Some say she's awesome, others simply state the obvious: "Steph is a badass." Though both distinctions are accurate, this UNL Climbing Club President is dedicated to her work as a climber and a community representative.
Laudenklos has an infectious enthusiasm for the sport she came to in January of 2008. Her background as a high school pole vaulter and hurdler only helped her to make the best of her climbing passion. She attributes her foray into the sport to "the boy of the time," but it's clear she comes to it on her own terms.
With climbing, for Laudenklos, it was love "on-sight."
Thirteen years of dance, 8 years of gymnastics, and her recent work in yoga have honed her into an aggressive yet graceful climber. Watching her ascents at the wall or on the rock, one comes to understand the true meaning of "grace under pressure." She's intuitive and calculating in her route assessments, yet delightfully sensible and logical in her approach. She never flails, wails, or bails with even a hint of self-incrimination. For Laudenklos, it's the quiet and focused challenge of pursuing her personal best that makes climbing both a challenge and an affirmation of what she values most in life: Her faith, the people climbing has brought to her life, and fun.
One shouldn't, however, confuse this fun, friendly, and God-lovin' graceful rock chick for a softy. Her competitive nature and natural gift in the sport have made her, in less than two years, a formidable foe on the Plains climbing circuits. Laudenklos won two climbing comps her first year in the sport, the UNO Bouldering Intermediate division in 2008, and the Climb Iowa bouldering Advanced division 2008. Just this year she placed 2nd at the UNL Sport Climbing Comp Advanced Division 2009.
The 21 year-old UNL senior has maintained a grueling academic schedule while working at a local veterinary clinic. In October, she submitted her applications to veterinary programs across the country. Her aspiration to become a veterinarian has put her in a very competitive professional school arena this fall. But deep down, this Columbus, Nebraska native wouldn't have it any other way. It's the challenges in life that keep her going.
Despite the pressure of school and working a serious job, Laudenklos has come into her own as a climber. To her, climbing is a mental and spiritual manifestation of deeply held personal beliefs because to climb is to also meditate, to focus, one the best parts of self and God.
Steph Laudenklos at Penitente Canyon, Colorado.
(Photographer: Doug Lintz)
"Just being outdoors in general is an ultimate connection with God and His creation," Laudenklos said, "So climbing gives me that opportunity to get out and worship in that way."
Laudenklos cites the "very liberal and karma-believing" nature of her climbing community as yet another influence in her overall faith. Though the multi-faceted spiritual and religious views of others make what Laudenklos terms, "evangelizing" difficult, the diversity only affirms her belief in both God and her ability to be a good listener to others embarking on spiritual journeys of their own.
"I have been amazed at how many people I have met through climbing that feel comfortable talking to me about their spiritual struggles because they know how strong my faith is," Laudenklos said, "So in a way it's given me yet another way to be close to God through His two greater creations: mankind and nature."
But man and God aren't her only inspirations. Laudenklos, when asked about her climbing heroes, nearly swooned when she mentioned Internationally renowned climber Steph Davis (click: High Infatuation). In Davis, Laudenklos said she sees "a bit of herself" and hopes to someday match Davis' contributions to the sport.
Serious and silly, kind and competitive, Laudenklos seems to be poised to pursue this goal. Though she waits now with a bit of nail-biting for veterinary program admission letters, her uncertainty is assuaged by her steadfast commitment to climbing as "a life-long sport." It's in this commitment that she continues to inspire other women climbers at UNL, including the out-of-shape newbies such as myself.
Laudenklos said she fantasizes about climbing in Spain someday, and hopes to deep-water solo in Mallorca like those featured in the film, Perfecto:
With a smile, Laudenklos thinks of this dream with her signature move: unflinching honesty and sensibility.
"I really want to boulder around in my swimsuit," she said.
Fair enough. No matter where her veterinary studies take her, it seems climbing will continue to be the glue that holds this young, inspiring climber together. Keep an eye out for this rising talent. She's going to be rockin' the climbing world for years to come.