International paraclimber Anoushé Husain champions the truth: that everyone should have opportunity to reach their potential, and not be limited by characteristics like their gender, faith, race or disability. No-one should be told what they should – or shouldn’t – do because of other people’s or society’s perceptions.
Anoushé co-founded the group Paraclimbing London, competes internationally for the Luxembourg paraclimbing team, and was recently named as one of the UK’s most influential disabled people by the Shaw Trust. She’s also a Guinness World Record holder for the furthest distance climbed one-handed in one hour. In this episode we talk creating community, chronic illness, the freedom of climbing and aiming for improbable goals.
Finding Our Way podcast champions diverse outdoor voices and is proudly sponsored by Berghaus.
A Quick Chat with Anoushé…
Why do love climbing?
I’m disabled and I have chronic health conditions. But I’m a climber first and the climbing wall has become my respite from my health life. I love being a climber because the community is so awesome. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which means the blueprint I have to produce collagen is wrong. In my case, my connective tissues are loose and stretchy, so my joints can spontaneously dislocate. Climbing and movement can really help me manage my pain and the sensory contact of climbing means I’m less likely to extend my joints beyond their safe movement range. Generally, the endorphins from movement really, really help.
The great thing about climbing is that there are so many different climbs available. You've got your slab, your vertical, your overhang, you've then got the grades, you can Boulder, Top Rope, Lead or Second. So it doesn't matter how you're feeling on a given day, there's probably going to be something for you. And even if you don't want to climb, just meeting other people at the climbing wall and sitting and watching is still good for you, socially and psychologically.
You say the climbing community can be very welcoming. Are there any things able-bodied allies should be mindful of?
Spraying Beta, where you’re giving someone unsolicited advice, is a no-no. I've had it where people can’t see I don’t have a right hand because my arm is in front of me on the climbing wall. So they haven't quite twigged that there is half an arm missing and they're going, 'Well, why don't you just reach out with your right hand?' And I'm going, ‘Hmm, not really an option!'. I’ve seen visually impaired climbers be told to look for the next hold. People with hidden disabilities get sprayed the most.
Ask whether the person wants advice or not. Why don't we just watch and be patient? Oh, and don’t stare!
You recently trained for – and succeeded – in gaining a new world record for maximum distance climbed one-handed in one hour. How did the record attempt change your training and mindset?
My life has changed in the last two years in ways I don't think any of us could have predicted medically. There's been a lot of grief and trauma. And so for me, the Guinness World Record attempt was an extreme way of finding normality. It’s so repetitive and focused, and the only thing that’s changing is you. You’re like an onion. As you get more fatigued and mentally drained and less resilient and more emotional, those onion layers start peeling. And you get to find your true essence. You get to find that thing inside you that makes you, you. You’ve peeled away all the bull, all the stress. You get to know yourself on a level that I don't think very many people do. For the first time in my life I understand why people get addicted to ultramarathons!
You’ve been described as ‘inspirational’. Is that an honour or a burden?
It's a weird word, isn't it? When I first started getting called inspirational, I really struggled. I didn't want to own it. And it's a loaded word for disabled people, because often they get called inspired for doing really normal things, like getting out of bed. For somebody who's gone through an extreme amount of hardship –well, for them to get up and go to work can be extremely inspiring, sure. But for me, not really. So why are people saying it's inspiring? It’s diminishing my identity, it's dehumanising.
I like it when I'm actually inspiring - to the point where somebody has done something about it. A little while ago, somebody came up to me at the climbing centre and said, 'I heard you talk four years ago, and as a consequence of that I decided to take up paddleboarding. And I love it. And I found an amazing community of friends. And it's because of you that I decided to go try something new.' Do you know what? That is inspiring.
Because that’s what I'm seeking to do. To get people to realise when they have self-limiting beliefs. And to come out of that and go, 'Actually I can do things, the world is my oyster.' Or, ‘I’m being stigmatised by society and I don't believe in myself because of what other people have said to me. I'm going to stop listening to that and I'm going to go out and reach my own potential’. How do you discover what your potential is? Go beyond your comfort zone, try something and find out for yourself.
What does climbing mean to you?
Links we mention in the episode:
FIND OUT MORE: Paraclimbing London
Good information about Islam:
WATCH: Official film of Anoushé’s Guinness World Record climb
LISTEN: Anoushe’s ‘Guinness song’
BUY: Tthe Guinness World Record book 2023
Finding Our Way is sponsored by Berghaus, and hosted by BMC walking ambassador Mary-Ann Ochota. Our editor is Chris Stone.
Get involved with the conversation – share your thoughts on @teamBMC on Instagram and twitter with the hashtag #FindingOurWay
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Finding Our Way is the new BMC podcast where our guests are as diverse as the outdoors should be.
Hosted by BMC Hillwalking Ambassador and TV Broadcaster Mary-Ann Ochota and Expedition Leader and equity champion Cress Allwood, the podcasts aims to diversify the people we normally hear talking about the outdoors, celebrate their stories and shine a light on their insights.
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