

IC: At my local gym, the team is filled with incredibly talented and immensely strong climbers, girls and boys alike who train hard and win comps like it’s nobody’s business. Anybody would be extremely lucky to be on the same team as them and to be trained by super-crusher coach Jesse Weiner, but the Team is just not for me. It might sound a little strange not to want to join such an amazing group of individuals, but climbing isn’t everything to me. Shocker, how can climbing not be the sun in my life’s solar system? Well, I have other focuses. One reason I choose to not join team is because of school. I recently finished my first year of high school, which is supposedly the easiest year of all four, but already as a freshman, I was taking an AP class and honors. It was a struggle in and of itself just to get to the gym once a week, let alone the multiple week days when team trains. But also, I am not a huge people-person. I am not saying I am an introvert, but simply, I’d rather better myself as an individual before I would commit to anything communal. As for competing, I just view that idea as crazy. I guess it is more of an anxiety thing seeing as I don’t like climbing in front of people, especially when everyone is so amazing. Personally, I just view Team as something extra. All you need for climbing is chalk, yourself and your climbing family of course!

 

FF: What subjects are you interested in at school? I hear you care about your carbon footprint.

IC: I, for some unknown reason, love school. I enjoy learning new things that can help me grow as an individual. I believe that understanding where we come from and how we are alive is important in order to fulfill one’s true calling in life. I love history, it’s my favorite thing ever. This year I took AP World history starting from life as Homo Sapiens and making our way to 2007’s Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. I cannot begin to describe how important I think history is. I feel like everyone should know their background, or at the very least, the basis of where we come from (Africa in case you were wondering). I feel like this relates to climbing as our world started in one place, eventually blossoming into what we have created today which is similar to a boulder problem that begins with one move, transitioning into a line of movements which makes up a confusing, yet equally as beautiful problem. Climbing has also developed my passion for outdoors and built my awareness to protect the Earth and the boulders on it. Upon my discovery with environmental documentaries, I have given up all red meats, and eventually hope to go completely vegetarian. This is because meat manufacturing distributes the most pollutants into the environment, causing global warming to skyrocket and the Earth’s lifespan to dwindle. Over 260 millions acres of U.S forests have been cut down in order for more livestock to be bread and meat to be produced. Not to mention how 1/3 of all of the U.S.’s fossil fuels is devoted to raising animals for food and causes the number one source of water pollution. I guess with my growing love for climbing, my desire to preserve the boulders and towering rock walls for future generations to enjoy is important to me.

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Stoney Point, multitasking AP studying and climbing. Photo: Jennifer Rau

FF: Have you ever done an Access Fund clean up? You should look into their stewardship and conservation programs. You’d dig it!

IC: No I haven’t, but the organization and others like it, sounds amazing. I think it is great how anyone, no matter who they are, can come together to help shape their local community into something beautiful. But this up coming school year I plan on joining a charity league that focuses on local events to better the neighborhood.

FF: Do you have other hobbies?

IC: Does chocolate tasting count? Since I was about five, my dream has been to become a “World Famous Chocolate Taster.” It may not help me climb better, but who doesn’t love a good chocolate bar?

FF: I’m actually one of those people that isn’t super into chocolate. I do love me a bag of Hot Cheetos, though…

IC: Hot Cheetos are good, too.

FF: Do you see yourself climbing when you’re older?

IC: Absolutely! Though I know it will be a challenge to maintain my (limited) social life, school and climbing, I know that it is important to make sure you create a steady balance between life. Climbing brings me too much enjoyment to ever let go of and I am extremely fortunate to have found such an amazing sport at such a young age. Climbing is magical as you get to experience new places, new people and new sights. Here’s to a future filled with the adventure of climbing!

FF: Can you see yourself working in the climbing industry? Or do you think it will always be your escape from work?

IC: No, definitely not. Props to all those amazing people who work in the climbing industry because it is laborious and intense, requiring physical and creative experience which I certainly lack. I think I will always use climbing as an escape, not just from work, but from life. Life can only get more complicated from here, stress bound to pop up in some ways and I know I will be able to channel that excess energy into climbing, which is a great outlet that I am lucky to have.

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The Pearl Photo: Jennifer Rau

FF: Are there any climbers in particular you admire?

IC: No one sponsored. I mean, yes they are all super talented, but I don’t know those people. While I am sure they are wonderful people, I admire those that I know. I look up to Jen and Mike, super crushers who I cannot imagine life without (It would be terrible!). I admire Isaac Palatt, my first and only climbing coach who pretty much taught me everything I know. He is the strongest person I know, but is extremely kind-hearted and determined in everything he does. I look up to anyone who touches the hearts of their community before making sure that they themselves are okay.

FF: Climbing is more than just a sport. You’ll hear so many people say it: it’s a lifestyle. Do you feel like climbing gives you a sense of self/identity/ego? Do you think it set you apart from the other kids you are in school with? 

IC: Climbing is something magical. It can be used to boost one’s ego or distract one from the world. I like climbing because it makes me feel complete. It helps balance me, finishing the puzzle piece inside of me. Whenever I climb, I feel connected to something greater than just me. I feel like a small speck in a world of greatness. It can set you in your place, but also lift you up, making you feel accomplished and proud as you try something new or send a longtime project. At school I would not say climbing sets me apart, but it opens my eyes more. I feel like normal (female) high schoolers focus on boys and makeup, phones and social media, which is fine, but personally, I do not prioritize that. Climbing has helped me realize that we are all part of a greater picture. Life is short and we cannot let it pass us by while we check our Twitter posts.

FF: Do you like feeling strong? Ever challenge someone to a pull-up contest?

IC: Feeling strong is definitely invigorating, but I know that there is always room for improvement. The rush you get when you send something difficult is awesome and I cannot begin to describe the bliss I get from it. And while I am sure beating someone at a pull-up contest feels just as good, I have never tried. Maybe one day, but why make someone feel bad when I inevitably win? (I am kidding, please don’t challenge me!!)

FF: What would you say to another slightly-introverted, academically-enthused teenage girl who wanted to get into climbing but didn’t know how. How would you encourage her to get into it if she didn’t want to compete or be a part of a team and didn’t have friends or family that climbed?

IC: Honestly, I probably would not be talking to her as I am so shy, but since this is hypothetical, I’ll go along 🙂 I guess I would just suggest coming to the gym whenever you can. I think starting in the gym is a good way to get a small foundation built before you begin to grow and accomplish more challenging routes outdoors. If possible, join a few gym classes or get a private instructor to help with technique, strength and a positive mentality. I would just say that life is short, you gotta do what you want and you need to enjoy it. If climbing is what your passion is, go for it. You have got nothing to lose. Be yourself and always keep climbing.

FF: Any last words?

IC: Thank you so very much for the interview! It was such an honor to be nominated, selected and published. You are a pleasure to work with.

Also, to anyone reading, please, please, please pick up all your trash when you eat outside, whether it is yours or not! If we want to continue to enjoy the great outdoors, we must take care of it!

FF: Thanks Isabella! Good luck with school, and keep being your beautiful unique self!

One Response to “Foxy Fridays: Isabella Cueva

  • Jennifer Rau
    2 years ago

    I love your Unabashed honesty Isabella. I wish I had 10% of your sense of self off when I was your age. I cannot wait to see the woman you become.

    Sasha I love these interviews keep them coming !

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