Perched on a rock face hundreds of feet above the ground, only a thin rope ready to catch her if she falls, pro climber Alex “AJ” Johnson contemplates her next move. It’s a situation that would send an average person into panic mode, but a quick glance at the Fitbit Surge on her wrist shows AJ’s heart rate is holding steady. “What can I say? I’m a badass,” she jokes later during a phone call.
That confident attitude is a far cry from the shy, self-proclaimed lazy girl who first approached the sport. “I was talented and there weren’t many women competing when I was starting out,” says AJ, 26, “so I was able to get by on little training for a long time.” AJ won several gold and silver World Cup medals (2008 through 2010), but as the sport’s popularity grew and attracted more competitors, she lost her grip on the winners’ podium. “I started losing,” says AJ, “and I knew I needed to step up my game if I wanted to hang on.”
“Climbing is a slow sport—really slow,” says AJ. “You have to think about every move before you make it. If you place your fingers in a hole that’s a little off, you’re done.” That precision comes naturally to AJ, but in order to place in competitions improving her aerobic stamina, agility, and speed was essential.
Lately, AJ has been devoting nearly all of her time to climbing and cross training. “I’m taking a big risk right now, holding off going to college, focussing on my climbing career,” says AJ. “But it’s what my heart is telling me to do, and I’m super lucky to have the support of my family—they want me to do what I love.”
AJ’s hard work and heart are paying off. She’s dominating competitions again, recently displaying her strength, resilience, and sense of humor at the Psicobloc Masters Series in Park City, UT. And she’s more committed to cross training than ever as she sets her sights on winter, when the climbing season heats up again. “This summer is all about being in the best shape possible and having fun,” says AJ.
AJ is also spending the summer getting her transportation ready for competition. “I’m having solar panels installed on my trailer to make living on the road a little nicer,” says AJ. “Climbers are part of a dirtbag community—we live out of our cars and camp during the on season. But my trailer is cute—it’s clean, I have running water, a refrigerator, and dry shampoo. It’s so much better than sleeping in a car.” Upgrades all around for AJ!