What Has Been Learned Along The Way

I am passionate about rock climbing and have been since my first climb fourteen years ago. What people find interesting is that I took to climbing so late in life. I didn’t climb until I was 42, and I had always been sedentary until I began to climb. So, now, this is me: “Middle aged homemaker turned climber”


Sometimes I wish I’d discovered climbing in my teens. Safe to say, I’d have climbed harder and stronger at 20 than I ever will at 50 or 60. I’d certainly have chosen to live among mountains, rather than cornfields. But before climbing there was parenting and before that, art.

Even as a girl, I was an introverted artist, sedentary, solitary and intense. I married my husband Stanley Livingston – a medical student at the time – when I was pursuing an MFA. His career was demanding which was fine with me since I had high aspirations in art. He worked hard establishing himself in a small town family practice clinic while I worked hard at my easel in my home studio. Then we had our kids and I set aside art to be a stay-at-home mom. Raising Kelsey and Sam has been my greatest journey – and parenting has been my true calling – but my mothering days were by definition limited. Kids grow up and fly away. The kids were in second and sixth grade when a friend took me to Devil’s Lake State Park so I could try her new sport, rock climbing. I was hooked!

How hooked? Here’s the deal today. My parents and kids identify me as a climber in the same breath as their introduction. “This is my mom, a rock climber.” Or in my deluded but proud mother’s case,“Meet my daughter, a climber of some national repute!”

I mean: Really mom.

I climb several times a week inside or out. I am breaking into 5.12s on top rope and I sport lead in the low 11s – that’s moderate climbing by all accounts, but it makes me proud. I travel four or five times a year to climb out west or abroad. I like ice climbing even more than rock climbing, but I live even farther away from frozen waterfalls than from cliffs so I do the mixed climbing I adore during a couple intense weeks per year out in Colorado at Chicks with Picks.

I co-founded women’s classes at Boulders Gym along with my friend and climbing partner Vera Naputi. Our first climbing class for women over the age of forty drew sixty inquiries for only twelve slots! Who says older women don’t want to try climbing? Apparently, some just prefer to be invited.

So, what’s it like to become active late in life? It used to feel like my body was something that just transported my mind from here to there. I didn’t give my body much thought and I was in danger of getting less healthy after age 40 simply because I didn’t give it much thought. Now, these fourteen years later, my strength goes beyond physical. Climbing is a mental and emotional challenge. My training at Pat’s Gym specifically targets mental muscle as a part of an athlete’s training. It’s all coming together now, the physical informs the mental and emotional and visa versa.

I feel alive.

To climb late in life is to drink from a fountain of youth. I am stronger and more fit than decades ago and still improving. People who have always been athletic probably peaked in their 20s or 30s and must feel wistful or even frustrated at the downhill slide they experience in middle age. It feels empowering to be strong and to improve my performance through the discipline of focused activity. It feels great to be giving back in my sport as an instructor and mentor and example for others younger than me. I want to encourage others whatever their age to feel as alive as I’ve felt by being active.

So, if I can sum up what’s been learned along the way in my journey, it’s this: Do it!


Anne Hughes is an artist, mother, and wife living in Madison, WI. She is a climbing instructor at Boulders Climbing Gym, a former chair of Madison Women Climbers, and an occasional staff person for Chicks Rock. To meet her personal goals on rock and ice, Anne has engaged a talented and motivating personal trainer Pat Gilles. With Pat’s encouragement, Anne is going to compete in an indoor rowing competition in January. She may have started late and is now closing in on age sixty, but Anne has become a dedicated and motivated athlete.

3 responses to “What Has Been Learned Along The Way

  1. Inspiring story Anne. I’ve never done climbing but can relate to the experience of taking up athletic activities late in life – in my case running. Loved it as a kid, then went the artsy student and busy parent route, before rediscovering it in my 40s.
    Great to read about the joy you get from your pursuits. Thanks for sharing.

  2. an inspiration indeed….wonderful post Anne!

  3. Lorne and Kim,
    Great to hear from you — I have been inspired by some great people so it feels good to be able to give back. Thanks for commenting.