Cheerful, energetic and armed with more carabiners than we can count, Hayley Ashburn is one of those people who sees the world as her playground. We’re exploring the mighty boulder fields of Joshua Tree together, and she seems at home. It’s hard to believe that just three years ago she was told she may never climb again.
In early 2016, Haley was driving to a slacklining event in Mexico when a nasty collision with a tractor trailer put an end to her plans for the weekend. And then for the next 52 weekends. With a broken pelvis and femur, the extreme athlete and climber was in and out of operating rooms and confined to her bed for a year. She almost lost her life. What’d she do next? Summit El Capitan. Build a climbing guide business. Prove to the world that nothing can knock her down.
In celebration of International Women’s Day and all the un-knock-downable ladies out there, we spoke to Hayley about what it means to build yourself back up—stronger, and better than ever.
Of course. I still wonder if I will ever run, or fly a parachute. I remember doing every little thing I could to put myself back on that path, to make myself stronger and better so I could get back outdoors. There are still things I can’t do, like running and jumping, but instead of worrying about what I can’t do, I have a much more active attitude. Hard work and persistence and bravery are what saved me. I also shouldn't forget to mention that love and support of my family and my community was a big source of strength. My friends raised $35,000 in just a couple of weeks on GoFundMe to help with my Mexican hospital bills that weren’t covered by US insurance. My family gave blood to repay the hospital for my transfusions, and they always believed I would get back to being me. I think without them I would have worried a lot more that I'd never be the same again. I won’t ever be, but thats okay; I am happy with the person I am today, and I'll never stop trying to get better.
In the Anywhere Short
Slow. Some days it seemed like I would be in a hospital bed forever, but looking back, it gave me the opportunity to assess what was really important in my life, and I came out of the experience with a radically different idea about what that was. Before, I wanted to be the bravest and best outdoor athlete.Today I want to be the best partner, daughter and sister. Sometimes life knocks you down—the trick is just getting back up as many times as it takes. And appreciating the person you have become on the other side.
In the Mull Stripe Henley
It was very validating! I got to the top the first time with my partner Mike, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so hopeful about my future. I could do anything now. I’ve actually had that experience over and over again in outdoor sports. When you conquer a summit like that, your chi is running very high—it’s almost indescribable. The world is your oyster. You fear nothing and the future is laid out in front of you, bright and full of opportunity. The normal fear and anxiety about your future just melts away because you know you can handle so much more.
The first time I got to the top, I immediately started planning for my second route up. I was back less than a month later. I had to prove to myself that I could do it without my boyfriend. I also felt like he had given me the keys to the castle. Mike taught me everything I needed to know to do it on my own, so I turned around and did it without him.
During my recovery a lot of people told me that I inspired them. I never felt like I was done striving. I felt like I had something to prove for other people struggling with bodies that were less than 100%. I wanted to show that you don’t have to have the perfect body to do amazing things. You don't have to wait until you are in perfect health to climb your mountain (whatever that is to you). My leg was still broken (I found later) when I summited El Cap. I walked to the base of the route with a cane. I just wasn't willing to let a broken body stop me. I climbed El Cap because I knew it was going to be FUN. I knew it was where my joy was leading me and I didn't want to wait for perfect conditions. Life is short, be happy now. Yes it was scary, but my favorite quote is "Everything you want is on the other side of fear."
In the Anywhere Jumpsuit
I love showing people that they can do it, no matter who they are or what shape they are in. There's tons of fun to be had on the rocks and I just want to share the experience. Also, if you bring more people into nature and help them build a connection with the land, I think they are more likely to go home and make choices that protect the earth. And that's something we need very badly today. Plus, you can’t beat working in the world's most beautiful places.
In the Far Away Places Baseball Tee and Anywhere Short
1) Build your personal resume. Climb classic climbs, hike big trails, whatever sport you’re into, create big goals for your outdoor adventures and achieve them. Become an impressive outdoorswoman. People want to learn from experts in the field. Make yourself one before you try to make it a career.
2) Don’t take no for an answer. I went to Yosemite my first time and couldn’t even find anyone who wanted to climb with me. I applied at most of the guide outfits in Moab and Boulder when I was younger and was told no. I've been turned down for a hundred sponsorships, I’ve fallen off countless slacklines and rocks. Just keep trying. Work in another field (I waitressed) and keep training. Eventually the no’s turned into yeses, and my email inbox started pinging, and the opportunities slowly started presenting themselves. Keep trying, training, working hard and keep beating down the doors to what you want.
We designed our Bolder, Stronger collection for women like Hayley--women who won’t stay down, who don’t take no for an answer. It’s clothing as capable as you are.