with Caroline Gleich
19 Oct, 2023 · Skiing
CLIF endurance athlete and a leader in the space of ski-mountaineering and endurance sports, Caroline Gleich shares with us how she has built her career and broken barriers as a woman and as an activist.
Athlete: Caroline Gleich
"Peak Performance with Caroline Gleich: Tackling Mountains, Barriers, and Environmental Policy"
Welcome to this week's episode of the VOICEINSPORT podcast. Today we are excited to dive into conversation with CLIF endurance athlete and a leader in the space of ski mountaineering and endurance sports, Caroline Gleich. Caroline began to build her ski career while being a student at the University of Utah.
She went on to become the first woman to ski all 90 lines of the Chuting Gallery, climb Mount Everest, compete in several ultra marathons and participate in many other endurance expeditions requiring great strength, mental fortitude, knowledge of the surrounding terrain and persistence. Fully embodying the VOICEINSPORT mission and spirit, Caroline wants her legacy to extend far beyond her expeditions and ski career. Combining her passion for sport and advocacy, she is an activist for gender equity and environmental policy.
She has traveled to Washington D. C. to testify in front of the House and Senate, organized climate rallies across the country and unapologetically used her social media platform to educate the community and fight for change. We invite you to join us in this extremely insightful episode where Caroline explains the challenges that women face in the sport of climbing.
What I do is I climb up mountains and ski down them. Like I still feel when people look at me, they don't take me seriously. They underestimate my experience and my expertise.
And I feel like I'm constantly still belittled and my accomplishments are diminished and people are always trying to rewrite the story on how I did something. And it's really frustrating.
Caroline will touch on the importance of normalizing different body types in sport and battling the perils of social media algorithms,
So many people have told me, I'm not the right body for what I'm doing, but I'm doing it at a really high level. So I guess, we really need more normalization of different body types because still mainstream media, you watch movies, everyone is like a supermodel and they are one type of build and I feel like what an athlete looks like, we still need to dispel these narratives and stereotypes about what an athlete's body looks like.
and she shares a passion for advocacy and her commitment to being an engaged activist.
CLIF has been for a long time, supporting my work as an activist, whether it's going to Washington, D. C. or it's going to speak to students about the effects of climate change.
Before we get started, if you love this podcast, please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify and shout out to our sponsor of this episode, CLIF Bar for being an incredible partner for advocating for girls and women in sport everywhere.
Welcome to the VOICEINSPORT Podcast, Caroline. We're so excited to have you here.
Thanks for having me. I'm stoked to be here.
Well, let's go back in time just for a moment. You grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, a city about 90 minutes Southeast of Minneapolis and this area is not particularly mountainous so we would love to know about how you got into the sport of mountaineering.
Yeah, I grew up in Minnesota and I had a lot of family that lived out west in Utah so we would usually take a trip once or twice a year to go ski in the winter and then backpack in the summer and I really just fell in love with the mountains and the lifestyle from a young age. I would count down the days in my notebook till we would go on vacation to Utah and I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a pro skier.
I love that. I grew up in Alaska, so skiing and being around the mountains were a huge part of my life and there's so much joy you can take from that. You also have to have a mindset of a risk taker and I really believe that now like when you have that as a starting point in your life, it's going to give you this incredible outlook, forever.
Yeah, and also to give a shout out to Minnesota, like growing up there, even though there's not mountains, there's like a deep respect for nature and like the urban design. There's a lot of green spaces and trees and winter sports are still a really big part of the culture. So even though there's not big mountains to ski, everybody is really active during the winter and the winter is really cold and so I would play pond hockey and I would go ski the local hill. And just growing up there, I learned how to be comfortable in the cold, which is a really important skill for what I do now.
That's amazing. Well, we have that in common, being comfortable in the cold.
Yeah, I love, I love the cold. I would take cold over hot any day.
I think the other thing is that I was always really short. I'm the smallest person in my family and I was always the smallest one in school and so just being a petite person, I always wanted to see what the world looked like from the top of the mountain and so I think that was like another part of my inspiration.
I love that. Well, you had a love for climbing and a love for skiing at a pretty young age. What other sports did you do and at what point did you really decide that you were going to combine the two and focus on ski mountaineering?
Growing up, my parents really steered me more towards academics than sport and so I would spend my summers learning, I'd go to language camp and I learned Japanese and I learned how to play musical instruments, but my parents didn't really see like as much the value of sports so I had to be a hustler to try to figure out how to join the hockey team.
My parents didn't want to wake up early to take me to practice and for the youth teams, like the ice time was always really competitive. So the practices would be at 4:30 in the morning. And so I had to like, we'd go to the hockey signups for four years. And for four years, we'd go. And my mom wouldn't sign me up because she couldn't commit to the schedule.
And by the fifth year, I made friends with the coach and his daughter. And I was like, Hey, how about you guys come and pick me up. And then once I got a ride and we figured that out, I was able to join the hockey team. So I played ice hockey and I'd go to the climbing gym when it opened in my hometown, but it wasn't a priority for my family.
And I think that in a way that challenge made it a blessing when I became an adult, because I had this huge hunger to figure out a way to make it work as a career. And I think sometimes like when you're a kid, it can be really frustrating not to get to do what you want to do, but sometimes those challenges end up being one of the greatest gifts as you become an adult.
Well, take us back to that moment where you realized that this is possible, that you can be a professional athlete and that can be your career. What did that look like? When was that moment? How hard was it to choose that path, especially with hearing your background and your story about your family?
Yeah. So I graduated from high school and then I was simultaneously building my ski career while I was going to college. And so, I started reaching out to different ski photographers and brands and I had a great mentor, a business mentor, who really taught me like the business of making it work.
