Emilia Wint: From Losing Sight to a Laser Focus on Living a Full Life

How might your life change if you only had 20 more years of sight?

The run came and went in a blur. Emilia Wint struggled to navigate the contrast between the packed dirt of the forest floor and the streams of light shooting between the canopy in the afternoon sun.

“Uhh, that was really hard to see, felt sketchy,” she pressed her friends at the bottom of the track, straddling her mountain bike. Hmm. Everything appeared fine to them, they assured.

That’s odd. It dawned upon her, “Maybe I’m seeing this differently.” 

As a member of the US Freeskiing Team, the ability to differentiate between the snow, the sky and the terrain of the slope in flat light is vital for competition. On dark days the sky and snow are basically the same color and she was having a hard time seeing out there too.

Something wasn’t right. After day’s worth of tests at the hospital she found out why.


Emilia in front of El Cap. Photo source: emiliawint.com


Our call crackled in and out, Emilia’s voice was a soft murmur under a barrage of conversation at nearby tables and passing cars. I overheard a pair talk about their astrology signs and the homework they didn’t feel like doing. 

She plugged in her headset and the world of stereo sound faded out. Her voice honed in with 20/20 clarity. The wind, like lifting a sail, would rush in and fill my headset from time to time. 

Emilia speaks in a calm, easy-going manner, and she laughs easily. She emphasizes key points and jokes by talking faster and raising the pitch in her voice; you’ve got to keep up.

She had just gotten back from 3.5 months Patagonia. We talked about the turning point in her life. 



The Turning Point


“You have this thing, it’s Retinitis pigmentosa. There’s no cure, but you’re young. Talk with the genetic counselor and see me again in a year. Don’t look anything up on the internet,” Emilia relays her doctor’s prognosis.

She didn’t know what the diagnosis meant and her mind was focused on other things anyways. A few days later, she left on a six week trip to compete at the World Cup in New Zealand. She would be skiing on a twice reconstructed knee that wasn’t holding up as well as she had hoped after four years of rehabilitation. 

The practices came and went. In the meantime, Emilia was receiving more information about the disease from her mother back home.

One paragraph shook her to her core: “’Presents in people with adolescent night blindness.’ Which I kinda had. ‘Depressed scores in ERG tests,’ (which is basically like an EKG tests for your heart, but for your eyes). And I had low scores in that. And then ‘most people with Retinitis pigmentosa go blind by the time they turn 40.’”

Um, what?

“I called my mom, and was like, ‘what the fuck? This is not WebMD. This is actually in my chart,’” she recalls of the frantic exchange.

Emilia would go on to place 8th at the competition and out of the finals. It was a run that a few years prior she probably would have medaled. The next day she couldn’t walk down the stairs.

“What would I have done if I had made finals?,” she asked herself. She needed to take a hard look at her next steps.


Emilia competing in a freestyle skiing competition. Photo source: emiliawint.com


Emilia had always wanted to compete at the olympics, but she needed to decide if she was okay with the possibility of getting hurt. Again. It’s part of the game.

She did some mental math.

She was 20 at that point. Two years in a physical therapy room would be 10% of the time she had left to see. Was that worth it?



Emilia doesn’t have time to live the life she wants later. Not if she wants to see it all anyway. 

After retiring, Emilia had to figure out who she was outside of skiing. She grew up as a professional and it was her entire identity. Now she was a wasn’t. 

She went on a tear of adventures she had always wanted to try, but never had the availability for because of skiing: Wildfire fighting, completing a college degree in 2.5 years, a remote medicine fellowship in Ecuador, an attempt at climbing The Nose at Yosemite. Emilia would not slow down in her pursuit of living.

It’s a simple decision making process for her: “What are you going to remember in 20 years? I want to remember riding this epic trail in Moab, not doing laundry,” she says.

It took Emilia a year to move beyond the constant feeling of imminent mental breakdown, despite all that she was up to. Now that she’s in a positive headspace, she feels a sense of gratitude. 

The diagnosis has given me a push to live my life right now. Because whatever it is, I might not have this opportunity forever. And that frame of mind is a special thing,” she says on her blog.


Living their dream (grant). Photo source: emiliawint.com


On Committing to Living a Full Life

Emilia shared her perspective on how she’s choosing to live a full life post-diagnosis.

