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Humans of the U: Robyn Ragins

“I picked Utah kind of randomly. I liked the mountains, but I’d never visited the school and I didn’t know anybody. But I knew that there was a climbing team here, so I went to tryouts, and I got on the team. That was how I made most of my friends when I first got here and it was super fun. Last year, someone randomly sent me an application for a show called ‘The Climb,’ an HBO rock-climbing competition show. I filled it out without thinking about it and thought, ‘This would be funny to do.’ Then I got a callback and they wanted to interview me, and another interview and then a Zoom. Then they were like, ‘Okay, so we want you to leave in a week.’

I almost didn’t go, to be honest. School is really important to me, and I love my life here. But I believe that challenging yourself is beneficial to growing as a person, and my professors were really accommodating. I basically knew nothing—they sent us a very vague packing list that essentially said to be ready for negative temperatures to island temperatures. I knew we were going to travel a lot, and that we’d do all types of climbing. I didn’t think I’d be on for very long. I packed a bag for two weeks! Then all of a sudden it was two months later, and I was still there!

A woman dynamically climbs with her back leg bent behind her.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Titensor/University of Utah

Robyn Ragins

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We show up and we started on Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain. It was crazy. We had cameras in our faces from the moment we got there. At first, it was really weird. But eventually, I got so comfortable with the other climbers that it started to be normal. The hardest part about the show was the challenge where we had to do traditional climbing, a style where you place protection as you climb instead of using hardware that’s drilled into the rock. I had a friend pass away trad climbing, so I’m really afraid of it. Doing it on the show was really stressful; One, because I had to talk about my friend, and two, I had to do this thing I’m afraid of in a competition. But I did it, and I was proud of myself that I didn’t just crumble.

I wanted to do ‘The Climb’ to grow as a person and test myself in my climbing and in life. The show helped me learn how to better support people in stressful situations. I’m pretty lucky—even as a kid doing climbing competitions, my ego is not attached to what other people think. That made the show easy because I wanted to portray climbing well because it’s something I care about a lot. I wasn’t that worried about how people would judge me, or how far I got in the competition. My perspective is definitely an outlier in competitive sports. The main thing that I try to teach all the kids I coach is that if you have other parts of your life that you like and find value in, then a sports performance is less important. Not that you shouldn’t try hard, because being passionate about something and dedicating time to it is amazing. I find a lot of value in school and in being a good person. Because of that, I don’t feel overwhelming pressure when I climb, and that makes me perform better. Watching other people navigate that pressure on the show helped me understand how people process it. That’s helped me in life, but also made me a better coach.

The show didn’t really change my day-to-day life. But people do say hi all the time, and stop me in grocery stores and restaurants and at the climbing gym. And my Instagram followers have gone up a ton, which I didn’t expect or necessarily want, but I feel really privileged to be in that position to have an impact on people in a good way. I try to show how much I value balance in my life. I could probably perform better in climbing—I think I’m good at climbing, but I definitely sacrifice some of it because I also strive in school. And then I also have a job that I love and put a ton of time into. Someone might disagree and say, ‘You could excel at one thing if you don’t have the other things going on.’ But I love that I have so many different parts of my life that bring me joy. I’m grateful being at the U allowed me to do all of it while growing as a person.”