And it's very different than just being a really good athlete. Like you have to be able to tell stories and create photos and videos and you have to really be able to create tangible assets and value for the brands you work with. And so I'm really grateful that I had that experience to work with and learn from her because it's just, it takes a lot of business strategy and marketing strategy and knowhow to be able to do that in this world that I'm in, and it's probably really different and like more of a competitive aspect but I was just trying to figure out a way to piece it together. And so I was never really sure, I'm still not a hundred percent sure if I can make this career work, but I've been doing it for the past 10, 20 years and it's really taken off the past few years and I've been able to grow my business and I have a couple subcontractors that work for me now.
And so it's been really fun, but it's always feels a little unstable. Sometimes, it's a little stressful.
Well, now with the NIL and collegiate athletes can really get after building their brands and new and incredible way with partners. So what piece of advice do you have for all of the young women athletes out there when it comes to thinking about building your business around your sport? What would be your top three pieces of advice?
Take a moment and write down your values and your mission and be discerning about the partnerships that you commit to, because like when you do a partnership, it can be really lucrative, but you don't want to lose your soul in making the money.
And there've been times that I've done sponsored posts or partnerships with brands that weren't in line with my values and in the short term, it paid out well, but in the long term, I had moments where I looked at myself in the mirror and I didn't necessarily love the person that I was seeing because I was acting out of alignment with my values.
And so I would take some time to be clear on who you are and what it is that you're trying to do and then use that to filter opportunities and to be a little bit picky and conscientious about the brands that you work with. Who are they and who are they owned by and what else are they investing in?
When you become the face of something, even if it's just for a moment on social media you can take a lot of criticism and people see you as the face of that brand. And so you want to be picky and you want to go for like only the best.
The other part I would say is that it's tempting to create the kind of content that people want to see, but to be a woman in this space, what people want to see is like a lot of skin and I worry sometimes that it's like a double-edged sword there where it's like I don't know the answers 100 percent because I think there's a way that you can show more skin and you can do it in a way that's empowering, but I just know what the algorithm wants and what people are going to like isn't necessarily what's best for furthering progress in women's sports.
And so there's a tension there. I would just be mindful of how you use your sexuality and how you show skin, and to be conscientious about that and to make sure you're doing it in a way that feels powerful and that doesn't set back progress in women's sports. I don't know. I don't know where that line is.
I think it's different for everyone and I think you could take the same image and pair it with a different caption and you could have two different outcomes. The last thing I would say is the more real you can be, the less filters show the cellulite, show the wrinkles, show the reality of a woman's body.
I think that there's a way you can harness all these different things, and use it to be really powerful. But at the end of the day, like you have to be careful with your reputation because in the short term, you can gain a lot of money, but you don't want, but your reputation is the thing that sticks with you in the long term. And so do things that are going to make your future self proud.
Those are all incredible pieces of advice. Thank you so much. And you have been doing it for a while. So what are your top watch outs when it comes to building a partnership with a brand?
Being as I've done a lot of work in the environmental space, I am very cautious about, I don't want to be a part of greenwashing. And so to really take the time to vet opportunities. And if I don't feel like I have all the information to ask other people.
I think it's good to have sort of a couple of people in your life that you can use as an advisory panel to help you vet opportunities because sometimes when they come through, they're like so exciting but to have a lawyer I think is actually really important. Like early on in my career, I was just so excited about the opportunities and the ability to get paid.
And in the early days of my career, I did not make very much money. And so I did in the early parts of my career, I did some stock photography shoots where I signed away all the rights to control how my image was used and one of my photos from a photo shoot ended up on the cover of a romance novel at Walmart.
And it was things like that. I didn't know how much my image was worth and it doesn't matter if you have one Instagram follower or a million Instagram followers, everybody's image likeness, their story, their name. It's valuable. Don't think because you're just starting, it doesn't have value because it does, and you need to control the rights over how your Name, Image, and Likeness is used. And so, if you're unsure, ask a lawyer. A lot of lawyers will help you for a small amount of money. Some lawyers help me even pro bono early. And, by working with a lawyer, I learned the value of my image and my likeness. And that was a game changer for me.
I wish I would have done it sooner.
A red flag would be like, if the contract, a brand wants to have the rights to use your name, image, and likeness worldwide in perpetuity without ever giving you any chance to review that, like that's a big red flag. Make sure you control the story, control your narrative.
Don't ever sign something like that.
So good. And if any of the girls out there are listening and they need a lawyer, you can reach out to VOICEINSPORT. We can connect you to many that work with us.
Super cool that you do that with VOICEINSPORT, because early on in my career, that would have been so valuable. And yeah, that, that was a big turning point in my career where I learned a lot and I was like, oh, I made some bad mistakes. (laughs)
Yeah, but look at now you can share those mistakes with all of us, incredibly incredible women in this community. We're all going to make mistakes, but if you can learn some of those things earlier on, it's better.
Let's get back to a little bit about ski mountaineering because you are our first ski mountaineer on this podcast and I would love for you to break it down and describe what ski mountaineering is and what core skills are required in case there are any women athletes out there listening that might want to try a new sport.
Yeah. What I do is I climb up mountains and ski down them. So there's a couple different parts of it. I got into big mountain skiing, and I really love that. That's like where you ski on groomed trails down big mountains and I tried to be competitive in that space but I started to get more into the human-powered aspects. So we have like specialized boots and bindings, and then we have these sticky carpet-like skins that we attach to the base of our skis and they allow us to walk up the mountain with the skis on our feet.
And then when we get to the top, we change over the boots and the bindings and we remove the skin so that we have the proper downhill mode, like an Alpine skier. And so a lot of the history of ski mountaineering comes from a military tradition where people were using it as a way to like patrol the borders of the Alps during World War one and World War two, but now it's become a lot more mainstream and a lot more people from trail running and cross country skiing are embracing it. And in 2026, it's going to be an Olympic sport, which is really exciting. And so that will be a more condensed version. It'll be like more of a sprint race, like a shorter race.
We call it Skimo or Skimo racing. And so it's a little bit different than what I do. I dabble with Skimo racing, but my specialty is I've done a lot of expeditions to places that don't have chair lifts or helicopters to take you to the top and I go and climb up to the top and then try to ski down.
