Madison Penn | C-U Women Outdoors

Our C-U Women Outdoors series is all about highlighting the women in our local RuggedOutdoors community who are passionate about the outdoors. Meet Madison Penn, a student at the University of Illinois who is passionate about bouldering and sport climbing.

Name: Madison Penn

Occupation: Urbana Boulders

Madison is currently a senior in Music Education at the University of Illinois. When she is not busy with school-related work and activities, you can find her bouldering or sport climbing.

What does the “outdoors” mean to you?
The outdoors is important to me because it represents this vast space that I have yet to explore. Climbing adds an exciting aspect to this because not only can I visually appreciate the beauty of the outdoor space I’m in, but I can also physically appreciate it--I look at rock features now and picture how I can move up and around them rather than just seeing the rock as a rock. It’s incredible to see the little details that are created by elements like wind and water, and to imagine that years of erosion are what allow us climbers to do what we do.

If the weather is nice on a Saturday, what can we find you doing?
If I’m not working, you can find me down in Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, climbing at either Jackson Falls or the Holy Boulders! I just went to the Holy Boulders for the first time recently, before that I had only climbed sport (roped climbing) outdoors.

What got you started with climbing and bouldering?
I actually took a class in high school where they taught us how to belay and lead climb, and from there I was always interested. It wasn’t until I came here and got introduced to the awesome, supportive community that is Urbana Boulders that I got really involved and serious about it, though.

How did you overcome the fear of falling?
For whatever reason, I’ve never been too petrified by the idea of falling — but I will say that the more falls you take, and the more you see that you don’t get hurt, the less scary it seems. I’ve taken some weird falls and come out of the other side completely fine, so I learned to trust my gear. Trust is really important; it makes it a lot harder to climb if you’re scared because you’ll naturally hold your breath.

Why should women try climbing or bouldering if they’ve never tried it before?
Bouldering is a really awesome and empowering activity to get into because it’s a very personal sport while also being community-based. When you go into a gym, you’re gonna find stuff you can climb super well, and you’re gonna find stuff that you have to try many times in order to get it. Getting a boulder problem that you’ve been working on is a really awesome feeling. Bouldering also doesn’t discriminate based on strength--technique is often more important that strength from what I have found. As far as the community aspect, there are a lot of women that climb at Urbana Boulders, and we are all really supportive of each other. No one wants you to fail.

Any tips for a successful first attempt at bouldering?
Just go in without expectations and keep an open mind--success doesn’t necessarily mean you go in and climb hard stuff, it just means that you leave feeling accomplished and strong! Also, be persistent. It can be a tricky and awkward thing if you’ve never tried it before, but the more problems you try, the more comfortable you’ll get.

What is something that you’ve had to overcome on your journey to get stronger and more advanced in bouldering?
My pride! I used to get really down on myself when I couldn’t climb something within my grade level, and honestly I still do sometimes. I’m still working on it.