Interview with Tori Allen

by Ben Atkinson on September 4, 2013


Tori Allen is a retired professional rock climber who took the world by storm after becoming the youngest female to summit El Capitan at age 13 and the youngest woman to win a gold medal in climbing at the X-Games at age 14. She currently lives and works in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Her passions continue to be promoting women in sports, volunteering in her community and being a leader in every way she can. Tori was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for Route Ready. She will also be an occasional contributor as one of our Field Scouts.

You lived in Africa in the country of Benin until you were 8. What was a typical day like for you there?

  • Wake up and have homemade (without a bread maker) toasted bread with jam.
  • Get my wagon and fill it with toys, books, a cloth for napping (paigne), water, snacks.
  • Dress my monkey in a matching dress to the one I am wearing (I had a seamstress in town who made my dressed and who agreed to make matching ones for Georgie as well).
  • Take a walk through the village, with Georgie-my monkey, visiting my friends of all ages.
  • Take a nap at a friend’s house on a straw mat.
  • Go home for late lunch, usually leftovers (since I snacked all morning visiting everyone).
  • Go to school with my mom, (we called our school “Monkey Mountain Academy” because we had a monkey and lived on the side of a small mountain).
  • Play with my brother after school…in our sand box, on our homemade swing set, on the wall around our house-playing chase, in the house playing games or with GI Joes and Barbies.
  • Eat dinner, usually- pounded ignam with ground sesame seed (like pumpkin seeds) and smoked fish sauce (made with ground tomato, onion and chopped okra)-eaten with hands…my favorite.
  • Take a bath in a bucket-tub.
  • Read bedtime stories with my mom.
  • Sleep. =)

Was it difficult to adjust to life in the states?

VERY.When I saw African-American people, I assumed they were African and immediately started talking to them in French or greeting them in Fon. This got me many a strange look in Wal-Marts and in grocery stores in Indianapolis. LOL Plus, I was used to leaving my house and walking around my town, seeing everyone sitting in front of their houses ready to chat or share something yummy with me from their cooking pot. I could not get used to walking around seeing almost no one out of his or her house. And, the ones who were out didn’t want to visit with me. I am glad my parents homeschooled me for awhile so that I didn’t have to face public schools on top of all of that. When I think of the word “home”, I still think of Savalou…the village where I lived in Benin. Savalou is even what I have on my custom license plate for my car.

What was it that first drew you to the sport of climbing?

I love heights. When I climbed that first wall in Galyans at the mall, I felt a thrill…I could not stop smiling. I wanted more and more of that feeling, so I kept going back.

What is your favorite type of climbing?

Gym. Lol, shocking and true.  I really love climbing and playing around on problems and routes in a gym. Other than that, I enjoy bouldering outside more than sport climbing, but I like both.

Tell us a little about your record-breaking climb up El Capitan when you were 13?

Oh, my! I had no idea what I was getting into. I was a kid who climbed almost exclusively in a gym, on plastic. I had climbed a little at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, but that was no preparation for my El Cap experience. Bottom line…I declared it was no big deal in the days leading up to the climb, and as soon as I was more than 3 sport climbs above the ground, (about 250 feet), I was petrified. The wind was gusting and they had to latch gallon water bottles to my harness to keep me from blowing off routes (it was probably about 30% of my body weight, or more). I had never placed gear so I was sketched out about that. And, I was generally uncomfortable….sleeping on rock (they didn’t bring enough porta-ledges), going to the bathroom in front of 8 other people who I had pretty much just met, and rationing food (my dad had only packed me gummy bears!! Lol).

When you won gold at the X-Games 8 in 2002 you were only 14, how did the other climbers respond to your mad dash up the wall?

At the event, the other climbers, male and female, were completely behind me and supportive, even when I beat them. I enjoyed the feeling of camaraderie and sportsmanship at that event. What was even cooler, was meeting athletes from other X-games events in the athlete tent and having them out there cheering me on. Travis Pastrano was on crutches that year due to a knee injury and could not compete, but he watched all of my climbs because we were both so “young” for our sports. He knew what it felt like to be “me” and I appreciated that. (Side note: I later met his, now, wife, Lynn Z, at a Women’s Sports Foundation event, and we also became friends! She ROCKS!) Check out a video of the event

Was it difficult to make the decision to stop competing professionally?

No, not at all. I wanted to go to college outside of Indiana (where we lived) and the only way I could do that was with a scholarship. (Not going to college was not even an option. College was expected in my family.) My “dream” came true when I was offered pole vault scholarships to several schools, including Florida State University. Also, I always wanted to see if I could compete at the Olympic level of a sport. Pursuing pole vault was a long shot at that, since it seemed clear climbing was not going to be in the Olympics. (In college, I also was recruited to try out to train at the Olympic training center for luge or skeleton because of the cross over between the pole vault approach run and the approach run for those events. Also, I was the “ideal” size for them, esp. skeleton. I passed on that, though).


Did you miss climbing competitively once you were Pole Vaulting at FSU?

No, not even a little. In fact, there is only a very small gym in Tallahassee and I did not step foot in it until my Sr. year in college. I really immersed myself in being a “regular” person at FSU and putting the “”Tori Allen” part of my life to the side. It was the best experience of my life so far. I grew up and learned so much about my passions and myself. I wouldn’t change one minute of it.

Now that you are out of school have you been thinking about getting back into competitive climbing?

Nope. I recently competed in Psicocomp because it was such a new event and I wanted to support it. Also, since it was attached to the OR trade show it enabled me to have a sort of reunion with people I had left behind when I retired from climbing. All my friends and fellow competitors stayed in the climbing world and have been doing so much there, but their world and mine have not crossed for almost a decade. I missed seeing them and wanted to catch up with everyone. It was a perfect week of “closure” of my “career” on the comp scene.

Tell us about how you like to promote women in sports?

I enjoy coaching track, pole vault, fitness and climbing events. Also, I have done a lot of public speaking to women’s groups and schools, with a focus on all people getting active in activities that have no gender boundaries. Also, I do appearances at school and club climbing events, which attract female athletes. There, I can encourage women to either be mentors to encourage young girls to be involved in climbing or encourage girls to give climbing a chance as a sport and fitness activity. In the future, I’d like to do more female, outdoor climbing clinics. It would be fun to meet more women interested in climbing and have women to climb with who are just in it to have fun


What other outdoor activities are you into besides climbing?

  • Rugby, I play WING.
  • Softball
  • Backpacking
  • Hiking 14’ers
  • Snowboarding
  • Snow shoeing
  • Slack lining
  • Wake boarding
  • Surfing
  • Kite Boarding

Favorite piece of gear?

  1. My PINK Sterling rope!! I will always LOVE it !
  2. My FUN, PINK chalk bags from Krieg climbing!
  3. A crash pad… I LOVE bouldering!

What is on your iPod?

Oh, I am a Pop and Country-Pop junkie…. (no hard rock or raunchy rap for me) I currently think Chase Rice, a country music singer, is pretty awesome (I even got to meet him this summer)!

Any upcoming projects or exciting news you would like to share?

I have been cast as the lead role in an independent feature film called “Over the Crux“. It is a GREAT script and I am super excited to move into the production stage…but, as with all independent films, it needs more funding. The whole process of being cast and bonding with the rest of the cast and honing my acting skills has been very exciting and challenging. I can’t wait to start filming!!!

Thanks again to Tori for taking the time to speak with us and for supporting Route Ready! Make sure to check out Tori’s website and like her Facebook Page




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