People of the Hangar: Jo Keeling
Meet Jo. She’s a long time Hangarite and she (normally) climbs whites. Here's her story,
When Jo was nine, her dad took her to the swimming pool to watch her brother learn to springboard dive. ‘I want to do that’, she told her dad, who replied that she could – but she didn’t know how to swim.
For the first part of Jo’s diving career, she had to be fished out of the pool by a lifeguard after every dive. It was only when she was told that she couldn’t compete if she couldn’t swim, that she finally learned. Three years later, she was competing internationally.
I think this spirit is still clearly evident in adult Jo. She stopped diving after she had her ears pierced as a teen, and has since tried her hand at judo, gymnastics, and running, the latter of which has turned into a life time love. She’s competed in three marathons and often fell runs.
Jo discovered climbing in university, where she would harness up and climb at Awesome Walls with her boyfriend, Shaun, who is now her husband. When the Hangar opened, they split their time between both climbing walls. Jo has always been one of our strong women, holding her own against the boys, and cruising up whites and the occasional yellow.
Strength in difficult times
In 2017, Jo and Shaun welcomed baby Poppy to their busy lives. Poppy was born on 10th November, but arrived with a rare and complex anatomy. Much like her mother, Poppy had a fierce spirit, but shortly decided she was better placed exploring the stars. Jo and Shaun’s Poppy Rocket died on the 14th November 2017, after a fierce four-day fight, surrounded by the love of her proud parents.
Since then, climbing has changed in meaning for Jo. She was eager to get back to sports, but for a long time, couldn’t face coming back to the wall. Running became her way of surviving, the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other regulating her brain and organising her mind.
Climbing, and falling, in front of others was daunting, and despite coming back to the Hangar for socialising and support, she couldn’t get her brain to concentrate on a route. When she finally did put hand to hold, she wanted to show people that she wasn’t done yet, nor was she a victim of circumstance. Running may have made her feel like a person again, but climbing made her feel solid – not a person, but a superhero.
She’s gradually been building her strength back up, but if you see her now, she’ll probably only be climbing oranges or individual moves of harder climbs. There’s good reason for this – in March, Jo and Shaun will be giving Poppy a sibling.
Jo and Shaun are on a drive to raise money for Alder Hey Hospital, to thank them for the support and the time they had with Poppy. If you would like to contribute to their efforts, you can support them through their Just Giving page.