The Faces Behind Uncommon Sports: Bouldering

Most athletes find their passion for sports before their senior year of high school, but very few get hooked because of a school project. Melise Edwards picked up bouldering while completing a psychology project about the risks extreme athletes take and their ability to put themselves in those dangerous situations. Now, Edwards is a sponsored athlete that competes in bouldering competitions around the country. Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that is done without ropes or harnesses. The sport is high risk and can be done without any equipment, but athletes tend to use climbing shoes and chalk to prevent falling, and bouldering mats placed under them in case they do fall. Edwards says she is never without her mat not only because she falls a lot, but because it is a great bed for on the go naps.

Since completing that initial senior project, Edwards has not only transformed into one of those extreme athletes, she has also become a neuroscientist managing a neuroendocrinology lab in Seattle. Driven by her passion to help others, Edwards has been taking online classes at night and applying to various doctorate programs for cognitive neuroscience. Her passion for helping others and her hope to “serve populations of people in need and mentor aspiring scientists, especially women and men of color who are vastly underrepresented in neuroscience and STEM graduate programs,” is what pushes her to achieve such great feats. Did we mention she also finds time in her busy schedule to volunteer and mentor at-risk kids?

Athletes often discuss the time and effort they put into physical conditioning, but Edwards believes that mental preparation is equally as important. Bouldering not only requires large amounts of physical strength, it demands mental strength as well. While preparing for her most recent competition, the Psicobloc Master Series in Park City, Utah, Edwards had to confront her fear of heights head on. Going to the gym, practicing climbing routes, reading The Rock Warrior’s Way, and most importantly practicing falling were her main methods of preparation. Malise felt that The Rock Warrior’s Way was immensely helpful in her preparation as it talked about, “positive image, confidence, commitment to a goal, and taking ego out of the equation and pursuing excellence regardless of the outcome or how successful you might be.” She further stated, “It really helped to be genuinely excited about the event and tackling a big fear of heights.”

Though bouldering may be one of her biggest passions, Malise doesn’t see climbing as a job but as a way to chase smaller personal goals and help others. While striving to earn her doctorate in cognitive neuroscience, she hopes to be able to work with organizations like Vertical Generation and bring climbing to underserved communities. Edwards has procured a position on the board for Vertical Generation and through her opportunities there she mentors kids in climbing and camping while opening them up to experiences and ideas they might not otherwise have access to. “I want to give those positive experiences of self-actualization, coincidence, outdoor recreation and joy to those who may otherwise not have the chance.” Being this positive role model to youth in the bouldering community is important to Edwards because she knows that representation matters. “Representation is everything. It is so important to see someone who looks like you not only surviving, but thriving in a given community.” Being a niche community, this representation matters even more. Giving kids a role model in such a community can be incredibly powerful and help them feel like they belong.

Malise credits her ability to maintain momentum and keep up with her busy schedule to those around her that give her strength. Her family members, those at Vertical Generation, and friends who have showed her that it is possible to get your Ph.D. and invest in others at the same time. “Ultimately I think it comes down to knowing exactly what you want to prioritize when it comes to your time. If you know in your heart what you want, it will seldom feel like a sacrifice to spend more time in one arena than another.”

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