It's so amazing. So it's exciting that the IOC announced that ski mountaineering is going to be reintroduced. It's been 78 years of absence from the Olympic games. So what does this mean for you and the future of the sport?
I mean, for me, I don't think that it will impact what I do that much because I think that it's really cool to take like these techniques from racing like the equipment that racers use is different than what I would use on a ski mountaineering expedition because it's like extremely light. It's a little bit more fragile, so it might not travel in the places I'm going quite as well, but to take some of the pieces of that equipment and to merge it into what I'm doing, I think it's going to really help with technological improvements in equipment. So in that sense, I do think it's exciting because overall backcountry skiers and ski mountaineers that aren't competing at an Olympic level, we'll still see these technological advances in equipment that will allow you to climb more, to go further faster with less effort. And so that part of it is cool. And I think that there's also been some really exciting developments around nutrition in this like endurance sport.
As we see this become an Olympic sport, I'm excited to see different fueling strategies and different types of nutrition to help people go faster and to have it be more portable. So for me, in my expeditions, I'm excited about that nutrition piece. And as part of my work as a CLIF Bar athlete, I'm on an athlete council where we're working on innovations in sport nutrition.
(background music) My name is Elizabeth Martin and I am a VIS Creator and the producer of this week's episode, sponsored by CLIF Bar. CLIF Bar, your go-to source for plant-based energy and on the go nutrition fueling for any and all adventures and aspirations. A huge shout out to CLIF Bar for supporting the VOICEINSPORT community. CLIF Bar isn't just about tasty bites. It's a movement fueled by its five core aspirations, sustaining people, communities, the planet brands, and businesses. They believe in organic ingredients, sustainable food systems, eco-friendly packaging, and partnering with passionate athletes like Caroline herself to catalyze change. By choosing CLIF, you're not just fueling your adventures, you're supporting a cause that matters. Get 20% off your next order at clifbar.com with exclusive code VOICEINSPORT23. This offer expires on December 31st, 2023.
Together CLIF and the VOICEINSPORT Foundation are working to close the gap for girls and women in sport. By joining the VIS community, you'll have a chance to connect with athletes like Caroline Gleich and gain access to exclusive episodes, mentorship sessions, and weekly content that will inspire and uplift you. Don't miss out on updates follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok @voiceinsport. Now, let's dive back into this week's episode and get ready to be motivated inspired and fueled to drive change
Olympics is it's probably going to be younger people like
So are you saying you're not trying, you're not going for the 2026 Olympics? Are you aiming for that?
I'm not gonna, no, no, I'm not going to be going for the Olympics.
I'm not fast enough. The youth that are coming out of some of the programs, the development programs are really fast. I don't have that kind of speed and there's only going to be one woman and one man from each country that will be representing their whole country in the Olympics.
And I know from my times that it's not going to be me and I'm really excited to see how it's going to be a young person. It might be like a 16 to 18 year old.
Wow. Well, ski mountaineering is such a physically demanding sport, and it requires so much training, including cardiovascular fitness, leg strength, core stability, endurance, and mobility. So let's talk a little bit about that physical component for a little bit. When you think about your training, what does that look like when you're not actually up on the mountain?
Yeah, I stay fit. Do a lot of trail running in the summer mountain running. Sometimes I run flatter trails and try to do more interval training and then other times I go straight up the mountain and try to go as fast as I can. I mix it up and then I do some cycling and I like to do pilates and strength training as a way of cross-training.
It is pretty full on and like when I first got into it, creating that endurance base was really important and so going out and doing like 5 to 10 hour long days so that I knew I had that in the tank. I did a lot of that to build my endurance base.
and at VOICEINSPORT we like to talk a lot about with physical and the mental side of really like training and really thinking about how both of those are really critical factors to being a successful athlete. So you talked a little bit about it already, what it feels like to be at the top of those mountains from a mental perspective.
But what do you do to prepare yourself for that? A lot of risk-taking? So some fear potentially comes in at certain moments. So what do you do to train the mental side to be prepared for these climbs?
Yeah. The mental training is a really important part. I guess for me, like getting into ski mountaineering and doing it in like very remote places, it's taken me over a decade of building my skills. So it started by, you know, just getting, taking an avalanche course. That was some of the first things that I did is like working my way through the avalanche program, first taking Avy one, then Avy two, and then I started to learn more about the mountaineering side. By taking classes and going to workshops and trainings with the American Alpine Club or other organizations. And then you add in the ice climbing. And so I volunteered at an ice festival and I got to take the clinics for free. And so there's a lot of technical training.
And so seeking out certified instructors like mountain guides or making sure you're learning from people that are well credentialed. I think that that's an important thing, taking your Avy courses from Aerie or AAI, getting properly educated is an important part of this. So when you progress into it that way, I think it's like you start in your home mountain range and then maybe you go to a slightly more difficult, like for me, starting in Utah, the Wasatch is my home mountain range so I started by trying to ski a lot of backcountry lines here, then going to the Tetons and then Mount Rainier and then the Alps, and then, just giving yourself time to adapt and to understand the differences. I think that is something that has helped with the mental side of it is that not trying to go too big too soon and making sure that I felt confident about the choices that I was making, because I think it could be really scary if you were to try to go and ski something too steep too fast.
And then the other big part of it is just waiting for the right conditions and being willing to walk away when the conditions aren't right. And that sounds easy to do. It's a lot easier to do in your home mountain range versus like when you've traveled halfway across the world and put tens of thousands of dollars towards an expedition, but you have to be willing to do that, to have a long career in this sport.
Well, let's talk about that aspect of safety. For those interested in wanting to get involved in the backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering level one avalanche courses is really highly recommended just as the first step to gaining risk awareness. I know you have been on some incredibly difficult mountains and some difficult climbs. So what can you share, the importance of that training and why overall safety is third component to ski mountaineering?
