This 20-year-old rock climber may look tiny, but her ability to set and crush goals has helped her become one of the best climbers in the world.
Photo: The North Face / Greg Mionske
Margo Hayes was the first woman to ever successfully climb La Rambla route in Spain last year. The route is graded a 5.15a in difficulty—one of the four most advanced rankings in the sport, and fewer than 20 climbers have ever beaten the wall (nearly all of them grown men). Hayes was 19 when she did it.
If you caught a glimpse of Hayes waiting at the airport for a flight to the mountains of, say, France, Spain, or Colorado, you might mistake her for a young ballerina. At 5 feet 5 inches tall, she's lean and has a bright, peppy smile. But go to shake her blistered and beaten hands and you'll see the true grit of her personality: Hayes is a fighter. She's just one of the badass athletes who will inspire you to take up climbing.
"I began as a gymnast when I was really young and dealt with a lot of injuries because I was lanky and fearless," says Hayes. "When I was maybe 11 years old, it was my first day back in gymnastics after recovering from an injury, and I felt two metatarsals break (again) in my foot. I didn't want to tell my coach or have to sit out, so I went to the bathroom and stuck my foot in the toilet to ice it, then came back and kept doing class."
That determination and passion never faded in Hayes, who only six months after making history at La Rambla became the first female to climb Biographie, an almost completely vertical route in France. Only 13 people in the world had climbed it previously. These two unbelievable accomplishments in less than a year helped her cinch recognition at the American Alpine Club 2018 Climbing Awards, winning the Robert Hicks Bates Award for a young climber with outstanding promise.
"Women are climbing just as hard as men, and soon people are not going to pay attention to the gender separation," she says. "That's what I love about climbing—you're not segregated by gender. I can train with a 55-year-old or 20-year-old, man or woman, because climbing is not all about pure physical strength. We all have different body types and strengths and you learn to use your strengths and improve your weaknesses to find your own unique way to the top." (Related: 10 Strong, Powerful Women to Inspire Your Inner Badass)
Hayes credits a strong work ethic and journaling for her incredible accomplishments. "At the beginning of the year, I always plan out my goals," she says. "It's important that my goals are big and really inspirational. I look at the process and promise myself I'm going to enjoy it." Once a goal is set, Hayes really gets to work. "In my opinion, working hard is very admirable," she says. "My family for generations has always had a strong work ethic. My sister is one of my biggest inspirations." (See: How Choosing a Big Lofty Goal Can Work In Your Favor)
Hayes also looks to female athletes Serena Williams and Lindsey Vonn for inspiration, saying, "They're tenacious, they're fighters, and they're wonderful role models. They don't give up and they believe in what is possible." And when she really needs a boost, she'll reread the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley. It says…
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Right now, Hayes says she's repeating these lines and harnessing in at her local climbing gym in Boulder, CO. She's training to compete in Olympic qualifying events that will hopefully land her a spot at the 2020 Summer Games. Watch out, world, Margo Hayes is coming for ya. (Inspired much? Bookmark these five strength exercises for rock climbing newbies.)