Updated: Oct 8, 2020
Emily Taylor has many accomplishments under her belt, aside from personal physical feats, she’s coached some of the top climbers in the nation to establishing world championship titles and is actively invested in her immediate community with her work as a sports diversity advocate and coach. These accolades barely scrape the surface of the experiences she has to share with us in her continued journey to seek better overall wellness and extend it to others.
Emily's pronouns are she/her. She's the founder of TayloredFit Solutions here in the East Bay. Her company designs programs for athletes, schools and companies, as Emily is a experiential facilitator, educator and a pioneer in designing climbing programs for the adaptive climbing community going back 20+ years. You can contact her at her email at the bottom of the article. (Our featured photographers: Michael Estrada and Lanisha Blount.)
These COVID days, Emily maintains her foundation by hopping on the trainer for some cycling indoors and completing a yoga session during the day. She orchestrates quite the routine between entertaining writers and interviewers, most recently including NPR, home-schooling her ten year old daughter, keeping the wheels turning on her projects (such as Brown Girls Climbing) and balancing what she’s pointed to as four components that make up good health: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. On defining the vision of herself at her healthiest state, she answers, “I’m still seeking that constantly. I think it’s a combination of growth and openness and vulnerability that creates my healthiest state for me. When I have all those working together...even with COVID going on and the fires going on and racism going on I still feel like I’m in this position of amazing gratitude and wealth in regards to [mental health especially].”
On left, photo by Michael Estrada; On right: Brown Girls Climbing at first USA Climbing competition-2019 Photo by: Marvella Smith-BGC mom
Our chat is done in this era of new realities, set to the backdrop of a global pandemic, racial discord, and more recently the California wildfires, engulfing centuries old redwoods in Big Basins Redwoods State Park and including the LNU complex fires, the third largest in California history. Pile on economic turmoil, 2020 has been a relentless year. In the face of adversity, individuals like Emily ascend to increase the level of interaction between herself and the community.
“It’s an opportunistic moment, and I’m not going to lie. And God rest all of their souls right now. It lies much on Breonna Taylor and George Floyd...as to the reason why everybody right now...and our voices…[my voice] the voice that has been the voice of opposition for thirty years in climbing, now they’re like ‘uh. Okay, ouch, we gotta listen’. And so I’m gonna create these opportunities [and] open these doors for the next generation before I gotta go.”
Emily’s newest big project is Brown Girls Climbing, a program open to self identified girls ages 6-16 to find healing and growth in the sport and in movement outside. It’s no easy task to lead young athletes of varying abilities, but coaching comes almost second nature to Emily these days. She’s spent the bulk of two decades doing just that. She relishes driving her van of eager climbers to outdoor climbing locations, creating a community and space around her daughter, as she re-learns what the young, brown, female experience is like in our community. These excursions are not without new problems: setting up outdoor spaces without her own brick and mortar to depend on or establishing opportunities when adaptive gear is not available or designed for kids with disabilities, kids on the spectrum. It might seem simple and outdoor gear designed for women is becoming commonplace. But even essential gear, helmets for instance, do not always “fit all”. Though many of us may never need to think about the firmness of a crash pad limiting our ability to approach the base of a wall, or altering a climbing harness to practice a beloved sport without compromising safety, these holes in accessibility serve as a barrier to experiences for diverse populations.
This is the “adventure gap”. The adventure gap brings about a call for action to find role models in outdoor spaces who can inspire the uninitiated and ignite the love of the outdoors. The description aptly states, “This is important because as our country grows increasingly multicultural, our natural legacy will need the devotion of people of all races and ethnicities to steward its care.”
James Edward Mills coined terminology for describing this gap to spark action in BIPOC leaders to take to the outdoors, to lead by example and create inviting spaces where our diverse communities can foster their relationship to the wilderness and healing outdoors. Just as play grows increasingly important in treating kids on the spectrum or other behavioral, psychosocial disorders, the outdoor space is conducive leading to a healthier more fulfilled life.
Emily is animated and expressive when she talks about her work in climbing and experiencing youthful purity of joy again through a different lens in bringing movement to people who may have otherwise never tried the sport. Her days of coaching now world class climber, Kai Lightner, who is forthright about his struggle with ADHD, are memories of observing his abilities and needs from the periphery then meeting him with a format of coaching that served him. For Kai, it meant painfully detailed written instructions that were condensed onto laminated cards with the help of his mom.
“My job is to illuminate [what skills you have]. I’m a code breaker,” Emily describes her coaching approach, “it applies to everything I do whether I’m working with someone who’s autistic and hiking or someone who’s a pro-climber...I feel like that came to me as a learned process...when I went to seek for help and guidance and education, everything was written by all men, as far as climbing was concerned, and that didn’t apply to me...they were written by all white people, which also didn’t apply to me.”