To be really blunt with you, a lot of the people in my life that were my mentors, they were the people I looked up to, a lot of them are dead and it's a really dangerous, risky sport. I also want to add that there is a way you can be a ski mountaineer and do like Skimo and racing without ever going into avalanche terrain.
A lot of resorts now let you skin uphill at the local mountain, and you can also plan your routes so you don't even enter avalanche terrain. So there's a lot of different tools you can use to help plan routes that are safer. You don't have to be a total adrenaline junkie to be in this sport.
But for me, like the wild places in the bigger mountains were always what called me. And so going back to your question, sometimes I worry about what I am actually like inspiring people to do because it's very dangerous to be totally frank and every time I lose another friend or colleague or someone that had touched me in some way like it makes me question what I'm doing and I think there is a lot of unaddressed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the mountain community because the big mountains really expose the fragility of life. And so it exposes you to all these things. So I forget what your question was. I don't know that I have a good answer for you.
You opened up to what I wanted to talk about next, which is you can lose people in these really extreme sports and you lost your half brother Martin in 2001 and your best friend Liz in 2014. So at the time, in those moments, did you ever consider completely quitting?
And, you ended up coming back, so how did you work through that grieving process that maybe other young women out there, who have lost a teammate, or a friend, or somebody in their family might be able to learn from you?
Yeah, when my half brother was killed, I was 15 and I was living in Minnesota at the time and he lived out here in Utah and I had never actually like backcountry skied before, but he had taken us backpacking and taught me how to rock climb, taught me how to tie the knots and deal with some of the ropes and he was a huge inspiration.
So I think that having seen my family's grief and experiencing that loss before I'd ever entered the backcountry, like it made me really risk averse from the beginning cause every time something like that happens, it does make you like pull back, take a step back, reevaluate your motivation and your procedures for risk management. And so it made me like really careful that I needed to be a hundred percent sure that I wouldn't put my family through the same grief again through my decisions. So it put a lot of stress on my shoulders, but I don't think it was the worst place for me to start my career and my entry into that world because it's good to tiptoe around the mountains and to be scared of avalanches.
I was really scared for a long time and what ultimately I knew the mountains called to me and I felt that there was a way I could continue on the path that I felt was my path. And I felt like it was a way to honor his legacy and celebrate his life. And so I think about Liz and Martin a lot when I'm in the big mountains and when I see the birds and sometimes I feel like going high is a way to honor their memories, celebrate their legacy and be closer to them.
Thank you for sharing that, how did you in the moment of losing some of your closest friends and family work through the grieving process? Did you see a psychologist? Did you create a support system for yourself? What advice would you give to other athletes out there?
To be honest, I think I'm still working through the grieving process. I don't think it's a process that ever truly goes away and even two weeks ago, we had to put down a family dog and when something like that happens it just reopens the wound like it's like a rip in the sweatshirt and maybe you can sort of stitch it back together but you'll always see that it was there and how I feel about grief is that it's never really gonna go away. Sometimes like things will come up and it just opens up the wound and so what I find to be really helpful, music, singing, playing my ukulele, when my grandmother died, I learned how to play the ukulele and I sang a song at her funeral and the vibrations of the music seemed to help.
Talk therapy is not, it doesn't work that well for me because I'm really good at avoiding things and I'm really good at redirecting the conversations and
I don't think you're alone in that.
My pain is stored in my muscles. Like it's in my body and my cells. And so like massage has been really helpful, like working closely with a body worker because, and someone that can hold space for those kinds of releases on the table. It's in my tissue. And so going running, that is really helpful for me going on a walk, snuggling my dog, fostering puppies.
It's that oxytocin, you know, that kind of connection. I've tried to work with different life coaches and it is helpful. So go to therapy, try it out. And it's another tool for sure. But for me, I find movement, music, creating music, singing. Those kinds of things are really healing and helpful. And like my plants, like sometimes I just feel like I need to repot my plants, like playing in the dirt. I don't know. I've just feel it's some of those things you can't always talk your way through. I think looking through to and at photos and videos of the people that I've lost and helping to continue to tell their stories like that's been also really helpful is to make sure that that they're not forgotten.
Yeah. Everybody is going to experience grief a little bit differently and find their way through it differently. And that's why it's so important to, ask for help, find your space that's going to provide you with something that's going to bring joy back. And that can look and feel very different for every person.
So I'd invite for all of the athletes out there listening to this to find the thing that's going to help you get through your process and, if something's not working, try something else. And that's really one of the things that we are really trying to do at VOICEINSPORT with our platform is bring in experts from all kinds of aspects.
So we have social workers, we have psychologists, we have registered dietitians, but we also have mentors because sometimes it's more helpful just to speak to another athlete that has maybe gone through something similar.
So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about, for you, like who have been your role models in sport and how has having other athletes, especially other women athletes, around you in your life, how has that played a role in your journey?
I mean, that's a hard one. Like one of the women that I would always call before expeditions, Hillary Nelson, I met her at a CLIF Athlete Summit before, right before I was doing my first high altitude ski mountaineering expedition. I was on my way to Ecuador to climb and ski the three highest peaks there.
And I was like, Hillary, what do I eat? Like, how am I going to do this? She gave me all the advice. And she totally helped me with a nutrition strategy but she was just killed in an avalanche in Nepal last year.
And so when you like, it's talking about grief, just going back to that, I really miss having her to call because there's not that many women that do what I'm doing. And so when you do find like the kindred spirit, life changing when you have that woman you can call who can give you that advice, who can tell you how to deal with sharing a tent with two men and when you have to use your pee bottle like what do you do?
Like what's the etiquette there, you know? (Stef laughs) Because when we're up on these high mountains like we It's too cold to go out of your tent to pee So I just bring we use like a white I use a Nalgene canteen and we pee in a bottle (both laugh)
At least it's wide, it's a wider, opening there, cause that can be really hard, a small little, like, what?
Yeah. You don't, well, you can use a, some people use a funnel to like, I haven't, I just go right into the canteen.
