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On the ascent
An intro to rock climbing for women over 40
Naputi (foreground) and Hughes hit the wall.
Naputi (foreground) and Hughes hit the wall.
Credit:David Medaris

There are plenty of reasons people don't take up rock climbing. Women over 40 may have more hesitations than some. Anne Hughes and Vera Naputi can debunk them all.

Hughes, 52, and Naputi, 42, have been climbing partners for 10 years. They are co-chairs of Madison Women Climbers, a group devoted to introducing women to the sport and helping them advance as climbers. And they are taking registrations for another in their series of introductory climbing classes for women over 40. The class is limited to 18 students.

'The first time we taught this, we had 60 inquiries,' says Hughes. That suggests the appeal of an introductory climbing class for women over 40. Hughes sees the appeal all the time in the faces of mothers who bring their kids to the east-side climbing gym Boulders for birthday climbing parties.

Still, there are those misapprehensions. 'People have the misperception that you have to be really strong in your upper body,' Hughes says. This is not the case. During ascents, most of a climber's weight is borne by the legs and feet. Most of the time, arms and hands are used as finesse tools or for balance.

In this regard, climbing 'reminds me of dance,' says Hughes, who studied ballet in her youth but was otherwise not involved in athletics until she started climbing at 42. Instead, she was an artist and homemaker who raised two children, now 21 and 18. She remains a homemaker and is now also a volunteer. She is the very sort of over-40 woman she and Naputi are endeavoring to introduce to the sport.

'There's this preconceived idea that climbing is a sport for the young,' says Hughes. It's not. 'I didn't do anything physical until I was in my 40s.' No tennis. Not even jogging. Evidence, she says, that 'you don't have to be athletic to try it.'

In climbing, she explains, 'you get fit without even thinking about it.'

Nor is fear an insurmountable barrier. With proper equipment and instruction, risks associated with climbing can be reduced to the negligible.

Embarrassment is also minimized, Naputi adds, by the fact that students in the class will learn among other women over 40: 'It's their own peer group.' When students learn in the company of other people of similar age and skill levels, they may be more inclined to advance. A teacher at Sherman Middle School, Naputi sees this dynamic in action all the time.

Like Hughes, Naputi belongs to the peer group they'll be teaching. 'I've had two kids since I started climbing,' Naputi says, 'and the sport fits in with the family lifestyle.' Now 3 and 2 years old, her kids are already climbing. 'My daughter brings her Barbies,' she adds, 'and makes them do pull-ups and push-ups.'

Naputi is married to a climber, Hughes to an endurance athlete. The two women climb together three or four times each week at Boulders or Devil's Lake, and travel west three or four times a year to climb. The duo have just returned from a foray to Red Rocks, the Nevada climbing hot spot.

As partners in teaching the class for women over 40, they hope to provide a forum where students can find climbing partners with whom to pursue the sport.

'The sport requires a partner,' Hughes notes ' someone to belay you, to take up the slack in your rope in case you fall, and to arrest your fall if you do lose contact with the rock.

'Anne and I have met a lot of interesting women, high-end climbers who have gotten to be friends,' says Naputi.

'The climbing is key in our friendship,' Hughes observes.

Women over 40 climb the walls

When: 6:30-8:30 pm Mondays and Wednesdays, March 26-April 11

Where: Boulders Climbing Gym, 3964 Commercial Ave.

Details: $96 per student includes rental of climbing harness, shoes and other gear, plus one-month Boulders membership upon completion of class.

To register: phone Boulders at 244-8100. For more information, phone Anne Hughes at 260-0979.

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