She recognizes that it can be scary and that she’s also coming from a place of privilege (with some financial security, little debt, and a van that offers cheap accommodation, etc.). She’s also burned herself out from time to time. 

Still, her input offers guidance for pushing our own boundaries, and maybe doing more than you thought was possible.


Living Intentionally

“It’s so easy to not do it,” Emilia declares in our call. 

She continues, “I met so many people in Patagonia who said, ‘I’ve wanted to come here for years. I just retired and finally got the chance.’ I don’t have 30 years to do this thing, I want to do it now.

“Acting intentionally is really important. Picking up the phone when you know you should call your friend. Telling someone you love them. Things can change so drastically, it would be so sad to not pick up the phone, not to tell them you love them. Not to do that thing you really want to do.”

Being intentional is making it happen, with the way you spend your time and your money.” she says.


Face the Fear

Emilia has traveled to Southeast Asia, South America and all over the U.S. 

“You can do it, it’s not like I’m an elite travel person, it’s not an exclusive thing. You just have to book the ticket. I went to SE Asia and used my credit card miles there and back. The whole month cost me about a $1,000,” she shares.

“It can be horrifying,” she admits, “but you can push past that. Exist in the discomfort.”

“For weeks in Bangkok, I had this burden: I don’t speak any Thai. I was horrified about this one micro instance. I’m going to land there, then what am I going to do? I couldn’t think about the rest of the adventure because of this.”

“Then I got there and went to a taxi stand, showed them my phone, then got to the hostel. Yea, you will probably be ripped off a few times, but then you’ll learn,” she recalls of confronting her fear head on.


Take a Step

“It can feel horrible failing, but you can’t avoid failing. I’ve had to work towards being comfortable with it,” Emilia offers.

“Take baby steps. Everyone has ideas of something they want to do; put it in your calendar or tell someone about it. Put one thing into motion, and build off of that. Do one thing. Just start. Hold yourself accountable. Make a concrete step.” 

For a long time Emilia didn’t feel these were things she could do, but her mindset has shifted as she’s begun pursuing her different interests. “You do belong here, you are the type of person that can or should do that thing,” she says, both to herself and others.



The perks of #vanlife. Photo source: emiliawint.com


I came across Emilia’s story when researching the American Alpine Club’s Live Your Dream grant. She had applied with the goal of climbing The Nose of El Cap in Yosemite.

From her account they failed their objective: “we scared the shit out of ourselves for two months… we realized we were way over our head.”

She went on to talk about how she mentally re-framed the situation: “We could have walked out of there feeling like failures… but we recognized that, ‘oh wow, we would never have been able to do these 10 climbs otherwise.’ Now we can go back next year and build on that.” I admire her tenacity and light-heartedness in spite of.

You can read Emilia’s stories on her website, emiliawint.com

The Upshot of Migraines: How Juliane Fritz Found Relief in Bouldering and Podcasting

I. 

In May of 2017, Juliane Fritz awoke with a start and a pounding headache. It was like the world was collapsing in on itself, the seismic pressure squeezing her skull from grey matter to diamond.

She’d had migraines all her life, but nothing like this. Her pain killers, the only therapy she’d ever tried, were useless. She couldn’t move, couldn’t think; all she could do was lay in bed to wait out the pain. The attacks came and went over the next three months. 

When Juliane was a child the doctors couldn’t make heads or tails of her migraines. Nothing seemed to work and they had no answers. She had resigned herself to a life of pain. “I just felt that because it had been there all the time, it was a part of my life and there was nothing I could do. It was a feeling of ‘this belongs to me, I have to suffer,’” she explains.

Juliane’s engaging personality shines through the speaker, her steady speech and animated answers rise in a chittering wave that is often punctuated by a self-conscious chuckle. Her upbeat and level-headed persona makes it hard to fathom the dark period she had in her life.

As the months wore on each attack was a new worst. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. “I needed to do something,” she says, a tone of defeat rings in her voice. 

She decided to seek support from a place she had always been hesitant about.


Day 1: Walk into Berta Block Boulderhalle down the street. Intimidated. Start on the children’s wall. Fail.

Photo source: Juliane Fritz


II. 