Like I practiced at home in the shower. Uh, you definitely don't want to be like learning how to do this when you're in the tent, because you can drip or spill, but you got to be really careful, but, oh, it's been such a game changer for my expeditions, not having to get out of the tent in the cold, so I actually use it anytime I'm camping. So check out just like a Nalgene canteen and see how it goes. But yeah, the going pee in the mountains, it's like when you're sharing a tent with two male partners can be kind of stressful.
Yeah, and unfortunately in the ski mountaineering industry, women comprise only 10%, which is incredibly disproportionate. So what has it been like for you to exist and succeed in a very male dominated space?
There's definitely been a lot of challenges and just a lot of biases that I've had to overcome. And it's been, I mean, actually you don't ever really overcome them. Like I still feel when people look at me, they like, don't take me seriously. They underestimate my experience and my expertise.
And I feel like I'm constantly still belittled and my accomplishments are diminished and people are always trying to rewrite the story on how I did something. And so it's really frustrating. I grew up with three brothers, so being the younger, I don't know, trying to keep up with the guys is, I think I'm just reliving my childhood trauma every day by my chosen career path, but maybe it's not trauma now. Like I'm reframing it and I'm reowning it.
What would be your piece of advice, when you think about other young women joining the sport? What would you tell them?
That's a really hard question. I would say there's definitely a time you need to call people out, you know, you can't do it all the time because it's too exhausting. But when you can like sometimes, too, it takes me a while between receiving a really sexist comment and then actually realizing that it was sexist.
But when you can, when you have the emotional energy and the reserves, call that out, because there's so many subtle sexist things that get said to me online that it takes me some time to realize, hey, that's actually really messed up what that person said. And, sometimes it's taken me a couple of years to turn it around. And then I'm like, I need to like address that now. Um, so try to hold people accountable when you can, because there's just so much of it that happens. Look for the women mentors, but also there's good dudes out there. And so when you find the good dudes, hit them up too, you know, because we need men to be a part of it.
We need men to be part of the movement and to be mentors to women and to be inviting women in. There's a lot of stuff in the world of skiing and snow sports where they have like women's specific camps. And I think that that's awesome. And I've definitely really enjoyed some of the women's specific training that I've done.
But I also want to see a path to integrate, we need strong male allies to bring us more opportunities and like we need to all work together so when you do find like the good dude, you know, keep that relationship going.
Absolutely. I think that allyship is so incredibly important, whether that's in sport or in the business world, right? It's in the sports industry where I spent most of my last 20 years. It's very male dominated as well. And you need both women allies and male allies to help you succeed in that industry.
Yeah. And I would just say like, I mean, this is going to sound super cliche, but don't give up. There's so many little battles that I've been fighting in along the way of my career. And sometimes I need to take a step back to protect my piece. Take the time to rest and then when you're ready, give it all you've got, keep showing up, keep asking for the things you need, for the changes you need to see. I'm still advocating for certain gear things, you know, outerwear pieces that they're just not being made for women, especially for petite women and unisex is not going to cut it for me like I need a women's cut, you know, so I just. Yeah. Keep asking, it's going to take a long time, but, at the same time, it's just this push and pull, right? Sometimes you have to take your foot off the pedal, you have to rest so you don't get too burnt out or overwhelmed.
And so. It's again, one of those things where you have to sometimes just learn to navigate and listen to your gut. Sometimes you need to take a step back. You need to rest because you can't always be pushing and trying to prove something. Trying to prove people wrong has been a really good motivator, but it's also led me to make bad decisions.
And so I don't know, sometimes you got to listen to your heart. Sometimes I feel like if I fail on an expedition that I'm not just failing for myself, I'm failing for all women and that's just simply not true. You got to take that weight off your shoulders sometimes and you have to just take care of yourself and protect your peace.
And so go back and forth between fighting hard for change and then resting and not taking things too personally or not taking it too heavy.
Yeah, that's such good advice. Well, you have some incredible accomplishments in this space as an endurance athlete. You were the first woman and only fourth person to ski 90 lines in Andrew McLean's Chuting gallery, which is incredible.
You have also summited Mount Everest. You are two times ultra marathon runner and you have climbed the highest volcano in North America. And you're the 2018 U. S. Ski Mountaineering National Champion, so you have a ton of incredible accolades. But despite all of that, you still have a lot of doubters and haters on social media that has continued to pop up throughout your career.
So I want to talk about that a little bit more, that specific aspect of what's hard about being in sport as a woman. Because that hate speech and discrimination is, it's a problem in sports and it's really a growing problem in social media. In fact, a recent study has revealed that women athletes receive 87 percent of all abuse, which is just, really sad.
So. How is the role of social media played in your story, and how have you utilized it to champion change?
Yeah, well, social media in my sport has really been a double-edged sword because on the one hand, yes, it has exposed me to a lot of cyber bullying, even a cyber stalker. And it's been very psychologically devastating. On the other hand, it's allowed me to tell my story the way that I want to tell it.
And having been in this world, when I first started doing ski photo shoots, I'm going to age myself, but we were still shooting photos on film and we had to wait for the film to be developed. And then maybe the magazine would pick up the story, but most of the magazine people were men and they didn't really tell women's stories and if they did, it was through a male lens. And so on the one hand, I do think that social media is really harmful for our health, for our mental and physical health, I think it's harmful. However, it has allowed me this opportunity to tell my story to a much broader audience and to control my own narrative.
So that being said, I think that the social media networks need to do a lot more tweaking of the algorithms and community management to set higher standards for what kind of things are tolerated on their platforms. And, I would love to see it where people can't just create fake accounts and publish behind the guise of a fake profile because if people actually had to say those things to someone in real life using their real name. I don't think that they would really say them, and then I think one of the things that I started doing when I started receiving a lot of bad comments is like screenshotting all of them and I would recommend for other people, I mean, maybe that's not the best advice because then you might ruminate on them too much, but keep a little folder. If you need to tuck it away and hide it on your phone somewhere, but take screenshots, document that stuff, because some of it is actually criminally illegal, some of the things that have been said, just like a lot of it I thought at first when it started happening to me I told myself.
