Aries Susanti Rahayu never submitted to her fear of heights. Instead, she took it on as a challenge and has become an outstanding young female competitive climber.
The spotlight was on Aries Susanti Rahayu, 24, when she won the gold medal for Indonesia in the 2018 Asian Games. It was the very first time for sport climbing to be competed in the games and she recorded a time of 7.61 seconds, earning a gold medal in the speed climbing category, beating her Indonesian counterpart Puji Lestari. Her achievements have not stopped there. In October last year, Aries brought home a gold medal from the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) World Cup in Wujiang, China. She recorded 7.74 seconds in speed climbing and beat French athlete Anouck Jaubert, the world’s number-one female speed climber in 2018. Aries was ranked fourth in the world ranking by the IFSC in 2018.
Those achievements would never have been realized if Aries had insisted on quitting as a climber. In 2016, she intended to pack sport climbing in for reasons she now describes as “childish”. “I was emotionally unstable at that time. I got tired and upset because I wasn’t assigned to a certain speed climbing category that I had targeted, so I wanted to stop climbing,” she says with laugh.
A year later, she was accepted for the national camp (Pelatnas) to prepare for the Asian Games. She got in after participating in the open-call Pelatnas simulation held by the Indonesian Sport Climbing Federation (FPTI). That opportunity brought new experiences for Aries such as going abroad and competing in international championships. Previously, she had only represented Central Java in the national games (PON).
Aries’ introduction to sport climbing occurred when her middle school teacher dared her to try out the sport. She took to the sport at the first trial and became the youngest member of the only sport climbing club in Grobogan, Central Java. This enthusiasm made her persist in training on a daily basis, usually for two to three hours after school.
“I only stop training when I am tired. I was afraid at first, but I wanted to do it again. I felt great satisfaction when I managed to pass a certain limit,” she says.
The female athlete who is known as “Spiderwoman” has enjoyed climbing since she was a child. Little Aries would often be seen sitting on a tree branch next to her house while eating fruit. Ironically, she admits that she is actually afraid of heights. It has taken years for her to fight back the fear. Knowing that she had to go against her nerves, she took the fear on as a challenge. Not only climbing trees and walls, she has also tried climbing cliffs and loves the adrenaline rush.
Her first cliff was Sukolilo Cliff in a canyon in Pati, Central Java. After that, she sought out more adventurous and extreme challenges by climbing beachside cliffs. Her favorite spots are Siung Beach in Pacitan, East Java, and beaches in Krabi, Thailand.
Aries says cliff climbing takes more power and energy because the climber needs to strengthen their grip. However, the weariness fades once she jumps into the water and enjoys the beach view.
Currently, Aries is preparing to pass the pre-Olympics qualification in Japan this August. She requires extra training because so far she has only trained for speed climbing. Meanwhile, the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan will combine three categories of climbing--speed, lead and boulder. It will be the first time for sport climbing to be included in the Olympic Games.
Hendra Basyir, Indonesia national sport climbing team coach, acknowledges that facing the combined category in the Olympic Games is a real challenge for all climbing athletes in the world. The Indonesian team is already known for its excellence in the speed category, which favors power, in contrast to the lead and boulder categories, which depend on endurance.
“For now, our goals are to maintain our eminence in the speed category and to minimize our weakness margin with top athletes in the lead and boulder categories,” he explained. “The thing is the power for the speed category will decrease once an athlete’s character in lead and boulder gets better. That’s my challenge as a coach.”
Aries says she is enjoying the process of gaining the skills in lead and boulder climbing, while hoping to pass the qualification and win a gold medal in the Olympics. She cites fighting against herself, when she is sometimes unwilling to train because of pain or fatigue, as her greatest struggle.
“If I don’t push myself, I’ll give up easily. Pain is a part of the process I need to pass,” she says.
In the meantime, Aries has no plans to retire from sport climbing. Indeed she wants to dedicate her life to sport climbing even when she does eventually retire. She hopes to become a coach one day so she can share the knowledge she has gained from the Pelatnas and international championships with her juniors in Grobogan. Her wish is simple, to make sport climbing as popular as other sports.