For Kati Hetrick, climbing gave her more than just buff muscles and a nice tan—it gave her confidence, an identity, and a career that she believes in. In this week’s Climber Spotlight, Kati shares her story:
How did you get started climbing? Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.
I started climbing when I was 13 at a local gym called Peak Experiences. In the late 90’s it was the largest gym on the east coast and it was only a 40 minute walk from my house. When I turned 15 I bought a beat up moped to cut the trip down to 10 minutes. Efficiency (or laziness depending on who you talk to) has always been a strong suit.
I joined the team as one of two girls on a 15-person climbing team and competed in this little organization called the JCCA, which later become known as USA Climbing (you may or may not have heard of it).
Competitive climbing was young in the east and so was I, so it was a perfect match. I quickly became a big fish in a little pond, which gave me an unhealthy dose of confidence, which, for a middle class suburban homeschooler was rare. After I graduated high school (no my dad wasn’t my principal and I didn’t graduate in my house), I moved away from home and took up other sports for a number of years, including mountain biking, trail running, whitewater kayaking, and surfing—and even traveled for a bit overseas in Thailand.
While I loved expanding my sports horizon, I inevitably would also end up falling back into climbing from time to time. It was, after all, my first love and I couldn’t quite quit it entirely.
In 2011 my dog, my running buddy and constant companion tragically died. I was heartbroken, as any red blooded, dog loving human would be, and threw myself back into the only thing as familiar as that pup and those trails: climbing.
I spent a lot of time training at my old stomping ground and got pretty good again. At the same time my roommate, Brent, the brains behind the Dominion Boulder Bash Competition in Richmond, was just coming up with the idea to put it on. He asked me if I’d compete,
you know, so the pro’s would have someone to beat.
I made him promise it wouldn’t be a complete massacre and reluctantly agreed. I trained my ass off and took it seriously, I didn’t after all, want to get totally stomped. I was really into health and nutrition at the time and learned a lot about balancing a proper diet with training and (shall I admit this?) cutting an appropriate amount of weight without losing power (more on this at another time as it a bit of a taboo topic).
I got jacked and tan and showed up to the comp in the best shape of my life. Oddly enough I ended up not doing so bad, which lead to a pretty large support system of friends convincing me to actually give the comp thing a shot—which I did for about 2 years and placed pretty well at most of them. The experience was a whirlwind of new friends, opportunities, networking, sponsorships, and a big move to Colorado.
Overall it was a great chance to learn a lot about what it’s like to be sponsored athlete and the pressures of competition, which ultimately gave me the understanding I needed to create my company, RedPoint Consulting. Now I get to draw from those experiences as well as my business background to help athletes—much more talented athletes than me—maintain a sustainable career for a longer period of time.
Once I got my business up and running, I moved to Las Vegas, NV so I could climb outside after work and spend my days by the pool. That was a year and a half ago and I’ve loved every minute of it.
What kind of climber are you? Boulder, sport, trad, alpine, ice? A mix of everything?
I competed as a boulderer but grew up sport climbing in the New River Gorge. I like to flip flop between them and with the season, Vegas is pretty perfect for that. This past year I started to take up trad climbing because that’s what you do when you get old and I plan to be a very old badass trad climbing lady one day … they’re so much cooler than young trad climbers. #respect
What aspect of climbing are you the most drawn to? The lifestyle, the physicality, the mental aspects, the challenge?
I love it all. The community of climbing was the first thing I was drawn to. Being a homeschool kid gave me a uniquely flexible schedule and with the gym so close, I’d usually spend a great deal of time doing homework and climbing there until my friends got out of school and met me for practice.
A majority of my middle school and high school career was spent with a community of weirdos like me in a dusty 90’s climbing gym. It gave me a sense of confidence and, more importantly, an identity, which is hard to come by when you’re home schooled and 14.
When I got older the community aspect was still as important, but it’s been a great place to challenge myself both mentally and physically. Because remaining integrated in the community is what makes me valuable as a consultant to companies like prAna and Red Bull, it motivates me to stay connected and find ways to inspire others to stay connected.
I’ve also fallen in love with telling stories in climbing. Social media has opened up a world of possibilities where the everyday and professional climbers alike, can share their experiences with the global community around them through images and videos. I love waking up everyday and scrolling through inspiring images and then carefully picking ones to post myself. Sharing is caring.
If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner climber, what would it be?
Those things at the bottom of your legs, they’re called feet. Use them.
If you could give one piece of advice to a V15/5.15 experienced climber, what would it be?
Share your stories with us, we’re your fans and you inspire us to push the limits. We don’t want to hear about your latest first ascent from someone else, even your belayer, we want to hear about it from YOU. Thats why we sit at our office desks all day stalking your Instagram and Facebook.
We want to feel connected with you and be invited along the journey so we can celebrate in your success with you, and also feel the struggle and support you when it doesn’t work out. This is all, of course, assuming you’re already sponsored—if not email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is one of your proudest climbing achievements?
For bouldering it’s Americana Exotica (V10) in Gateway Canyon. It was the first V10 I ever contemplated trying but it took me two years before I could actually get back to it seriously. It’s such a beautiful line and the rock is gorgeous. Its also hella hard.
For sport, Playboy (no idea what the grade is, 7a+?) on Ton Sai Beach in Thailand. It was more the moment of the send then the actual climb itself. It was right on the beach at low tide while the sun was setting (I know, barf). It had taken me a fair amount of time to work out the moves. When it went down there was a small crowd of onlookers all laying on the beach cheering me up the thing. Clipping the draws felt like Christmas of ‘95.
What is one of your not-so-proud moments in climbing?
I put rocks in Lynn Hill’s chalk bag at the Rock Master d’Arco in ’97. I just wanted to win so badly.
If you could change one thing about the climbing industry, what would it be?
Nothing. Everything in this sport is a beautiful mess and if it was perfect it wouldn’t be interesting.
We thank Kati for sharing her story with honesty and a passion that makes us all want to go climbing. Best of luck in your future endeavors, Kati! To learn more about Kati Hetrick, check out her Instagram and Facebook page.