Climber Story: Kelsey Wellington

April 27, 2022 4 min read

Climber Story: Kelsey Wellington - Dynamite Starfish

To start, tell us a little bit about yourself

I'm a 30-year-old woman living in Jackson, WY, where I work as a wildlife tour guide in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. I also have an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Lindenwood University, and I write about my relationship to the outdoors, my struggles with injuries, and my experiences with wildlife.

Climbing is my biggest passion, so I write about it a lot, but I'm also an avid trail runner, mountain biker, backpacker, and skier. I started an all-women's running group in Jackson with goals of creating a training program for ultramarathons, but I tore my ACL in January and I'm currently benched through the end of summer.

How did you start climbing?

As a kid, I was always scrambling around on the boulders in my wooded backyard, and I was always the first one to jump on the plastic climbing wall at the local arcade or summer carnival. But, working as a wildlife biologist for close to a decade, I lived in very remote places, where there weren't climbing gyms or local crags. I didn't know how to participate in the sport without either a gym or a mentor. It took me finally moving to suburban Maryland, where there were five climbing gyms within an hour's drive of my house, to join a climbing gym. Of course, I was broke (wildlife conservation doesn't pay well, *shocker*), and the price of a membership seemed out of my budget. Still, I swiped my credit card at the gym, signing up for a one-year membership.

This decision was largely inspired by the combination of two events: my mother's suicide attempt and the discovery that my then-boyfriend had cheated on me. I felt like I was drowning, and I didn't have anything to keep me afloat while I navigated the grief that constantly washed over me. Feeling abandoned by both my mother and my partner, I didn't know who I was, and I developed a core belief that I was worthless. Abandonment by a partner is easier to shake than (attempted) abandonment by a parent, and I began to question everything about my life and my place in the world.

In my attempt to find a place to belong, I turned to climbing. I ignored the hit to my budget and joined the EarthTreks in Rockville, MD, signing up for a one-year membership. I have never once looked back. It was the best decision I have ever made, and it gave me so much more than a place to belong.

What impact has climbing had on your life?

I feel like a lot of people say this, but they say it for good reason: climbing saved my life. It grounded me (hah) in a time when I was in a free fall towards self-destruction. Through climbing, I found my community--now split between Missoula, MT and Jackson, WY. I've met my closest friends--the true gems in my life--because of climbing. I've learned countless valuable lessons about myself, too.

As a kid, I was easily injured and so I cocooned myself indoors, playing video games because they were safe and loathing every second of gym class because I was embarrassed by my obvious lack of strength or stamina. Climbing showed me that I am strong, that I have seemingly bottomless grit and resolve, that I never should have let everyone else decide what I was capable of. Climbing has showed me what I'm capable of, and I am endlessly proud of the strong, fierce woman I have become.

What are some other things you do that you find most fulfilling?

I feel very at home trail running through the mountains in my backyard, and I love exploring new ranges on foot, mostly through fast-packing and occasionally through backpacking. I also recently discovered my deep love for mountain biking. I'm a passionate photographer--mostly of wildlife and outdoor adventures/pursuits--and I combine my photos with writing to tell a story.

If you could tell the world one thing, what would it be?

Stop living your life in terms of "should's". There is no blueprint for life, so do what makes you happy, what you can afford, what fulfills you, and damn the rest.

Favorite thing about Dynamite Starfish?

My "High Maintenance" t-shirt!

Is there something you're working on that you'd like to tell our community about? We love a good story.

I'm trying to build a supportive community of female and female-identifying runners in Jackson. The tourist town that is Jackson tends to lack any sort of community feel to it, and running is one of the most accessible sports, so I figured it would be a good place to focus efforts on community-building. I want to bring more women together through a shared love of running and being outside, so I started this running group.

Before I tore my ACL, we were discussing training plans and race goals, and the women who have joined have carried on with their goals while I recover from my injury. It's great to see, and I'm excited to pick up where I left off when I am fully recovered.

You can find Kelsey on Instagram at @kels_wellington.

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.

Have someone you think we should feature? Send us a message and let us know!

Until next time!

Dynamite Starfish
Dynamite Starfish

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