Tori Allen is definitely one of a kind. She grew up climbing trees with her pet monkey in Benin, where her parents moved on a Christian mission. Extraordinary childhood was a beginning of an extraordinary life. At the age of ten, back in her native USA, Tori saw her first climbing wall in a sports store. From that day it took her mere six months to be crowned Jr. National Champion. Soon after, she became a professional athlete with a long list of high profile sponsors. The videos of teenage Tori show the most dynamic female climber you’ve ever seen. (She attributes her amazing ability to dyno to… being short.) She was the youngest climber to onsight 5.13a. She won the prestigious X Games being only fourteen. And at the same time she was training pole vaulting and represented USA at the Youth World Championships in 2004.
At seventeen she quit the climbing scene to accept a pole vaulting scholarship at Florida State University. Now Tori is twenty four, with a degree in fashion and a full time job she loves. She makes her life in Steamboat, Colorado.
Since leaving university she’s been climbing again. She’s a motivational speaker and in the future plans on opening her own climbing gym and coaching kids.
Read the interview to get to know more about Tori Allen’s climbing and life plans!
Ever since I was a very small child, I can remember being fascinated with trying to get “up there”. My mom tells stories of how I used to climb out of my walker and up furniture before I could even walk on my own. From the time I was about four, I only played on top of the swing sets in parks, climbing up onto the bars that held the swings and standing up or walking/running across those bars, instead of swinging on the swings. So, I guess that is what I mean when I say I love heights. I mean, how many kids play tag over the house instead of around it? But, that was completely normal for my brother and me. We would climb up a tree to get on the roof of our house as part of our games of chase. My poor mom…
You said that the reason why as a child you wanted to move on to steeper overhanging climbs was because you feared the abrasive nature of falls on slabs. That’s very reasonable! Apart from that, are you just fearless?
When it comes to athletic and physical challenges, yes, I am pretty much fearless. But, I do have other fears…I am completely freaked out by driving on narrow, winding mountain roads, and I have an irrational fear of being cloned 😉
Before Ella Kirkpatrik’s ascent, you were the youngest female to climb El Cap. Are big walls something you might be interested in the future?
At this time, I am more interested in hiking big mountains, like the 14’ers all over Colorado, than I am in climbing big walls. But, I have learned to “never say never” about things in life. So, who knows, the opportunity might present itself one day, and I might be at a place in life where I’d jump on it.
By the way, I think Ella and I might be tied for the record – depending on her birthday. Plus, we climbed different routes. I climbed The Nose of El Capitan at age thirteen years and six weeks…
One of your remarkable achievements is writing a book at a very early age (Life Rocks). Could you say more about how it happened? Is writing something that you would like to pursue in the future?
Life Rocks was born out of a project I did as a freshman in high school for my humanities class. I had to keep what was called a “seed journal” where I wrote down mini ideas for longer writing pieces…seeds. At the end of my freshman year my teachers challenged everyone in my class to “do something” with them – write an article, submit a story or poem to a magazine etc… I took the challenge, and, over the next few months, I developed several of those seeds into the book.
Going into the future, I plan on tackling more writing projects. I would like to do an updated ebook version of Life Rocks, for starters. Beyond that, I have quite a few ideas in my head for books…both for kids and for adults. The realization of those ideas will just depend on timing.
You were competing both as a climber and a pole vaulter. Do you sometimes miss the hype and pressure of comps? Do you think you could be ever again interested in competing or in making a life as a professional climber?
I competed as a pole vaulter for ten years, from age twelve to twenty one. When I retired, I felt “done”. I had no regrets and felt like my “career” was complete. I competed as a climber from age ten and a half until sixteen when I had to retire in order to accept my college pole vault scholarship. I did not feel “done”. There was so much more I could have experienced. Although, I did feel satisfied with what I had accomplished in the competitions I had won and the records I had set; I would have enjoyed more time to experience the thrill of competing on World Cup circuits and taking outdoor trips to world class sport and bouldering areas. But, I had to make a choice, and getting a college education was a priority to me, as was fulfilling my dream to pole vault at an NCAA division 1 school.
