When it comes to the world of climbing, the sport can sometimes feel like it’s reserved for a select few. For years, the climbing community has been plagued by a lack of diversity, making it difficult for many to feel welcome. But there are community members like Marina Chislett, who are committed to breaking down barriers and creating a more welcoming space for everyone. As a Bay Area Climbers Coalition Community Ambassador and founder of the inclusive climbing club Coalition Crag, Marina is helping lead the charge towards a more inclusive and accessible climbing community.
As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, we had the privilege of sitting down with Marina to learn more about her personal climbing journey, her experiences as a neurodivergent BIPOC climber, and the meaningful work she’s doing to make climbing a more inclusive and welcoming space for all.
Marina’s climbing journey began a decade ago, but she was initially intimidated by the sport. “There’s this narrative—not just in climbing, but in a lot of outdoor communities—of what makes up the ‘typical athlete’,” Marina explained in an interview. “So many of us don’t fit into that description and that creates the feeling that you don’t belong,” she said.
But two years ago, Marina found a mentor in the mountaineering community. Having a solid support system helped reignite her love for the sport. “I feel like my climbing journey was made possible by having a mentor, Eileen Takeshita, who created a safe space for me to show up authentically. It made me realize that I belong—we all do.” Marina said. “I don’t need to be crushing a V7 or leading a 5.11c. There is room for all skill levels and body types.”
Another turning point for Marina was attending the Flash Foxy climbing festival—an annual three-day climbing, community, and education festival for women and gender-queer climbers. “I really saw the impact of finding community,” Marina said. “I had the pleasure of taking a 2-day Intro to Trad Clinic with Azissa Singh and Marian (May) Perez. May took time to create a mindful and intentional space, encouraging us all to be patient and honor where we are in our climbing journey. Both instructors were thorough, hands-on, and met me with compassion when my imposter syndrome showed up as I apologized for asking a ‘dumb’ question. It was in those raw and vulnerable moments that were met with compassion that I realized how powerful these spaces truly are.”
In April of 2022, Marina launched Coalition Crag, an inclusive climbing space for gender minority climbers of all skill levels. “I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Queer Crush for their support and guidance when forming this club.” Marina said. “Tyler Poston, Director, Outdoor Meetups Lead, and Treasurer of Queer Crush, was especially responsive to my ongoing questions throughout the process.”
In April of 2022, Marina launched Coalition Crag, an inclusive climbing space for gender minority climbers of all skill levels. Coalition Crag members come together for sponsored monthly meetups and discounted AMGA certified outings. Marina has even created a Coalition Crag Discord channel as a place to connect affinity groups and individuals throughout California. For Marina, affinity spaces are vital in helping foster representation and diversifying the climbing community.
“Growing up as a BIPOC, neurodivergent woman who was aspiring to be a climber, it was really discouraging to see the lack of diversity. Seeing the climbing community become more diverse is so empowering. It really reinforces the fact that we all belong in these spaces.” Marina stated, “While I’m beginning to see more BIPOC representation outdoors, I feel representation of neurodiversity is still lacking. The problem lies in the fact that neurodivergent challenges vary widely and properly identifying these invisible barriers can be challenging.” Neurodivergent is an umbrella term to describe that someone’s brain processes, learns, and/or behaves differently than what is considered to be “typical” or “neurotypical”. This includes, but is not limited to, Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and like Marina—Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Marina states, “I look forward to continuing to explore Neurodivergent barriers and representation in BACC.”
Marina’s dedication to promoting responsible land stewardship and increasing representation outdoors shines through her work as a Bay Area Climbers Coalition Community Ambassador. Her role involves organizing and leading tabling events to educate climbers on the importance of responsible stewardship and respecting the land. “I feel it is crucial to instill in climbers the importance of responsible stewardship, including acknowledging and respecting whose land they are recreating on.” Marina said. “It is also our duty, as a community, to understand where barriers to access exist and work together to increase accessibility to all.”