Climber Nina Williams is just one of the many North Face athletes looking to challenge the outdoor industry to redefine what is "normal". The North Face photo.
The year 2020 has been anything but normal. Instead, it feels like we've been thrown one curveball after another: a global pandemic, catastrophic wildfires and hurricanes, and civil unrest are just a few to name. It's safe to say that all of this hasn't been easy, but if there's any silver lining from this year, it's that we can come together and move forward. For the North Face, that means redefining the idea of normalcy. Instead of reverting to our old ways, the brand asks how we can pivot and grow from these adversities. Their new campaign, Reset Normal, will leverage the North Face's Explore Fund Council to bring athletes, nonprofits, and innovators together to push the outdoors to become even more accessible and inclusive. Jimmy Chin and an award-winning director, writer, actor, and producer, Lena Waithe are at the forefront of this new initiative, and we're expecting big things to come from their collaboration.
Also joining Chin and Waithe are the rest of the North Face athlete team. For climber Nina Williams, she is excited to redefine the idea of normal. She sees it as a unique opportunity for the outdoor community to grow and challenge old norms. She's already thinking of ways to give back to the climbing community and break down barriers for underrepresented demographics. We sat down with Williams to hear more about the new campaign and how it's shaping her goals for the year. Here's what she had to say:
What excites you about the North Face’s “Reset Normal” campaign?
Nina Williams: I'm excited about the community-wide calls to action! This campaign feels particularly interactive between TNF, us as athletes, and our respective sports audiences. It's really cool that everyone is able and encouraged to participate in some way.
What does the idea “Reset Normal” mean to you?
NW: 'Reset Normal' means thinking about what normal meant for me in the first place. I asked myself what was lacking in my life, how I could give back, and where might some potential blind spots be in terms of personal privilege. These questions spurred change in my life by reframing my definition of normal.
What are some of your goals for 2021, in regards to this new initiative?
NW: I'm looking forward to sharing the knowledge I've accumulated through years of leading workshops and coaching clients. I plan on synthesizing these experiences with my current studies in communication and leadership management from CU Boulder. I'll be taking on a formalized role within some upcoming mentor programs by training aspiring mentors in discourse strategies that I've found helpful for myself. My overall goal is to continue learning about mentorship and how to invite these moments into my own life.
From your 19 years of climbing experience, what have you noticed to be lacking within the climbing community and how do we address those gaps?
NW: Climbing is largely based on hierarchy; there's a quantitative nature of scaleable grades, speed records, and summits. These hierarchies create elitism. The bigger your numbers (or smaller, for speed) the better you are. Accomplishments become the person while everything else (their affect, upbringing, privileges, community involvement, ability to connect) are afterthoughts. Our sense of self is tied to numbers. But what if we stopped focusing so much on the numbers? Of course, climbing is a sport and I'm not discounting physical achievements. It's obviously noteworthy when someone sends V16, 5.15, frees the Nose in a day, or shaves minutes off a record. But climbing is also much more than a sport: it's a lifestyle, a way of being.
This sentiment was echoed long before I started climbing. If we focus more on that lifestyle, on the people that make up climbing communities, on their real-life stories outside of climbing itself: the struggles, the underdogs, the times of failure and redemption... then numbers won't matter so much. As more people are given opportunities to share their stories, others might do the same. I'd honestly rather read about someone who put months or years of effort into a goal, someone who can speak about how their life choices affected their climbing, their hardships, and what they learned overall, as opposed to someone who sent their hardest project and tells nothing of the process itself.
The 'process' being more than just the climb; it is the narrative that reflects the climber's philosophy on life. The climbing community is lacking fresh philosophical narratives from climbers of different backgrounds. We can address this by seeking out the story-tellers, amplifying their experiences, and encouraging others to do the same. I believe this will help create more of a 'quality over quantity' culture.
One actionable suggestion, aside from the blanket realm of mentorship, would be more writing/speaking/personal development workshops from brands and media companies who can essentially tutor people on how to meaningfully examine their life experiences, connect those lessons to their sport, and share with their respective communities.
Diversity is a pertinent issue within action sports right now. In your opinion, how can we make these sports more accessible to everyone?
NW: Representation, financial support, and genuine inclusivity. First, the outdoor industry can increase accessibility through greater representation of marginalized groups, not only in their advertisements and athlete teams but also internally, from retail employees through C-suite positions. People are more likely to join and stick with a sport if there are others that look like them; it's visual psychology.
Second, money is a practical issue. Distributing financial resources towards initiatives dedicated to increased representation and participation will create more opportunities for access.
Third, diversity is nothing without inclusivity. A group can appear diverse, but how are all members being truly included? How do they feel? This ties back to hierarchical priorities, changing exclusivity culture, and fostering moments of mentorship. Befriend folks different from you who are new to the sport. Listen to their stories, get to know them as people. Perhaps offer advice (if asked) but also ask a lot of questions and encourage them to learn for themselves. Diversity is surface-level; inclusivity is where true access is granted.
Like Williams, Alex Honnold plans to rethink what normal means for him and the outdoors. The North Face photo.
Mentorship is a topic that you’re especially passionate about; why are mentors so valuable in a sport like climbing?
NW: Mentorship and climbing are similar in that they both represent teamwork. Neither is a one-way street. Climbing partners encourage each other, trust each other, exchange beta and encouragement. The concept of mentorship should be the same. A mentor has equal opportunity to learn from their protege, as the protege does from their mentor. As climbers engage in moments of mentorship with the people around them, then everybody learns in the end.
What kind of knowledge do you hope to pass on to the next generation of climbers?
NW: I want to pass on my own journey of self-reflection so that others are encouraged to do the same. Climb, ski, ride, and run, but always check-in and ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Who am I doing this for? What else can I learn? Never stop exploring your own potential. Lead from the inside out. Climb on!
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