Juliane was dedicated to her work. She’d always been good at radio production and took pride in the final product. She was conscientious, dedicated and a perfectionist. At times she would get carried away, feeling stressed and worn down. She never questioned why she worked so hard. Why would she?

Those three months were a wake up call, and out of desperation she started getting new forms of support from psychiatrists to physical therapists to osteopaths. She was uneasy about it, she recalls, “I always thought, psychiatrists, ‘oh I don’t need that, that’s stupid.’” There was a resistance and a harboring of pain, but something began to happen:

“Slowly I started to learn about me, about how my body works, how my mind works, that maybe the way I had been working for all these years I had been doing too much, working too hard. It was always, ‘I am in this world to make other feel good, but not me.’ And I really have to change the way I operate with myself.”

She started to see a connection between her mind and body, and then the osteopath suggested physical movement as a way to help with the headaches. “I have headaches almost all the time,” she says, and she wondered if bouldering would make any difference. 


Day 2: Encouraged to try again, I go back. Try some new routes. Still on the kiddie wall. Fail.

Photo source: Juliane Fritz

III.

The first day Juliane went bouldering she felt weak, nervous, and by her account, failed to get up the VBs on the children’s wall. Yet something about the movement, the way it made her feel, kept her attention. She decided to go back. And then again, and again, and again.

She stayed with it for years, but after her first session with a headache, it became a whole new ball game. 

“I was so happy to find out that after [that session with a headache] I felt pretty good.” She then started to go after migraine attacks had subsided and discovered it offered a mental convalescence as well. “It helped me to own my own body again,” she notes, you can hear the empowered feeling in her voice.

These sessions became a period of freedom from outside concerns, a flow; they were fun, they were cathartic, and taught her about herself in unexpected ways. 

“It made me love the sport even more,” Juliane says.

Down the rabbit hole she went. “I became a bouldering nerd” as she puts it. She began going every other day and consuming all things bouldering in between: Watching comps, reading whatever she could find, and even visiting the world cup in Munich.

Over the weeks the attacks lessened; from a few days in a row with no pain to long stretches of manageable headaches.

Through pain, Juliane had found something that called to her like the work she did in radio. And there was another interesting twist she discovered:
 
“I’ve been working in the media for years, at a radio station in Berlin. And I found out that sometimes I am free of pain when I interview people. [I thought,] ‘just combine the two things you really like, that make you feel really good, and do a podcast, interview people that have the same passion for bouldering and share it.’ That’s why I started the podcast.”


Day 3: Progress. Go back alone, and something special happened! I managed to send problems I couldn’t do the first two times. This is fun!

Photo source: Juliane Fritz


Bin weg bouldern

Juliane started her podcast, Bin weg bouldern in 2018 and is becoming known throughout Germany as the “bouldering podcast lady.”

She interviews pros, local crushers (in Germany, there are a lot), shares event recaps and educational material, and talks with climbers engaged in peripheral activities, such as Zofia Reych who started the first ever Women’s Bouldering Festival in Fontainebleau.

You can listen to her episodes here, though be sure to brush up on your Deutsch! (The links above are to episodes in English.)

For Juliane, bouldering has helped alter her perspective on work, life, and her relationship to herself. What started back in 2013 with three days of climbing — from flailing to her first send — has turned into a life possessed.

“You can learn so much about yourself, the mental aspect, your body,” she says. But most importantly, “You can just be free and have fun.”



Feature photo courtesy of Juliane Fritz.

Barn Door Hostel: Rumney’s First Hostel for Climbers

Barn Door Hostel is the first climber’s hostel in Rumney, NH, the sports climbing mecca of the northeast. Only two miles from the crags and sitting on 9 acres of old farmland, this European-styled hostel offers 20 bunk beds, private rooms and camping for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. You can join them for their launch party on May 25.


On Finding a Home in a Hostel

At 9AM, David Cook walked in to an old victorian in downtown San Diego and burst into tears. 

The sun was streaming through the windows in the foyer of the International Travelers House lighting up the pastel walls of Easter egg blue and neon orange. Portraits of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison smiled from above the door frame leading to the kitchen. David stood in place, overcome. He was on his own for the first time, ready to start a new life in the “go west, young man” refrain. So far things weren’t proceeding as planned. He was haggard, alone, and broke. 

