Britain’s greatest female climber, the double World Cup champion, Shauna Coxsey, is in Las Vegas at the moment. Playing roulette, in her own way. Not at the tables in some thick-carpeted, neon-lit, casino but halfway up a boulder on some desert-skirting rock, possibly perched on a jetty of stone about the size of a thimble. Will she, won’t she, fall off? That sort of roulette. And this, mark you, is what she does for relaxation.
This is a holiday, in a camper van, with boyfriend Ned, a former competitive climber himself. The rest of the time she is globe-trotting, competing or training, one of the very first professional British climbers and a monumentally successful one given her results in 2014. She won two World Cups this year, one of them in Austria where climbing is so revered as a sport that her performance on a man-made wall, constructed in the main square in Innsbruck, was cheered by thousands of worshipping locals chanting her name.
“That’s why we go to America to go rock climbing outdoors for seven weeks. That’s our idea of down time. I like to push myself, trying to improve my skill and technique on rock. It seems like a break from training. Balancing myself halfway up a rock face is my idea of a holiday. Sometimes I use ropes but bouldering is climbing without ropes, so mainly not.
Coxsey is nominated for the BT Sport Action Woman of the Year Award
“It’s a little bit dangerous but luckily Ned can catch me. He does really high, scary stuff but I tend not to go too high. When he does that, I’m looking the other way. I can’t watch. I get too scared.”
But the fear vibe is not a prominent when you meet her. The 21-year-old from Runcorn became a resolute convert to climbing at the age of three having watched a television film about a female French free climber (essentially the practice of ascending without ropes). She was gripped and inspired. Nothing has dissuaded her since, even a broken leg in 2012. She is one of only four women in the world who have reached the official grade of ‘V14’, which the non-aficionado can be assured is sensational in bouldering terms.
“I’ve never wavered in my choice. It’s not very normal to decide so young what you want to do but I think climbing is more of a lifestyle than anything else. It’s not just a sport. It takes over your life. I’m a climber through and through. What I do in life revolves around climbing 24/7. 100%. By the time I’ve slept, eaten, competed and trained there’s not a lot of time to do anything else.