An Interview with Rebecca Caldwell
Editor: Thank you for giving us some of your time, Rebecca. We know things are in a big flux around you right now, and that’s why we’re so glad we got to interview you!
While the world is getting lots of information about your husband, Tommy Caldwell and his climbing partner, Kevin Jorgeson, and the gloriously beautiful and now internationally famous Dawn Wall, we decided to have a little chat about you, and the events of the past few weeks.
First of all, our heartiest congratulations to you, Tommy and both your families on this historic achievement! These are moments to be remembered forever.
The media has been all over the place trying to get interviews and reactions.
We wanted to know from you, on a personal level…How does it feel to have your husband accomplish something so phenomenal?
He's been on the world stage before, but this was something quite special.
Rebecca Caldwell: It’s pretty awesome to see Tommy finally free the Dawn Wall. Not only because it is a phenomenal accomplishment, but also because he has put the time and effort into this project. If no one noticed this climb and Tommy succeeded after 7 years of effort, it would still fill me with the same pride and love for my husband.
Watching the way this climb has motivated him over the years and kept his focus is definitely inspiring. I never questioned Tommy’s ability to do this route, but year after year I wondered if it was ever going to happen. This climb really drew out a curiosity in Tommy to see what he was made of – to test the limits of his capabilities – and that brings him to life in a very special way. Seeing that life in him brings me joy.
Editor: Rebecca, you’re a climber as well, and you saw this Dawn Wall project at its very genesis and its culmination.
Now, that your husband has achieved his dream, what does it mean to the two of you?
Rebecca Caldwell: Now that Tommy has achieved his dream it means that our falls have opened up! We can come to Yosemite and be each others’ climbing partners, or go somewhere other than Yosemite. It also means it is time to reevaluate where we are at in life.
This was a guiding force, so now we need to soak in some family time, but also figure out what we want to come next. The Dawn Wall helped us realize that we can achieve dreams with a lot of hard work and discipline, and it’s exciting to figure out how we can continue to apply that in life and also pass that down to Fitz.
Editor: That's wonderful! What can other climbing couples learn from you both about perseverance, the importance of daily communication between couples and being on the same page emotionally?
What can you share with us?
Rebecca Caldwell: This climb was a feat of perseverance for both of us. Tommy, of course, to be able to come back to this route year after year, and I needed to work on making sure I was happy in the role of encouraging him year after year. I respect Tommy’s climbing 100% and so I am very willing to make sure he has the time and opportunities to push himself as hard as he can. It’s better for all of us.
Climbing is just a part of who Tommy is. He’s not himself when it’s away. Communication is a really important part of our relationship. I need to know what Tommy needs to accomplish his climbing goals, and that helps me with what expectations to have and also know in which ways I can encourage him. Being married to someone with obsessive tendencies also requires me to be sure to express to Tommy what I need.
We are a team in our relationship and lives together, in raising Fitz, and in our passions. If we haven’t clarified our own needs and listened to the others’, everything is bound to crumble. Being open and finding the balance is always fluid, but it keeps us on our toes and challenges us in an invigorating way.
Editor: The media has this weird impression that the wives/girlfriends (or husbands/boyfriends) of climbers spend most their time worrying at home, while their spouses are out accomplishing incredible feats of courage.
But there are also women who trust their spouses who happen to be climbers, have total faith in their vision, and are there to build them up when they’re down. When things are particularly tricky on the rock, the wives/girlfriends of climbers give them a chance to hear those words of support and guidance that only sound right when your spouse says them.
This kind of strong emotional thread between them makes all the difference.
We rather think this is the case with you and Tommy. Your thoughts, Rebecca?
Rebecca Caldwell: I completely trust Tommy. I embraced being thrown into the climbing world and really wanted to learn and understand what Tommy did. I have been up on El Cap with Tommy and understand how he functions on the wall, which allows me to feel comfortable with him and his pursuits. I know his ideas and goals are lofty at times, but never once has he given any reason to doubt his abilities.
I feel my role, as his spouse, is to encourage and build him up, as is his job towards me. We are in life as a team, and that is a really important aspect of our relationship. We are able to be completely vulnerable with each other, and I think that gives us both a lot of freedom. We have chosen to live life closely and together and have the other be a big part of our goals – it’s fulfilling getting to deeply know your partner in that way.
