Scaling expectations: Westfield senior Gwen Joseph leads in male-dominated club


Gwen Joseph is a senior at Westfield High School and the president of the rock climbing club. (Photo by Ann Marie Shambaugh)

By Anna Skinner

Gwen Joseph spends her days doing things most women normally wouldn’t dream of, like scaling rock walls without a harness, known as bouldering, and weightlifting with her family.

Recently, the Westfield High School senior became the president of the Westfield Rock Climbing Club, which meets Wednesday afternoons at Hoosier Heights in Indianapolis.

As club president, Joseph works to make a difference by empowering females.

Gwen Joseph said rock climbing can be a stress reliever and also is a healthy form of activity.

“It’s definitely more male-dominated,” she said of the club. “It’s kind of fun, though, because I’ve done it for two years and I’ve gotten decently good, so it’s kind of fun going and seeing something an older guy can’t do and I can go and do it.”

During climbs, club members complete specific problems, or routes. The ranking system for bouldering ranges between V0 and V17. For top-roping, or rock climbing with a harness, the scale is 5.3-5.15. Joseph is at a V5 rating for bouldering and a 5.11 rank for top-roping.

Joseph tries to accomplish more than just the next climbing problem, though. Her objectives include attracting other females and underclassmen to a club that was previously dominated by males and older students. It now has approximately 30 students.

“I definitely attracted a lot of my female friends to the club, and I think a lot of the other girls in the club feel more comfortable with themselves,” she said. “It’s grown a lot. We have a lot more underclassmen.”

In addition to keeping her grade point average at a whopping 4.4 and spending three days a week climbing, Joseph attends Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training three to four days a week. She did so initially for extra soccer training, but she quit soccer after sophomore year. Now, she attends IFAST with her mom and sister to maintain physical and mental fitness.

“I think most women are afraid of getting too buff. They still want to look feminine,” Joseph said. “You can still be a strong woman and weightlift. I think it’s important for you to have that independence with weightlifting. (Weightlifting at IFAST) helped me develop a lot of connections. When I started going, it was mostly adults, but now a lot more high schoolers go there as well. You gain confidence with social interactions as well as not being shy about working out in front of other people, which I think women are worried about.”

Gwen’s mother, Ann Joseph, raised her daughters to value independence and strength.

“Raising strong and healthy women is so important in a world that can be pretty tough. By developing these life-changing habits at a young age, Gwen’s strength and confidence will assist her in handling future challenges,” she said. “Being mentally and physically strong can give women confidence and tenacity when put in situations that may be challenging.”

Gwen  isn’t a competititve weightlifter, but trainers have told her she has the potential to become one. She squats between 160 and 170 pounds and deadlifts 150 pounds. Mostly, she uses lifting as a stress reliever

“It helps you feel better about yourself,” she said. “It’s also kind of a way to release stress at the end of the day, so if there was something taxing during the day it can help with that.”

She also uses rock climbing as a form of stress relief.

“I definitely think it’s helped me with stress management because recently I was studying for an (Advanced Placement) chemistry exam and was studying all day,” she said. “I needed a break, so I go climbing, and I’m taking a break and also getting athletic benefits.”

The Westfield Rock Climbing Club meets every Wednesday at Hoosier Heights. Back, from left, Cole Hardacre, Paulina Kurek, Kayla Ratcliff, Jude Phillips, Matt Carr, Melanie Martinez, Gwen Joseph, Rachel Kalbfell, Cameron Todd, Sam Pigott, Thurman Calvin, Evan Parshall and Logan Simms. Front, from left, Caroline Martin, Abby Pate, Hannah McCoy, Sam Worthington, Neil Supanekar and Jesse Erickson. (Photos by Ann Marie Shambaugh)

Join the rock climbing club

Club meets at 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays after school at Hoosier Heights in Indianapolis. Meetings typically last two hours, and payment is due for the club at the beginning of each trimester. Westfield High School senior Gwen Joseph serves as club president and encourages students to join, regardless of skill level.

“I think it would be good for people to just know it’s for everyone and to know they can do it. You don’t have to be athletic in any way to start doing it,” she said. “I encourage those holding back to consider it.”