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The Green Life: 39 Weeks Pregnant and Dancing on a Cliff

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October 20, 2011

39 Weeks Pregnant and Dancing on a Cliff


Dancing in the air, she feels her mind relax, her body stretch. The extra weight of her little passenger distributes across her strong limbs, so different from the compression of gravity on her upright body. And the load feels somehow lighter up here.

Rock climbing while pregnant? Watch Carrie Cooper for two minutes, and your mental barriers will shift forever. An act that seemed seamless to her is inspiring a new perspective on what women can do. Hardly a rock-climbing novice, Cooper compares what she does to hiking or swimming for other expectant mothers. Continuing to climb during her pregnancy helped maintain her balance and agility, stretched the stiffness from her joints, and dispersed her baby load. In life's whirlwind, climbing gives her peace of mind.

“Rock climbing is a normal part of my life,” Cooper said. “Obviously it’s not for everyone. But I had something in my life already that was so helpful to me, and it ended up aiding my pregnancy. If you have something you love, it’s only natural to continue to do it, as long as it’s a healthy pursuit.”

Cooper’s second pregnancy — she didn’t climb during her first — produced a baby boy, now eight months old, who weighed 8 pounds, 8 ounces at birth.

She discovered her sport while studying in Sweden. During a dark, cold winter, she and a friend found a nearby gym. It was the size of her current kitchen, but it had a climbing wall, which Cooper climbed at least 10 times that day. From then on, she scaled cliffs, first in Sweden’s outdoors with friends and then during an eight-month solo trek across Europe and down through Africa. She returned to the states, but no longer flies solo after marrying her perfect match. The young family recently moved to Salt Lake City, where Cooper started a Ph.D. program in physical therapy.

Men seem to dominate the sport of rock climbing. But Cooper never saw an obstacle: “Yes, a female rock climber faces a high learning curve. Women don’t come by upper-body strength easily. But the fact that women can climb opens the door to women actually doing it — the same as any other freedom.” She thanks the female climbers and mountaineers who paved the way, who refused to be told they couldn’t do it. To achieve her own goals, Cooper trains regularly, takes advice from other climbers, adds her knowledge of Pilates, and packages it up into five-week stints. 

Low-impact exercise is highly recommended for most pregnancies. For a well-trained athlete like Cooper, the transition came naturally and she handled it safely, taking care to avoid stress, keeping her heart rate low, and securing and checking all her gear.

When people expressed concern, she embraced the opportunity to educate them: “They'd say, ‘That’s dangerous,’ or ‘You shouldn’t be doing that now,’ but I’d show them how I stand up, how I shift my weight, how the motion is gentle and soothing to the child. I would explain the rope and the harness, how I’m attached to them, and even show them my harness if they wanted.” Climbing while pregnant

She was on the right track. Pregnant women gain even more from aerobic exercise than the average person. Beyond the calorie burn, exercise strengthens muscles, bones, and joints; provides emotional benefits; lowers the risk of premature death; helps prevent gestational diabetes; and builds the necessary stamina for labor and delivery. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 30 minutes of low-impact aerobic exercise every day, with some exceptions: high-risk pregnancies, high-impact sports (such as ice hockey, kickboxing, and soccer), scuba diving, and activities that involve lying flat for a long time.

Carrie Cooper has pulled herself through some tough spots with a simple principle: “As long as you have the strength and willpower, you can accomplish anything.”

--Carolyn Cotney / video/photos by johnburcham.com and vongspoth.com


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