Today we’d like to introduce you to Christa Melde.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Just like how Western culture sees history in the framework of BCE and CE, I see my life split between two distinct time periods: before and after my rape. It’s an uncomfortable word: rape. It carries connotations of violence that even sometimes I, too, feel uncomfortable labeling my experience as. It shakes you to your core, and creates visions of dark alleyways with looming monsters. Sometimes, I use the word sexual assault instead. It feels more removed, as if I’m an outsider reporting a group of statistics, but let’s call it what is is: rape.
Before I was raped, I considered myself a confident, bright young woman. My life experiences varied from typical nights in my college apartment making Kraft Mac n’ cheese to bi-weekly climbing sessions at my local climbing gym. Climbing was not just my life at the time, it was my job. Hired on at my local climbing gym as a college sophomore, my days consisted of class, homework, and the climbing gym.
It was easy to fall in love with climbing. Climbing is not just a sport, it’s a symbiotic dance between the mental and the physical, a puzzle solved through physical movement that puts you in the uncomfortable, yet riveting space between fear and adrenaline. It reminds you that you are alive.
Not long after becoming a consistent member of my local gym, I met a climbing partner that grew into a mentor. He was experienced, driven, and likable. Funny in all the right ways, Chris was a member of the community everyone knew and loved. He worked as a coach and manager of my gym. Not only was he driving force in the indoor community, he had over 10 years of outdoor climbing experience under his belt which he shared with the less experienced climbers around him. I had no idea he was grooming me at the time.
For almost a year, Chris and I grew closer as friends and climbing partners. At the time, he was dating my roommate, a beautiful and charismatic woman whose smile lit up a room. The three of us were inseparable for a time, until things changed.
I remember the day he walked in our house, and look at me differently: not as a friend or even a person, but as an object. That was the day I was raped. That was the day everything changed for me. It was year 0 in my life, a start of the most difficult chapter in my life.
It took me almost 8 months to tell anyone what happened to me. Chris threatened my life, my job, my friends, and my loved ones to silence my voice, and in that time, he extinguished the light within me, as well as my passion for climbing. I continued to go through the motions in my life. I went to work, to class, to college parties, but nothing was the same. A grey filter encompassed my life, making everything duller and all I could feel during that time was fear: fear that he was going to hurt me, or hurt someone I loved. We continued to work together as I continued to keep a secret that ate away at everything I once loved about myself. I retracted, quit climbing, and stopped talking to my friends and family. I thought I was protecting them.
It took 8 months for me to say something, anything to anyone, because the monster in my life was not found by wandering through a dark alleyway. The monster in my life was once my friend and my coworker, and the fear of being treated with disbelief by those around me kept me in silence.
After Chris went to jail, and I was able to speak, my life began to change for the better. Like a phoenix from the ashes, I was able to reinvent myself through my experience, but it was not easy. Through my recovery, I eased back into climbing. Each moment on the wall was a painful reminder of my experiences. Every climb felt as though I was reliving my assault. PTSD encompassed 80% of my life.
Through intensive therapy, supportive friends and loving family, I was able to start climbing again. First on the kids wall, then on the adult walls, and finally outside again. This time, however, I was climbing for different reasons: to protest my experiences.
Sharing my story with others made me realize I was not the only woman to experience sexual assault in the field of outdoor recreation. Countless other outdoor guides, climbers, and outdoorswomen shared all too similar stories to mine. Individually, we were drops of rain, but together we made an unstoppable storm, so I starting shouting my story, hoping that others would rally with me.
And they did. In 2018, some of the strongest women I have ever met rallied together and the Arizona Women’s Climbing Coalition was formed. Together, we seek to connect and empower women across the state of Arizona through climbing: the sport that redefined my life.
Today, I work with the Arizona Women’s Climbing Coalition to make the Outdoor Recreational community a safer space for gender non-binary and women climbers. I give talks detailing my experience, to provide insight on how we can prevent such tragic acts of violence from occurring in the future. The Arizona Women’s Climbing Coalition makes climbing community safer, more inclusive, and a better place for all of us.
