Shauna Coxsey, 39 weeks pregnant, is taking on the online trolls so other women don’t have to.
The Olympian knew judgment would begin the moment she started posting pictures of herself climbing with a baby bump.
Sure enough, with all the positive reception, there were also those in the comments who felt justified in saying things like “that’s just dangerous,” calling her “crazy,” urging her to “be careful about her bump.” ’ or ‘think about it, stop wall climbing’ and a warning about overstretched abs.
But women, according to the two-time world climbing champion and Tokyo 2020 Olympian, know their bodies best — especially when they’re also in regular contact with medical experts.
“I made a conscious choice a long time ago throughout my career to be honest and share my journey on social media, and that hasn’t changed during pregnancy,” Coxsey said.
“I’ve been a little reluctant to share certain things just because of rejection, but at the same time I think it’s so important for people to understand what the risk assessment is for different people, what the choice is for different people. Although there has been some resistance and hate, I have received messages from women who have been inspired and continue to do what they love because they see what I do.
“I just find the idea of someone stopping doing something for fear of judgment very sad. Women are very good at assessing the risk of whether they are pregnant or not.
“They’re probably even better at assessing the risk when they’re pregnant because there’s absolutely no one who’s going to turn their backs and say they don’t love their baby, you know?
“It was just a really fascinating and enlightening time because I think it’s so easy to sit at a computer and spread some hate.”
(band of birds)
Coxsey and husband Ned Feehally, a fellow climber, noted they were expecting a month after their wedding, and Coxsey attributed her mood and exhaustion to “post-games blues,” though as early as her hen she had a sneaking suspicion — so much so that Coxsey let a friend drink all her alcohol for her.
She has worked throughout her pregnancy with a women’s health physical therapist, who has also mentored other climbers and helped Coxsey understand her changing body, develop an exercise program focused on core strength and pelvic floor health, and “everyone fix small problems” way.
And despite what the naysayers might assume, conscientiousness has always been a big part of Coxsey’s game plan. The Runcorn native first saw a bouldering wall at the age of four and scaled one months later. The 29-year-old is keenly aware of the line between a routine climb and a risky one, and a knee injury meant she was already climbing down walls rather than falling.
“I think it’s so important that people understand what the risk assessment is for different people, what the choice is for different people,” she said.
“The hardest thing for me is I don’t want other women to be put off by the judgment, and if I can take some of that burden off by sharing and embracing that judgment, I want to say, ‘This is the reality. That way I mitigate those risks.”
“Climbing is safer for me than walking on the street! I’m far more likely to trip while walking than to fall off a climbing wall in my comfort zone.”
Shaun Coxsey competed for Team GB when sport climbing made its Olympic debut in Tokyo last summer
Coxsey plans to return to the professional setup after giving birth, but this time as an outdoor climber, away from the international circuit of competition, the five-time British champion has thrived successfully for most of the last decade.
A series of injuries kept her from being in top form ahead of last summer’s Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where sport climbing made its debut, but she will always have the honor of being the first athlete to represent Team GB.
She is now beginning a four-year term as President of the Athletes’ Commission of the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC).
“It was very important to me not to simply leave the community. I’ve been climbing all my life. I’ve seen a lot of changes and I see a lot of changes coming, and I think the athlete’s voice is really important,” said Coxsey.
“With every growth there is good and bad and I think our sport is growing at such an alarming rate.
“The strangest thing is that climbing has become cool! Climbing has never been cool.”
There’s one little person she hopes will learn the cool factor of rock climbing. Coxsey and Feehally may only have half packed their hospital bag, but they already have a tiny climbing wall installed in their attic.
“Oh yes,” she added with a grin. “It’s built.”