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Meet Sharon Wood: First North American woman to climb Mount Everest

Sharon Wood is a professional mountain guide, author, and the first North American woman to climb Mount Everest, which she ascended in 1986 from the rarely-used (and very dangerous) West Ridge approach through Tibet. She’s inspiring and filled with wisdom about getting active and staying Bold no matter your age, and Team Bold was excited to speak with her.

Can you tell us about your background with climbing?

Sharon: When I was younger I worked as a professional mountain guide. I was very good at climbing big mountains. I was lucky enough to reach the top of Everest in 1986 and became the first North American woman to climb Everest — which I also did by a new route.

After Everest, I fell into an accidental career as a motivational speaker. I don’t really like that word — motivational speaker — so I like to call myself a storyteller, where I have an emphasis on ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

I have always been quite adventurous and as I get older, I find that less is more. Now I’m finding adventures in everything I do in life. But one of the most exciting things I’ve been doing lately is leading trips for people over 55 years old who have never rock climbed, where I teach them how to climb.

Wow, that sounds amazing. How do you help people get started climbing?

To get people excited about taking on something new you have to get them to feel as comfortable as possible. The biggest anxiety for people trying something new is that they feel they can’t learn something new — they feel they can’t start something like they used to. But this is all perception. It’s amazing how our perceptions get in the way of us showing up.

So first, I congratulate people on just showing up. It’s a huge win to just show up. It says You’re ready to begin. Then, your intention for what you’re doing has to come through loud and clear. What I’m excited about is helping people close the gap between what they think they can do and what they actually can do, and it’s so exciting to watch them work through that divide.

As we age we don’t expect to change a lot and I love to see people’s faces when they surprise themselves.

How do you help combat negative self-talk and our perception of not being able to do something?

I have a lot of empathy for people who struggle with confidence when learning something new, so I help people conquer that by understanding that they just need to take a baby step. Honor yourself and your own capacities. And be kind to yourself as you’re learning.

What’s a tip you have for getting motivated and taking that first step?

Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen if you try something, and compare that to how you are going to benefit. Remember: you can continue to progress and live the life you want. And tactically, get someone else to join you! I might get my husband to join me, or get a friend onboard.

What’s one tip you can share on living Boldly?

Continue to do new things and try new things. Keep believing that your capacity can expand rather than contract. As we get older we can shrink back from life, but we need to keep letting life in.