Oh, this means you've made it you know, I thought that it was normal or something for two years, I thought it was just normal I thought that this was part of the process but then after two years, I shared some of the comments and people were like, that is not normal, you know?
So just, I think there's a lot that can be gained when you can expose the comments and the people. And so if there's the right time and you feel like you have the emotional bandwidth to do it that's another good strategy that I've found a lot of you find more justice that way and you don't just have to tolerate it.
Yeah. I also think it's really important to define it. Pew Research conducted a study to define online harassment, and they used six different distinctive behaviors. So the first being offensive name calling. The second, purposeful embarrassment. Third, stalking. Fourth, physical threats.
The fifth harassment over a sustained period of time and six sexual harassment and the respondents in the study who indicated they had personally experienced any of these behaviors were considered targets of online harassment. So it was found that over 41% of us adults have personally experienced online harassment. So it's gotten to a point where unfortunately it's very common. So I think we all need to be prepared for what to do, especially when we have our privacy invaded. For you, you actually had somebody who sought you out called you, on Thanksgiving. So what did you do in a moment like that and what advice would you give to the other young women athletes out there if something like that happens to them?
Yeah when that happened like it really crossed a line and the voicemail they left me was super creepy and abusive and when that line was crossed it was pretty clear. It was time to take further action so we called the police. I called the police first and they're like change your social media to private change your phone number and my husband, my now husband, he was my boyfriend at the time, he called the police and they assigned a detective to the case.
So I would say, recruit a man to call the police because the police were complicit in that situation. There's a lot of data also that shows that police and doctors don't take women's pain and concerns as seriously. So if you, this is where those male allies come in, maybe I just needed like a voice changer and say, this is Caroline's brother, you know, but having a man, like it really helped and having someone to be my advocate, you know, like it was really helpful in that situation.
Um, and having all the documentation was really helpful. And again, a lawyer could have been really helpful. I wish I would have called a lawyer sooner. But eventually the way I found out who the person was, was by sharing the name, their usernames and the comments online. And it was like, I had spent all this time like trying to work with the police and trying to work with the social media networks to try to figure out who the person was and block their IP address. But at the end of the day, my own community were the ones who helped me solve the mystery. And so I would say tap into your community, keep good records and recruit someone to help you manage it because trying to do it alone, it's just. It was really hard. It was a really dark time.
Yeah, I bet. And coming out of that, it must be hard to also go back to social media and still see the good out of it because, you know, you need it for the survival of your business as an athlete. And it's important, for also social aspects of connecting with friends, like there are some positive benefits of social media but there's also another really negative one, especially for young girls, which is body image issues. And I think in the sport of endurance sports, there are, unfortunately, there's a lot of disordered eating and a lot of anxiety. And, and this is something that social media contributes to.
So I, I want to get your advice on how you have dealt with that, because, you know, we've heard you in different articles, talk about your height and your size and often feeling judged by that. And I'm sure social media has played some role in that. So what advice do you have for young girls out there, in their sport and how to frame up, how to think about social media when it comes to their bodies.
This is a real moving target for me because like once I thought that I was integrated about it then I feel like i've had some setbacks and like when I was younger, I really struggled with this like I wanted to be thin so badly And then a couple two years ago, like I was having the best summer of running of my life, you know it was the pandemic and we were mostly locked down.
And so I was able to train and, I was running a ton and I was having like my best performances. And I did this virtual marathon. I mean, it was an actual marathon, but it wasn't, like everyone did it at their own times, but I completed this marathon that I'd been wanting to do for 10 years.
And I was. It was a really hot day and in the heat in the mountains at high altitude, like runners, you get GI issues, I was like really bloated at the end of the run, but I still shared this photo because I was so happy, you know, and I was in my sports bra with my little belly hanging out and there's a guy posted on my photo.
I'm just curious. Like, how do you manage to keep so much weight on when you run that as much as you do? And at first I was like, I don't know exactly what he's asking. And it took me six months before his words, so much weight on so much weight on so much weight on, like they kept playing out in my head.
And I finally crafted a response where I was, no, this isn't so much weight. This is what an endurance athlete looks like. This is normal. It's normal to have some belly fat, like it's beautiful. And I've just always had a little bit like more muscular, bigger build, even though I'm petite, I'm sturdy, you know, and I'm proud of that.
And I don't understand, I still am struggling with this because so many people have told me, I'm not the right body for what I'm doing, but I'm doing it at a really high level. So I guess, I think we really need more normalization of different body types because still mainstream media, you watch movies, everyone is like a supermodel and they are one type of build.
And I feel like what an athlete looks like, we still need to dispel these narratives and stereotypes about what a athlete's body looks like. And I am a hundred times a better athlete when I'm well fed and fueled. And I'm eating enough, like eating enough is really hard to do when you're training for two hours a day.
Like it's really hard. You have to eat five times a day and I'm way better. I perform way better. I have more energy. I'm way, I'm a better worker. I'm better at my job. I'm a better family member. I'm a better human. My brain works better when I eat enough. And if I'm five pounds heavier, I perform way better in all aspects of life than if I'm five pounds lighter. And so I would, and this is something I have to task myself with is to continue to post those unflattering photos because what the algorithm wants is just like this total perfection. And it's just not real, you know?
And so we have to keep putting out the photos where we're taking like a heavy belly breath and our belly is like sticking way out because that's normal. It's normal for a body to be moved, to move and to expand and contract and to go through different cycles. So yeah, I think there's still so much work to be done around that.
Well, I love that you're speaking up about it and using your voice and sharing your story and doing what you can to make sure that we do normalize other body types in sport because we have all these incredible athletes of VOICEINSPORT as mentors. Most of them are Olympians and none of them look alike.
