In 2017, 66-year-old Dierdre Wolownick became the oldest woman to ascend El Capitan, a 3,000ft sheer rockface in Yosemite, California. She had only taken up climbing at 60, after a cerebral life of language teaching and conducting, says Tim Neville in The New York Times. But she had a world-class teacher. Her son is Alex Honnold, who in 2017 became the first person to ascend “El Cap” without ropes or safety equipment – a climb captured in the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo.
Wolownick says she took up climbing when she was in “total turmoil” following the deaths of her father and ex-husband. “I was just a lumpy middle-age woman completely taken with jobs and chores.” Honnold showed her the ropes at a local climbing gym and, 45ft up her first wall, Wolownick discovered she wasn’t afraid.
She installed a pull-up bar at home – she does 10 reps whenever she walks by – and prepared for El Cap by hiking and climbing in Yosemite three times a week for 18 weeks. Led by her son, she knocked off the route, nicknamed Lurking Fear, in one day instead of the usual four. (Unlike her son, Wolownick used ropes.) “Being on El Cap is a mind-bender,” she says. “Your life changes.”
She has since scaled the rockface again, for her 70th birthday – although this time via a gentler route. She has firm advice for anyone hesitating to follow in her footsteps: “It’s just so sad when people say, oh, I’m 50, I can’t… fill in the blank. Try it anyway! Who cares? You might be surprised.”
The footballer who’s out and proud
“I’m a footballer, and I’m gay.” With these six words, 21-year-old Adelaide United midfielder Josh Cavallo made history on Wednesday: he’s the only active male top-flight professional footballer to come out. “I have been fighting my sexuality for over six years now,” Cavallo said, “and I’m glad I can put that to rest.” The Australian’s announcement prompted an outpouring of support from fellow footballers, including Marcus Rashford, Jordan Henderson and David de Gea. “I never smiled this much in my life,” Cavallo told an interviewer the following day. “And I had the best sleep last night.”
It’s welcome news, says John Nicholson on Football365. But it’s an indictment of men’s football that something so “natural and normal” makes global headlines. (The first pro to come out was Justin Fashanu, in 1990, and he took his own life eight years later.) The women’s game is way ahead in this respect. “Several England players, for example, are in same-sex relationships. Is anyone in the slightest bit bothered? Of course not.”
I came out after retiring from the Australian professional leagues, but while still playing as an amateur, says Andy Brennan in The Guardian. I didn’t feel particularly brave, but what I did find courageous was my fellow players and friends sticking up for me. One team-mate, James Brown, responded to a homophobic slur directed at me during a training session by picking up the ball, kicking it two fields away and saying: “Don’t you dare say that.” Hearing those words “picked me up immediately”. Football needs “more people like James Brown”.