If you’ve taken a peek at climbing, you’ll see that it’s an extremely technical sport. (If you’ve got a UKClimbing account, you can check to see how comprehensive and dry the instructions and guides can be.) Though lower level bouldering requires minimal equipment, bigger adventures and increasingly difficult climbs require not only extensive training and experience, but also the necessary equipment. Emily’s six day, silently grueling ascent of The Nose in Yosemite required her to carry supplies (that weigh triple digits on the scale) and live on the sheer side of a cliff for six days. And when she finally made it to the top, the first black woman to do so, she took a mere three hours to get down--not without tearing a muscle, but she wouldn’t even notice it until after she touched down.
Love of movement is the key to her success both as a coach and an athlete. “You have to really want it,” she recalls the dirtiness of the climb, dodging the waste of climbers from above, hands that have merged with iron for too many hours and forgoing showers for a week. Emily describes climbing as moving with flow, feeling each push and pull, and spending a lot of time in a unique solitude.
She discovered climbing later than most and was surprised to be naturally attuned to it, especially having not been deemed the typical “athlete” all her life. Maybe less surprisingly, she’s recently discovered she’s a natural when it comes to dancing, too. It all flows. These flowy-serendipitous revelations are not to be confused with her coaching style--she still has the structure, firmness, and tenacity that comes with growing up with a dad in the Marines.
“The first [lesson] is have fun. [From] the first lesson in the number one climber in the US...to someone who just walked into my door. Because it doesn’t mean just have fun...How are you showing up?” Emily begins to tell me what makes up her fundamentals to training and to life. She’s evidently stern when it comes to quiet, conscious, firm, deliberate foot placement on a climb. It translates well to her nuggets of wisdom, “It’s not just about just looking at your feet. It’s about standing in your foundation and your foundation being firm and strong and not moving until your foundation is strong...if you constantly move from a weak foundation, it’s going to create other areas of exacerbation and then, you [fall apart].” With the reminder of the social discourse and unrest that exists while we talk, she inspires us to think about what type of foundation we mean to set for the future generations.
It’s impossible to talk about health, access to means for better health, and outdoor adventures without bringing in conversations of race and racial disparities. Awareness, claiming to feel empathy, is good but simply not enough. We need greater involvement from BIPOC and allied communities to change public lands, outdoor spaces and adventures to a welcoming experience for more people.
Emily speaks on the visceral emotions that she identifies with when it comes to seeing white faces holding the rope that suspends a black bodies--this is, to loosely describe what happens in the climbing gym. She reminds us that terms like “biner” (pronounced BEEN-er) and “whipper” are only some examples of the language that is callously tossed around even today. There is a history of colonialist language in a white, male dominant arena of climbing and outdoor spaces, but this is not to say there is no room for change.
Climbing is a dynamic puzzle-solving, physically challenging and fun sport. It offers some of the best ways to improve core stability, develops greater problem solving ability, and is linked to improvements with physical and mental health. The sport continues to grow and attract a wider array of enthusiasts who perhaps help in expanding the meaning of inclusiveness in climbing.
Underserved populations surely include those outside of the able-bodied communities, but inclusiveness is a “yes-and” situation. It is important that we examine which communities need us now and why focusing on specific changes, like dismantling oppressive systems limiting BIPOC communities, are leading conversations today. It is time to lay a new foundation with intention.
We are allowed to examine the intricate relationships we have within our social circles, to find our relationship to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Then, it is our duty to bring our active learning and skill sets outside of that bubble, to share it and uplift networks that are different from us. When investment in our communities becomes part of our narrative, we can expand the capacity for individuals to find movement that brings them greater joy and perpetuate a culture that not only strives for better health, but one that caters to caring for the environment that surrounds them.
“We need you outside,” Emily says with authority, “Black girls need you outside.”
So go and have fun (responsibly), gain experiences and find your version of healthy. Just remember to make efforts in welcoming those beyond your familiar circle, listening to their stories, and fighting for a more inclusive future.
You can contact Emily directly via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Listener Disclaimer: Language
Listen to A Chat With Emily Taylor Pt 1
on our Project Green Beard Sound Bites
We cover tips on coaching, race and climbing, and what changes we want to see in the community.
Listener Disclaimer: Language
Listen to A Chat With Emily Taylor Pt 2
on our Project Green Beard Sound Bites
We cover her experience with climbing The Nose at El Cap and her take on how to attain "healthy".
The following exercises featured in the article are common recommendations from our training/physical therapy team, but they are not to be used as prescriptive movements. Each reader should be advised to seek care from a primary physician or licensed therapist if they are experiencing notable pain/discomfort, and to be advised to practice safely if they choose to try the exercises without supervision.
Emily has described euphoria when it comes to muscle activation in yoga positions where the spine falls into place. For Emily, we’ve chosen to share some stretches and exercises that focus on spinal mobility and alignment, specifically with respect to the upper, mid, and lower back and the hips.