They all have different body types in all of the different sports. Media doesn't always pick up on that. Media sometimes just picks up on a specific type of body type in a specific sport. So we need to make sure that young women understand that actually the people who are succeeding are not all exactly alike.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And for the younger, endurance athletes what I have learned is that lighter isn't faster. Like being well fueled is like the most important thing and so make sure that you're prioritizing your fueling and your nutrition and that you're taking the time to do that because maybe in the short term you can get away with not fueling properly but it will catch up with you and you see these things like the RED-S, the Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome. And you see that chronically under-fueling can have long-term health consequences.
Yes. Well, thank you for being so open about your experience, as a ski mountaineer and just some of the hard things it's been to be a woman in the sport. You've done so many incredible things off the mountain that's going to help shape your legacy. And I want to talk a little bit about that. All the advocacy work. that you are doing. It's also one of the things that brought us together because we both have partnerships with CLIF Bar, who's an amazing organization who's getting behind women and companies that are really trying to advocate and use their voice to drive change.
So we both have something in common, CLIF Bar and their support, but also we go to Capitol Hill a lot and you have had this incredible opportunity to testify a few times now in front of the House and Senate to educate. others on how climate change is affecting snow sports. So tell us about how that originally came to life for you and how did you first get into advocacy?
Yeah. My parents, they always wanted me to become a politician. Actually, they thought I'd be a great politician. And when I was getting ready to graduate from college, I knew I wanted to be a skier, but it's hard to take that risk and feel like you're going to disappoint your family.
And so my senior year of college, I did a political internship for the governor's environmental advisor for the governor of the state of Utah. I worked at the Capitol for a summer and I learned a lot about advocacy there about different stakeholders and concerned citizens coming to the table and using government as a problem solving tool.
And I was really inspired actually, because, I think we should all be activists. Like you don't have to have a cause necessarily, we should all be coming to the table to make democracy work, go to city council meetings, go to your state legislature, go to DC, meet with these people. I think everybody should do it, to express their concerns because we're really lucky that we're born into this country with the freedoms we have, but it only will keep going if people engage and so I was really inspired in college by my American National Government teacher who framed it that way. He's like, how do you want your interactions with government to be? Only when you pay taxes or get a speeding ticket? Or do you want to actively use it as a tool for problem solving? So that's what inspired me to do the internship.
And then committing to continue to be like an engaged citizen activist. It's like a way to honor my parents and what they wanted for me and to like, merge it with sport. It's a really fun way to come to the table to try to affect change. At the end of that summer internship, I was hoping that by working at the governor's office, that I could help bring more clean, renewable energy to the state of Utah, because where I was living in Salt Lake City, we get some of the worst air quality in the nation.
And at the time, over 90 percent of our electricity was from burning coal, which is really bad for climate. And it's really bad for public health. And at the end of the summer, the governor released his 10 year energy plan for the state of Utah and I was hoping it would be like more renewables in the mix, but instead it was still dominated by fossil fuels.
So, the end of the day, I'd been working super hard on like the communications and the press release and it was like that low afternoon slump and the office received this like gift basket with these edible cookies, like an edible cookie arrangement and it was at the front desk and it was, from the friends of coal industry.
And it were these sugar cookies in the shape of a heart that said, I heart coal. And I really needed that afternoon pick me up like I was hungry and craving the sugar.
Tell me you did not eat that cookie.
I went, I got a cookie, I took it back to my cubicle and I ate it. And then I was like, I can't do this anymore. I have to go and pursue my career as a professional skier.
Like that's my calling. And shortly thereafter, I hit up CLIF and they had their aspirational values and their commitment to environmental justice and conservation and so I hit them up and I signed with CLIF shortly thereafter and I figured that working with conscientious brands, CLIF was a better way to create the kinds of changes that I wanted to see for the planet, for the air quality and for climate than trying to continue at the governor's office.
So, it was a big turning point, but it's always been a foundation of my career. And so, CLIF has been for a long time, supporting my work as an activist, whether it's going to Washington, D. C, , or it's going to speak to students about the effects of climate change. I've done a lot of work with CLIF through Protect Our Winters, which is a nonprofit organization that I work with.
And then even CLIF gave a bunch of bars for a climate rally in March that I organized in Denver. We got hundreds of people to take to the streets and demand climate action so all along the way, it's been great to have that support and those calories to keep us going
I love that. Well, CLIF also sponsored our recent Capitol Hill this year in 2023 of the VIS advocate program, which educates young girls on Title IX and their rights. And then, those young girls form chapters or clubs at their school, and they evaluate their school with the VOICEINSPORT Foundation toolkit. All of the schools fail. And then those young women in those clubs join me and the leadership team to write legislation. So we wrote our first bill to uphold title nine last year and introduced it and all of those young women in the VIS advocate program, they come to Capitol Hill with us. And if they get really into the role, they can help write legislation and actually push policy.
So I love your message because there's a lot of ways you can get involved in policy and in government, and it doesn't have to look like you have a specific political position in an office. It could be what you're doing as an athlete tied to a brand that's doing great work. It could be doing what I'm doing, which is getting young girls' voices to be at the center in front of those House and Senate members.
So I love that message. If you took a step back and just thought about still today where we're at with climate change, what would be your top three messages that you want to continue to hit home?
With all of the women out there at VOICEINSPORT that might want to get involved, what should they know about the three key things of climate change activism?
I would say first of all, to know that, wherever you live, wherever your energy comes from, whatever kind of car you drive and whatever your job is, we need your voice in the climate movement. There's a lot of big efforts from the fossil fuel industry to put the blame of climate change on the individual when it's really big corporations and the policies that supported them that have gotten us into this mess.