“I walked in and James was there manning the desk, pancake splatter on his apron, rushing around cleaning, checking people in, etc. He saw me, dropped everything and gave me a great big bear hug,” David recalled. James was the owner of the recently opened hostel, the do it all man, and he saw someone in need.

“I was lost, ready to give up on this trip. I didn’t know where I’d go next.”

David had booked two nights to collect himself and figure out his plan. Those days would pass too quickly and he’d end up scrubbing toilets for a free night’s stay, and more time.

After about a week, David made a decision, “I want to be here permanently,” he told James. James replied, “that’s exactly what you should do!”

Weeks turned into months and eventually a year. By the end he was the manager of a new location, in charge of everything from how to bring guests across to Tijuana for beers to navigating the zoning regulations needed to install a new window in a commercial building.

The experience changed David. “It was very much, ‘you are always where you need to be.’ And it was the first time I felt that, it was magic.” He wanted to share this with others. 

Predator (5.13b). Photo source: @nicholastabis


On Creating Barn Door Hostel

“I wanted to create a hostel that would feel like home.”

David started the Barn Door Hostel to introduce climbers and non-climbers to the welcoming environment of a hostel. The endeavor became a family affair that grew from serendipity, hard work, and friendship.

It all started in San Diego, of course. Helene and David met as starry eyed dreamers who spoke of running their own hostel someday, but weren’t sure of where or how. 

Their dream kicked off extended travel as they went about looking for the right location only to end up empty handed. Eventually, the idea was put on hold as they settled into new jobs. David ended up at a rock climbing gym in Rhode Island working alongside his best friend, Dom Pascariello, the man who got David into the sport in the first place. The years wore on and David felt a sense of urgency growing. 

“I realized the gym was similar to a hostel, how people could meet with no judgment and become friends. I missed being an orchestrator, someone who brought people together. Eventually, the idea of starting a hostel was less of a dream and more of a must do.”

As a proud northeast climber, Dom suggested Rumney. They went scouting. Around this time, David’s parents, Dianne and Bob, were looking to retire and move back to New Hampshire. The pieces came together in the form of a family business.

Stinson Brook. Photo source: Barn Door Hostel.


The Timing Is Right

Hostels have been a rite of passage for European travel for decades and they act as international meeting spots and social centers when backpacking through a new city. They aren’t as popular in the U.S., but that’s changing (thankfully).

Climbers who get around might be familiar with climber-specific options in places like Geyikbayiri, San Vito Lo Capo, and El Chorro, as they offer cheap accommodation close to crags and a way to meet partners. Other niche hostels are opening as well, catering to surfers and digital nomads. 

Barn Door Hostel is an early adopter here in the U.S., following the likes of The Crash Pad in Chatanooga, TN, and to some extent, Miguel’s Pizza in the Red River Gorge, WV.

Plenty of room for camping. Photo source: Barn Door Hostel.


About Barn Door Hostel

The hostel used to be a chicken coop, a four-story tower of a coop, dating from the 1800s. As the times changed so has land usage, and four stories became two as it transitioned into an auto repair shop. Now it’s being repurposed for house and home.

Details:

  • 3 private rooms, each fit for two people. Two private rooms have standard full size beds. The third private has a bunk for those that do not wish to share the same bed but want the privacy.  One private bedroom has its own bathroom and closet.
  • Bunk rooms: One 6 person, one 8 person and one 10 person.
  • Camping (car, tent, hammock) on 9 acres.
  • Community bathrooms, kitchen, common area.
  • Enjoy the swimming hole in the front yard or hop into Stinson Brook after a long day of climbing. Access to the White Mountains right outside the front door.
  • 2 miles from the main crag, with smaller climbing areas close by.

You can book your stay here.


How to Get There

Address: 30 Stone Hill Rd Rumney NH 03266 USA

Rumney, NH is 2 hours north of Boston, MA via 93N. 2.5 hours west of Portland, ME via ME-25 W and NH-25 W. 3 hours north of Hartford, CT via I-91 N.


A Welcome Addition

For fans of climbing and friendly places to make friends, the Barn Door Hostel is a fantastic new spot to check out on your next trip to Rumney.