When Amber Liggett first started indoor rock climbing three years ago, she was immediately hooked. While finishing her last semester at Duke she managed to get into a beginning rock climbing class and quickly realized her passion and propensity for it.
Around the same time, she met her now-husband, Greg Liggett. As it turns out, he had been climbing for several years prior and was working as the manager and head route setter at the climbing wall in Duke’s Wilson Recreation Center.
“It was a happy coincidence that I was dating the manager of the climbing wall,” said Amber with a laugh. It not only gave her some extra time on the wall, but he encouraged her to climb harder routes and take on new challenges. When traveling to visit with his family in San Francisco a few months later they decided to enter in a nearby rock climbing gym’s competition. Not only did she compete in the recreational category for the Planet Granite Friction Series — she won.
Amber took a break from climbing for awhile when she was pregnant with her first son, Foster, but since then she and Greg have returned to climbing full force over the past two years. Part of her desire to climb stems from being naturally competitive, part of it for the exercise, and partly because the climbing community is such a supportive environment.
“Climbing is one of those sports where it’s both mentally and physically challenging,” said Amber. “It’s incredible to figure it out and be able to do it. It’s not something you can do alone, and that’s something that most climbers recognize.”
At the climbing gym there are people of all ages climbing at various levels. While it might seem intimidating to a newcomer at first, climbers are quick to cheer others on, whether they have met before or not.
“I don’t know if I would have been nearly as into climbing as I would be if it wasn’t for Greg,” said Amber. “Part of that is because I prefer top-roping so I have a partner built-in to my relationship.”
Top-roping requires the climber to wear a harness and tie in to a rope. The rope goes up through an anchor system at the top of the route and back down to another person standing on the ground connected by a belay device and harness. The belayer takes up the slack in the rope as the climber ascends. Unlike bouldering, which is climbing at a lower height without ropes, the climber must have someone else to belay them while top-roping.
Top-roping requires some communication between the climber and the belayer for safety reasons, but often that communication leads to encouragement, advice, or strategy as well. Different climbers may approach the same route in very different ways based on their body type, problem-solving techniques, and personality.
“Sometimes it drives me nuts because Greg plans out how he’s going to climb a route ahead of time and is nice and slow. I just look at a wall and go—and just figure it out when I get there.” Considering their relationship and communication style overall Amber adds, “It’s probably more reflective of our personalities. I’m more like, ‘we can wing it.’ He’s a bit more methodical in his approaches.”
Climbing has become such a part of their lives that they wanted to make sure to share that love with their son. Foster, who is two-and-a-half years old, has been coming to the gym with them since he was a baby, but isn’t heavy enough for the harness and the holds aren’t exactly geared for his size. So, they built a bouldering wall in their garage for him to climb.
When she found out she was pregnant again Amber continued to climb throughout this pregnancy at least two days a week by modifying her workout as needed. Knowing her body and her limitations, top-roping is considered safe to continue for women who did it pre-pregnancy, similar to running. She uses a full-body maternity harness so that there is no pressure on her abdomen when climbing or belaying.
After the welcomed arrival of their second son this past week, Amber is hoping to return to climbing as soon as possible. Comparing climbing while pregnant to weight and endurance training, she’s ready to get back to her peak performance level and even hopes to pursue some sponsors by the end of the year. As for the prospect of rock climbing being included in 2020 Olympics—she hopes to qualify for the trials. No one knows yet if it will even be an Olympic sport, but her goal is to at least be considered a contender.
To anyone considering joining her and her family on the climbing wall Amber says, “It’s the best. You meet really great people that are awesome at rock climbing. It’s a fabulous environment culturally. There’s something for everyone.”