My name is Cara and I am 37 years old. I have been teaching math for 12 years, but I am now transitioning to a career in data science. I am currently voluntarily unemployed (though actively looking for work) and I am using my extra time to become an AMGA-certified Single Pitch Instructor. When I'm not climbing or training for climbing, I play strategy board games and horror-themed puzzle video games.
How did you start climbing?
I started climbing in January 2014 when I stumbled on a Groupon for Vertical Adventures climbing gym in Columbus, Ohio. The Groupon included a belay class and a week-long pass to the gym. I took my husband, Zac, to learn with me and I was instantly hooked. I climbed every day that week, and then joined the Ohio State rec center climbing wall so I could keep doing it.
Shortly after, I connected with a young professor, Mark, from my husband's department at OSU, and we pretty quickly became life-long climbing partners. He taught me how to lead sport and clean anchors, and then took us to the Red River Gorge so we could learn how to climb on real rock.
Less than a year later, my husband and I relocated to Colorado so we could climb (and mountain bike and ski) as much as possible. I've returned Mark's mentorship and taught him how to multi-pitch and how to place gear. Mark is now working on relocating to Colorado as well so he can climb as much as possible, too!
What impact has climbing had on your life?
There is nothing in my life that comes even close to having the positive impact that climbing has.
My whole life I struggled with social anxiety and connecting with others. My mom would always tell me to just go up to other kids, introduce myself, and we'd become friends. But as anyone with anxiety knows, there was no chance I would ever be willing to do something like that. And then I found climbing.
Climbing provided a safe context in which I could get to know someone. When you start climbing with a new partner, you might exchange a few words on the ground, and then you climb away before the conversation can turn awkward. If you struggle to find conversation topics, you can always discuss the routes, technique, or just climb away again! This gentle process of building relationships was exactly what I needed.
Moreover, the relationships you build with climbing partners often are much more significant than other friendships. The level of trust and support and communication required exceeds that of any other context in my life, and for that reason the people I am closest to are my climbing friends.
I've built a little circle of climbers that I genuinely consider to be my family. We refer to each other as a team, and we do everything together. I could not be happier with the way climbing has improved my life.
What are some other things you do that you find most fulfilling?
I am a lifelong learner and always trying to push myself in multiple disciplines. Languages are one passion of mine. I speak German and am currently studying Portuguese. I love playing board games and attend the Mensa Mind Games 36 consecutive-hour board game event as often as possible, where games released in the previous year compete for the Mensa Select award.
I am not a talented or very skilled musician, but I love the cello, so I take lessons and work hard to be good at it. Someday I'd like to play in an ensemble or a small local orchestra. I also mountain bike and ski.
If you could tell the world one thing, what would it be?
Assume positive intentions in all interactions. This comes from my previous school's mission statement. Every morning before work we recited the whole mission as a team. It burrowed its way into my brain until that idea became a habit. As soon as I believed that everyone around me meant well, it completely changed the way I interacted with the world.
Someone said something rude? I assumed they were having a tough day and extended empathy. A car cut me off? I assumed they didn't see me and had made a mistake. A parent of one of my students yelled at me? I assumed they only wanted the best for their child so I showed them that we were on the same side.
If you believe everyone means well and then respond as if that is the case, I promise you will be happier and the world will be better because of it.
Favorite thing about Dynamite Starfish?
I believe I have six Dynamite Starfish shirts! I love supporting independent artists, and I strongly identify with the part of the climbing community that Leslie promotes.
We don't have to climb the hardest grades, win competitions, or even compete at all to identify as climbers. Whether you throw a dynamite starfish, just love 5.fun, or find yourself snuggling the crag dogs rather than finishing that last pitch, you're still a climber and I am here for all of it!
Is there something you're working on that you'd like to tell our community about? We love a good story.
I recently completed my Master's degree in Data Science and for my capstone project, I built a climbing route recommender. To do so, I collected public user data from Mountain Project. I pulled ticks from about 850 users located near Golden, CO who collectively had climbed over 33,000 unique routes.
Then, I used machine learning to predict what each of those users would rate the other routes they had never climbed. I put it all together into a little applet that allows the user to enter their Mountain Project ID number and get predictions for sport routes, boulder problems, or even ice and aid routes. Eventually, I plan to expand the product to all users and use live (rather than static) data, but I need a faster computer for that! Hey Mountain Project, if you're looking for a staff data scientist I'll join the team with a working product already in hand 😉
Want to get to know more of the climbers in the amazing Dynamite Starfish community? Check out our archive of Climber Stories here.
We hope you have enjoyed these sneak peeks into climbers' lives. We're on a mission to share diverse stories about rock climbing. Let's push the boundaries of who we know as climbers. Let's use our energy and passion for the outdoors to love our environment and inspire one another.