If someone had told me 4 years ago that I would be a co-founder of a women’s empowerment organization, with connections throughout the entire state of Arizona, I wouldn’t have believed them. Close to suicide at the time, I was broken, shattered shell of my former self. Today I rise as a fiercely passionate woman whose inner light burns brighter than ever.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I cannot count how many times I almost gave up, both on climbing and my life. Sexual assault is not an experience that ends when the abuse is over. It lingers for years in the back of your mind. For years I felt as though I was constantly being followed. I took certain precautions to prevent my abuser from being able to attack or find me again. I took different paths home, always had my keys out when I walked to my car, only lived on second floor apartments and always made sure my location services were off on my phone. It was a life lived in fear, and a life lived in fear is not a life of freedom.
It took many years and hard work in therapy for these feelings to go away. If you are a woman just starting down the road to recovery, know that it does get better. Share your experiences and you will find that you are not alone. Too many of us stay silent. As women, we deal with these experiences alone even though a quarter of the population has been sexually assaulted.
When I co-founded the Arizona Women’s Climbing Coalition, I was worried my story would be too polarizing. I was afraid people would ostracize me and our organization because of my story. At the time, there were still people in the community who refused to acknowledge me, who thought I was lying. As women, we are taught by society to be afraid of our voice, to be afraid of being seen as aggressive or bitchy. It’s a scary thing, using your voice, but together we are strong. Use your voice, you will not regret it.
Sharing my story was the best choice I could have made, and the biggest help in my road to recovery. If you are reading this and you are a survivor of sexual assault, remember that you are not alone.
We’d love to hear more about Arizona Women’s Climbing Coalition.
Co-founding the Arizona Women’s Climbing Coalition is my proudest accomplishment. It is the culmination of year’s recovery, a passion for women’s issues, my own inner strength, and the importance of women camaraderie.
The AZWCC provides local climbing gyms with all-women meet ups, outdoor campouts, TED talk-style lectures, self-defense clinics and many other events to empower our community.
We’re now involved throughout the entire Phoenix market, including Mesa, Tempe, Peoria, Phoenix and Scottsdale with an expansion to Tucson and Prescott in the coming months.
If something like the AZWCC had existed during the time of my abuse, I often wonder if it would have continued for as long as it did, or even happened in the first place. My hope is to give women a space to report these issues to prevent them from happening in the future, and most importantly, to give women a space to develop their inner light and thrive as individuals. Womanhood is so special, and is so different yet equally valid from person to person. My hope is to cultivate that growth in each individual we have the privilege to meet.
Do you recommend any apps, books or podcasts that have been helpful to you?
You can catch my podcast interview here: https://fortheloveofclimbing.com/2018/08/15/1-unbroken/
The biggest influences in my life are resources that remind me to consistently work to expand my empathy towards others. I truly believe that empathy is the key to fixing this world. I’m a huge audio book listener. I make a point to read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien once a year. Frankenstein because I think the juxtaposition between the Monster and Dr. Frankenstein shows that we all have a little monster within us, Siddhartha to bring me down to Earth, and Lord of the Rings to remind that there is still good in this world, and that good is worth fighting for.
As for podcasts, I just got done with the Liturgist’s “Man,” which was one the best takes on masculinity I’ve heard in a long while.
Oh yeah, and I love Dungeons and Dragons podcasts, because who doesn’t need a little escapism every now and again. I highly recommend The Adventure Zone for a great story and a good laugh.
- The Arizona Women’s Climbing Coalition meet ups are $10.00 per meet up (That’s HALF off a normal day pass rate at the climbing gym)
- Website: www.azwcc.org
- Instagram: @therealdoctorindianajones
- Other: @azwcc
Joey Jerrell and Keith Timberlake