Words by: Jill Macdonald | Photos by: Dano Pendygrasse & Drew Smith

Rituals are beginnings. Regardless of context, they are meant to prepare, providing familiar actions we can perform without thinking to take us into an anticipated state of being. We rely on these rituals, at some moments more than at others.

Brette Harrington and Vikki Weldon are the kind of women the rest of us admire, for their fearlessness, honesty and physical surety. They strive, push and admit to frustration. Both use rituals to prepare and to regain focus if its slips. They shared the importance of their rituals and how these rituals work to sync mind with body, reality with objective.

Brette Harrington, climber. In itself, that is an understatement. Brette solos routes that put the fear in average hardcore climbers. It’s challenging to imagine where she goes since photographs don’t include wind, cold or heat. We see exposed and wild places, yet the experience of complete solitude, hundreds of metres up in the air, impossible distances from anyone you love or rely on; that cannot be communicated in pixels.

Photo: Drew Smith
Photo: Drew Smith

What does she do that allows her to be so free of earthly concerns?

Brette: One of my most basic pre-climbing rituals has to do with settling the mind and connecting it with the body. A mental warm up, to say.

There are various ways to go about this, but the trick is to guide with the body, not with the mind. I almost always stretch my hands first because I find they give me the most sensation, or my ankles because I have had injuries in the past which has built my mental connection to listening to them.

Allowing each muscle or tendon to stretch itself as needed, I extend my arms down towards the ground and spread my fingers wide. There is tension in my forearm as I arch my wrist backwards. I stop at its threshold and breathe, perhaps retract a bit to let things relax. Then I begin a slow pulsing motion with my hand, letting the blood and oxygen flow, slowly warming up so I can pull the stretch down into my fingers. Often this is enough to settle my mind to be ready for the climb, but if my body still feels tense I move the stretch up through my arm and into my shoulders, or wherever else I feel needs to be relaxed.

For me, it’s typically not necessary to spend all morning doing this, but just a simple 10 minutes will do the trick. When I am done, I feel quite calm and ready to climb.

Photo: Dano Pendygrasse

Vikki Weldon, climber & nurse. This gal thrives on pushing thresholds – of achievement, defeat and compassion. Her balance to the emotional challenges of nursing sick children is climbing.

Vikki: I grew up climbing in the Canadian Rockies near Calgary. I started out as a competition and sport climber. To this day, my drive lies predominantly in pushing myself to my absolute physical limit on hard rock climbs. I enjoy the process of finding a route that inspires me and initially defeats me completely. Where I can’t do a single move in the beginning, but over time I learn the moves, I become stronger, and I go through an entire mental and physical process to finally complete the route.

Photo: Dano Pendygrasse

My purpose in this world is being a registered nurse. My specialization is pediatrics at BC Children’s Hospital. The job is tough, and incredible. The two (nursing and climbing) make me complete.

Photo: Dano Pendygrasse

Funnily enough, this very accomplished person describes herself as “very scattered, mentally. I find that if I focus too much on purposely calming myself, my anxiety increases and my mind goes chatty.” What does she do? “I concentrate on my breathing. It helps me focus on what is immediately in front of me. Mentally, if I run into any trouble, I shut off my brain by picturing the sequences. The only physical rituals that work for me are rubbing the bottoms of my shoes to remove dirt and grime. Touching them brings me to the present. It rids me of thoughts, worries and ideas.”

Photo: Dano Pendygrasse

Association is powerful; power eliminates obstacles, letting energy flow and turning that into movement. High level athletes can’t afford any loss of connection between mind and muscle memory. Brette: Another grand part of my ritual is visualization. This happens either right before, or in the midst of a climb. I break down the route into its individual moves. If I can picture the movements it is a good sign I will send the climb.

Vikki: My right shoe goes on first. Always. Anything else is just wrong, and I have to start over.

Photo: Dano Pendygrasse

Rituals get us going. Prepare the ground, ignite the match. They shrink the future and resize it into a foreseeable sequence. We will never truly know the depths of Vikki’s elation or despair as she tends to the most vulnerable, or hangs from the end of a rope completely exhausted and frustrated. Just as we will not ascend to the heights and aloneness of Brette’s pursuits, but we cheer them on as they summon the fortitude to carry on.

It’s fine to sit and think, but most often we must move to complete any thought. Rituals give us the incentive. Otherwise whatever we are thinking is just an idea, not a story.

What are your pre-sport rituals? Share your rituals with us, no matter how quirky or unheard of using #ritualsshared. Check out the gallery blog.arcteryx.com/rituals.