Editor: So, how did you manage to keep everything under control and on an even keel, day after day, interview after interview? You must have needed some rest, too!
How's little Fitz doing? Readers who are Moms who are reading this will love to know! He's adorable!
Rebecca Caldwell: The last few weeks have been crazy! I definitely couldn’t have done it without help from family and friends. Our lives are filled with a lot of travel, but often at a bit more of a slow pace. Things have been going a million miles an hour since Tommy’s climb has caught the attention of so many.
It’s an exciting time to embrace and venture into together and we are trying to welcome the change and fast pace of it all. But rest is definitely still lacking and we are figuring it all out as we go. Family for sure was the biggest help.
Fitz is a great kiddo, too, and adapts pretty well to what we throw at him so that is always a huge help. He is doing great though. I think he is happy to be back in Yosemite for a bit where he can roam around on the Valley floor.
When we came back to Yosemite just before Tommy and Kevin topped out he remembered all the things we did earlier that fall (his favorite place in the back of the meadow, the song we would sing driving around the Valley, going through the tunnel, talking about the trees and pinecones, etc.). He’s very happy to have “daddy” back after a long stint up on the wall.
Editor: That is so sweet. Daily communication often is and must have been the backbone of your emotional connectedness, how did you both achieve that while he was climbing the toughest route on El Cap?
Rebecca Caldwell: Getting to communicate with Tommy is really important, especially when he’s away. When he’s traveling it’s nice to have that little bit of extra support. We often get into conversations that maybe wouldn’t have happened if we were always together and it’s fun to connect in that way.
Maybe there’s something a little fresh about it...like something that happens when you’re dating. Those conversations are usually interspersed with general quick ones as well, but checking in (even if it’s quick) is important.
I think it’s also important for Fitz to hear his voice and/or see him on Facetime. He’s at an age where it’s more apparent that he misses Tommy. It is, however, important to us that Fitz sees us working hard and following our passions.
We want to be an example for him. When we are at home, communicating and being open and vulnerable (about the good and bad stuff) with each other keeps us close and growing together.
Editor: Rebecca, Who are your climbing icons that either taught you or inspired you?
Rebecca Caldwell: I’ve been fortunate to be thrown in this awesome world of climbing and meet some of the greats. Tommy has been my main teacher and inspiration in climbing, and I think always will be. Seeing him come alive on the wall and work his magic up there would inspire anyone. His motivation is unparalleled.
Alex Honnold is a very good friend, and he’s been an inspiration, too. The thing about Tommy and Alex is that at their core they just love any type of climbing, and spending time with them makes it really hard not to love it, too.
Women like Lynn Hill, Beth Rodden, and Steph Davis have motivated me with their amazing endeavors, especially on big walls. Thinking about their feats is what got me through following Tommy up the Salathe and gets me excited about climbing more in all areas of the sport. It’s easier for me to relate to them and believe I can achieve more knowing they have accomplished great things.
Editor: Now that it has been completed, how has the Dawn Wall Project, known as one of the most difficult routes on El Cap, changed and affected your lives as a family?
It certainly is a life changing event.
Rebecca Caldwell: I think so far the most obvious change is that our lives have gotten really busy. It’s an exciting time and we are psyched to embrace it, but it’s just different and we are working hard to navigate it, while not getting too caught up in it.
Other than that life is mostly the same. I don’t even know if we’ve really had time to fully process anything much so I think it will continue to change and affect our lives. I was looking up at El Cap the other day, and I wondered, “Now what are we going to do with you?”
It sounds really funny, but it’s almost been this third party in our relationship and I’m just kind of curious how our lives are going to be shaped without this huge piece of granite helping to direct the way in the same capacity it has. This project has confirmed that we make a pretty great team, and that is very encouraging!
Editor: Indeed! Thank you for sharing your insights with us, our readers will truly enjoy reading your point of view, Rebecca. Again, congratulations to you, Tommy and little Fitz!
Rebecca Caldwell: Thank you! This was great!
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Editor of the Facebook Page: 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
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On the Cover: Rebecca Caldwell
Cover Date: January 24th, 2015
Rebecca talks with us about her side of the Dawn Wall story, an erudite and fascinating look into a woman who is a climber, a devoted mom and
Tommy Caldwell's strongest support system.