And so, don't take that blame and guilt and shame on. It's not our fault and we can really be a part of the solutions, but it is, it does take like bravery and courage to speak up about it because so many people will be like quick to point the finger at you. By changing the policies and the systems like we can create a future with better air and with a stable planet. I think the second thing is that there's still a hope like we're not too far down this. We have solutions, we just need the political will to implement them. So that's the next part. And then I think the third part is actually really interesting because one of the things that I've learned along my journey is this link between social and environmental justice. And I've learned this from listening to a lot of indigenous leaders in the climate movement. We are a part of nature. We're not separate from it. And especially as it relates to being women, like we conceptualize nature as a woman and as a mother. And so I think in some ways that our goals are aligned because by elevating the status of women and girls and mothers in society, we're also elevating how we conceptualize and think about nature.
I think the two go hand in hand and women are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. So we really need more women's leadership and women's voices in the mix. And like we were talking about earlier, when you look at who's at the top of big mountains, who's going on those expeditions, or when you look at who's leading companies and governments, there's still an absence of women in leadership positions. And so I really want to encourage more women out there and girls to dream big for themselves and to envision themselves as leaders of corporations, governments, leaders in sport because when we have more women leaders, we see better climate policy.
We have policies in place that better protect human health and that protects young lungs and air quality and all these things. Like women just make better decisions. I don't know if I can say that. Sorry guys.
Yes, you can. You're on the VOICEINSPORT podcast. Yes, you can
Put the women in charge, like we need women in charge. Okay. So, I don't know. I just want to see like in snow sports, like we see a drop off women when they get into like their thirties, like a big drop off in sport. I want to see more women getting to the highest levels. So I don't know exactly how to get there, but dream big and continue on.
Well, one of the big ways to get there is stay in sport because there is one of my favorite stats and I just talked about this in D.C. two days ago. I was presenting to House and Congress there and there is a really strong correlation between young women who stay in sport and then the C suite.
So 94 percent of C suite executives played sport and then 52 percent of the women executives played collegiate sports. So there's a super strong correlation between the two. So that's the goal of VOICEINSPORT is keep young women in sport and then inspire them by having visibility to amazing women like you to keep going because those skills are going to transfer into becoming the leaders of the future of this country.
Yes. And I think that's really cool. I'd love to team up with you. I'd love to go to D.C. Your work is so cool and I'm so happy you're doing this. Thank you so much for your advocacy. And yeah, I would say the other thing is just when you're younger and you have an injury or setback and it takes six months or a year, you feel like that's the end. But it's not like you, when I was in track and field in middle school and I got shin splints, it was like, okay, you're done. Like you can't, this isn't for you. And I really wish I would have gone back to it cause I read that a lot of shin splints is just from tying your shoes too tight. I think that my shoes were just laced up too tight. I had the wrong shoes and it's like. Troubleshoot that, find a team, keep looking for solutions, cross-train, know that you're going to get back to it. Find those people who will help you get to the next stage because it is really easy when you have an injury or something like it feels like the end of the world, like those setbacks.
Just know that you're going to have those and cross-train, get in the pool, do something else might be a year or two. And then when it's time, you're going to be ready and you're going to be stronger because your mind is going to want it.
Well, I have a feeling that we're going to be in D. C. together soon. So I'm really excited. We're going to have to make that happen. And to close up with our conversation here with the VOICEINSPORT community, we always like to end with kind of two key questions. And the first one is really your one.
I know it's hard, but your one piece of advice to all of the young girls out there playing sports today. Yeah.
The thing I wish someone would have told me is don't go out with the first boy who shows interest in you, when I was young, I defined my worth on a guy's interest in me. I just wanted to be desired by a man. And I made a lot of poor choices because if I heard someone had a crush on me, I was all in, but I really wish someone would have told me to be picky and to cultivate more relationships with myself and my family and my friends.
I don't know how you can tell someone to care less about boys, but I would say to wait for a boy who treats you like a queen. I made a lot of bad choices because I just wanted to be desired by a man, and it was like, Oh, just, I don't know where it came from, like, Disney movies? I don't know, but, Wait for a, if, if you're gonna go out with someone, make sure he treats you like a queen, Because you are a queen, and you deserve someone who takes really good care of you and treats you like royalty.
Oh, love it. Okay, last question is if you could change anything for the future of women's sports, what would be that one thing that you want to see changed in the sports industry?
I would say that the, the money, I would want them the same level of funding that like the NFL gets. If we had that in women's sports, it would be transformative. Like women, yes, we need a lot of things, but at the end of the day, money can create a lot of opportunities. So I would say equal pay, equal funding.
Love it. And with that, we'll end our conversation today, but I have a feeling we're going to be having lots more in the future. So thank you for everything you do in your sport and for advocacy. And it was great to have you.
Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Thank you to our sponsor of this week's episode, CLIF Bar. Be sure to check out the partnership between CLIF and the VOICEINSPORT Foundation by heading to clifbar.com/values. You can get 20 percent off your next order on clifbar.com by entering the code VOICEINSPORT23. The offer expires 12/31/23.
This week's episode was co-produced and edited by VIS Creators Elizabeth Martin and Campbell Lead.
Caroline is a strong and passionate CLIF Bar athlete and today we are reminded how change takes bravery, dedication, and triumph through the nonlinear grief process. We have seen how Caroline embodies the VOICEINSPORT mission, using her platform to control her narrative and advocate for values that align with her own. Caroline inspires us all to do and achieve what is labeled as impossible.
Demonstrating that women are capable of really hard things to never stop fighting and use social media and your story to further progress women in sport. Please click on the share button in this episode and send it to another athlete in our community that you think might enjoy the conversation. And if you liked our conversation with Caroline, please leave us a rating and review on Apple and Spotify.
You can follow Caroline on Instagram @carolinegleich
And if you love this CLIF sponsored podcast, check out our other recent CLIF partner podcasts, episode #107 with Julie Foudy, where we focus on the power of leadership and activism and episode #106 with Suni Lee, uncovering the value of representation and role models. If you share the same love of nature and snow as Caroline, we also invite you to listen to episode #97 with Lexi DuPont, who shares her love for nature and how it is one of the greatest teachers out there because it teaches you about honesty, loyalty, and it can be incredibly challenging.
See you next week on the VOICEINSPORT podcast.