So, to answer your questions, now and then I do get the itch to enter “just one” climbing competition… to see what it feels like again. But, it’s never a big enough itch to follow through. And, as for becoming a professional climber again, no, I don’t want that. At least, not as a career. After all those years of living on the road for competitions and appearances for sponsors, all of my teen years, I really love the life I have built by becoming a strong part of my community here, and wouldn’t want to give that up. (The one random, competitive thing I would love to do, though, is compete on The Amazing Race. I think I’d rock that.)
You mentioned that you stood out in the climbing world because of your girlish attitude and that some people even had a problem with it. Do you think in this sense climbing community is becoming more egalitarian or is it still a tomboy realm? I don’t want to say there is anything wrong with tomboys (I was one for years!) but it seems to me that if climbing had a more delicate image it could become more of a mainstream activity for girls or women. What do you think?
I look at talented girl climbers who followed behind me, who embody some of the things I embodied… a mainstream, marketable, ”girly” image like Sierra Blair-Coyle, or precocious talent like Brooke Raboutou, or tons of media attention like Ashima Shiraishi… and, I’d like to think that I sort of broke the ice for them. People wore themselves out complaining about all of those things with me and gave up the fight as more and more young female talent appeared on the scene after me. I certainly see lots of support in the climbing community for girls like this these days, and I think that is awesome.
As for having a more delicate image and attracting more girls, I don’t think climbing suffers from being too “macho” or “tomboy” anymore. Most female climbers I see in the top competitions are graceful, beautiful, smart and strong, like Sasha DiGiulian. What girl wouldn’t want to be all of those things, or be like her?
Now that you’ve decided to start climbing again you have a full-time job to combine with your training. How do you manage to find balance between your professional life and your climbing goals? What advice would you give to people whose career isn’t sport-related but they want to keep progressing in their climbing?
Having a job I love is a large part of that equation. It doesn’t stress me out or suck energy from me; so when I do get off work and am able to pursue other things, I can put my mind fully into those things. The other part of the equation for keeping balance is to not obsess about your training or progress. One way to do this is to pursue things that are not climbing related so that you feel well-rounded and meet people who are not just climbers (snow boarding and rugby are my outlets). Having those other activities and friends enables you to decompress when your climbing is not progressing or when your schedule or “life” is just not conducive to going to a crag every weekend to work on your project. That said, the best way to keep progressing, specifically in climbing, is to have a balanced workout regimen. Off-wall cardio mixed with both power and endurance training on the wall. Another thing is making your workouts regular. Make a schedule and stick to it as best possible. Set mini, attainable goals. Like adding three moves to your project… rather than “I want to onsight 12a this year”. Your body will respond to these simple things and when you get to the crag to work your project, you will feel fresh and positive.
During your competitive career did you work with a nutritionist? Do you follow any particular diet now?
No, I never worked with a nutritionist. I never really thought about what I ate, truthfully. I have always tried to eat healthy, though. I stick to foods that don’t come in a box and lots of fruits and veggies. Also, I love meat.
Describe your perfect day for Tori Allen ten years from now.
Wow, that is a crazy thought! So, ten years from now I am married and I have two, three kids under the age of six (truthfully, I am hoping for twin girls one day…LOL). And, I still live in Steamboat.
The day starts with the family in the kitchen making a huge breakfast of everyone’s favorite things… steak and eggs, chocolate chip pancakes, fresh squeezed juice and fruit salad.
Then, everyone gets dressed and packs back packs for a “treasure hunt” hike to a new bouldering area.
The drive to get to the trail lasts about an hour.
Along the trail, everyone is pointing out “treasures” they see like a hidden flower or a butterfly or a snake or even a cool shaped stone (to keep the kids’ minds off the length of the hike). When we get to the boulders, the kids set up their play area while the adults scope out the problems. The day passes quickly with lots of climbing, games of hide and seek, a picnic lunch, and general exploring by all.
Back in Steamboat, we all head to the hot springs to end the day relaxing in the pools and hot tubs.
We grill out for dinner, on the deck, watching the sunset, while the kids play “Peter Pan” in the yard by building their own fort.
Then, it’s bedtime stories; Pippi Longstockings because she lives an adventurous life like we do, and a movie for the adults before bed.
That sounds amazing. Thank you Tori!
You can see more from Tori Allen on her Facebook page here.