Our model here is Hannah Lerch. Hannah is a yoga instructor and dear friend. You can join her online donation-based yoga sessions from her website: http://www.hannahlerch.com/
Emily’s Favorite: The Bow Pose (We have modified this move to be spinal fusion friendly.)
Alternative options include: The Cobra Pose and (versions of) The Locust Pose
The Cobra Pose begins with the body rested on the floor. Bring the palms by the ribs and while maintaining core and leg muscle engagement, gently lift the shoulders off the ground. Gaze remains soft and neck remains neutral.
The Locust Pose begins in the same rested positions but the arms extend back towards the toes. Though the arms and legs can both lift, the goal is to lengthen. So try to keep naval drawn to spine!
For more yoga routines and classes, you can check out Hannah's website!
The Upper Back
Upper Trap Stretch: Place one hand behind the back (palm facing away from the body). Place the opposite hand gently up and over the head, finger tips towards the opposite ear. Sit/stand very upright then slowly and gently bring the ear to shoulder (away from the arm that's behind your back). Hold in a comfortable stretch for 30 seconds. Slowly release to neutral and repeat 2-3 times.
Pec Stretch on Long Foam Roller: Sit towards one end of the foam roller (lay down with your spine lengthwise and feet planted for stability). Take a deep breath. Bring your low back towards the foam roller. When ready, bring the back of your hands up and down along the floor (touching the floor) like you are making snow angels. Perform slowly with shoulders away from the ears for 2 minutes.
Feeling stable? You can also try holding your arms in 90 degree angles at the shoulder and elbow, like an open book, and opening and closing. Perform slowly for 1 minute.
Cervical Isometrics: Needing a little attention at the neck? Use two fingers, place them on the temple, then act as if you are bringing your head into those fingers--but use your fingers to resist against your neck working. Think of your hand as a wall.
Isometric means you can't actually see movement! You'll also place your hand on your forehead and resist the "nodding" motion, and hand behind your head to resist the "bringing head back" motion. These are very gentle exercises to be done about 10 seconds at a time, twice through. Discontinue if it brings discomfort.
The Mid Back
Thoracic Mobility in Quadruped: Hands under the shoulders, knees under the hips, and core engaged on the ground, we begin by placing one hand with fingers by the ear (same side). Bring that raised elbow towards the ground under your chest, then open up to bring it towards the sky/ceiling. Move slowly, exhaling as you open up. Repeat at least four times on each side, spending times where the move feels good.
Threading the needle Beginning again on all fours, raise one hand then reach it past the mid-line, under your torso, sliding the pinky across the ground. Exhale as you reach. Rest the shoulder of the reaching arm on the floor if it is comfortable. (To progress, wrap the supporting arm across the back.) Feel free to stay in the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat twice before switching sides.
The Lower Back
Option 1: Figure 4 (You can do this almost anywhere.) Laying on your back, feet planted, lift one ankle to place on the opposite knee. You can stay here if it's comfortable, or reach your hands to grab onto the thigh (of the foot still on the ground) and bring the leg towards the chest for a deeper stretch.
Option 2: Supine (Knee Up and Over) Laying on your back, extend your arms and legs (shoulder width). Take a deep breath, bring your knee up, grabbing hold with your opposite hand, gently pressing it down in the direction of the opposite base of the rib cage/shoulder. Use the other arm as support--the hips and shoulders are pressed on the ground. Deep breaths for 30 seconds, gently reset and repeat. Two-three times on both sides.
Double Knee to Chest This is a simple and yummy stretch. Bring your palms to the backs of your thighs and gently hug it into your chest. Deep breaths as you imagine space between the vertebrae and relax and lengthen. Slow release. 30 seconds in the position, two times.
Check Your Hips
Thomas Stretch: Sitting all day is bothering your low back and hips? Lay on the edge of a firm surface (a firm bed or couch with less give or a bench) with both shoulders supported, and hips stable on the surface. Bring your low back into the surface, engaging the core. With the planted foot firmly "grounded", the other leg will slowly hang off the side of the supporting surface. You can either plant the foot or have toes pointing towards the ground--whichever feels more comfortable for your body. You want to feel the stretch in the hip or the top of your thigh (quads). If you feel your low back arching, bring it back down to neutral or flat. 30 seconds twice on both legs will do the trick!
Hip Dissociation Need to reset your hips? On all fours, hands are under the shoulders and knees under the hips. Imagine your back as a very flat table holding a glass, and you want to slide the table backwards. So you draw your glutes towards your heels without tilting the table. You may want to start with small movements (not yet hitting your heels) and progress to further range of motion.
IT Band Standing Stretch Standing with a wall to your side. Place your palm on the wall for support. Bring the leg closer to the wall in front and across your stance. With both feet now planted and in this new stance, lean the torso towards the wall. Hips draw away from the wall. Keep your hips and shoulders perpendicular to the wall. The stretch should be across the side of your hip/leg (in the leg further from the wall). Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat two to three times on both sides.
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