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.

Shauna Coxsey is nominated for the BT Sport Action Woman of the Year Award

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.

“I suppose I’m quite a fan of baking - classic things like carrot cake - but there’s no way I’d go on Great British Bake Off. I use all my competitiveness up on climbing. Although my family might say otherwise.”

When she’s not living with Ned in Sheffield, she shares a home with her eldest sister (one of five older sisters) and her brother-in-law just outside Liverpool.  “I wouldn’t be able to move out. No way. There isn’t any money in the sport. I know I’ll never be well-off but that’s not why you do it. You do it for the passion and love of it. I’m one of the first professional climbers in this country so it’s new territory. It’s exciting. You don’t know if things are going to work out or not.

“My sister brought me up. My father moved out when I was quite young and my mother moved away when I was seven. To move with her would have meant I’d have to stop climbing and my sister said I could stay with her instead. I’m still quite close to my Dad. Sometimes some of my family come and watch me, but whether they have the time or not, all my sisters and my brother are supportive.”

It’s incredible to see that there are so many women in the sport who want to have an impact."

Shauna Coxsey

So great is the rigour of training that she needs 12 hours of sleep a night, which leaves little time to do much else but her sport and throwing together the odd carrot cake. Nevertheless, she worried about whether she should go to University instead of taking up the sport full-time.  “When I first became a climber I felt a little bit like I wasn’t using my brain enough. But instead I formed a company with a friend called the Women’s Climbing Company and we run a sell-out symposium every year.

“I’ve realised that climbing is such a male dominated sport and women face such a lot of barriers in it, so we kind of get women together and try to overcome them. It’s changing. Definitely. When I was younger I didn't really appreciate that the sport WAS male dominated. I didn’t know any different, as I always climbed with men and stuff. But definitely there this massive difference now to the way it was 15 years ago. It’s incredible to see that there are so many women in the sport who want to have an impact. It’s really exciting.

“There’s no reason why women can’t be brilliant climbers. They have the skill and dexterity. Everything. I just think it was the disparity in numbers before. The sport is developing for women and that’s not going to change.

“I’d like to go on being a climber for many, many more years. It’s made me feel incredible to know that I can push myself and be at the top of my sport in bouldering and on rocks. There’s still woman in their 40’s out there making World Cup Finals and I’m 21, so I’ve got a long time left.”

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