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Star Climber Shows Muslim Women Way to the Top


by Kelly Bates

February 04, 2004

Camp4 - Climbing News Archive

When she chalks up to cheat gravity in the bouldering events at next month's Asian extreme games in Malaysia, Etti Hendrawati knows she will be turning heads again.

But unlike most of her peers, the 28-year-old Indonesian climber will stand out for the amount of clothes she is wearing rather than the lack of them.

In a sport dominated by skimpy tops and second-skin short shorts, Hendrawati and a growing band of Indonesian Muslim women climbers compete in loose, long pants with the ends of their jilbabs, or headscarves, tucked out of harms way inside generous tops. Clothes that disguise the strength and suppleness of her 47-kilogram frame.

But a few moments on one of 20 climbing walls in Yogyakarta in Central Java is enough to see the results of a training regime that includes more than 100 chin-ups in a session. With feet squeezed into Spanish climbing shoes deliberately picked two sizes too small, and hands dusted with chalk to aid her grip, Hendrawati darts up an 18-metre high plywood wall using only the smallest protusions for holds.

The alarming overhang and roof high above hardly slow her progress, her callused fingers and sticky footwear allowing moments of apparent weightlessness as she surmounts these obstacles with lizard-like ease.

She has been climbing rocks since she was 15, when she lived on a cliff-lined part of Java's coast with a mother who could climb coconut palms. Climbing artificial rock walls has been her passion for a decade, one of hundreds of Indonesians enjoying the increasingly popular sport.

In a country where few athletes, apart from badminton players, ever reach world class, Hendrawati and a handful of other Indonesian climbers stand out. She won the speed climbing event at the world champion- ships in San Franciso three years ago when she scaled the 18-metre wall in 13 seconds. Last year she came second in the world cup event and her husband Rosit finished fourth.

The president of the competition division of the Indondesian Rock Climbing Federation, Wahyu Bintoro, said there was a new generation of women climbers coming through, but for now Hendrawati remains "the number one Asian climber".

Wherever she competes, rivals from Western countries invariably ask about her jilbab.

"I just tell them I am a Muslim and it's obligatory for me to wear a jilbab," she said, adding she believed it was important to set an example that encouraged young Muslim women to try such sports.

In between training sessions, Hendrawati teaches climbing to about 20 men and women at a university in Purwokerto, about three hours from Yogyakarta.

But whether she is in the gym on the wall or on her daily runs, she always wears her jilbab.

At the Extreme Games, Hendrawati will compete in bouldering, an unroped climb on a seven-metre wall where falls are stopped by giant cushions.

Her competitors will include women from Australia and New Zealand, some of whom appear in climbing calendars wearing their hallmark lycra tops and shorts.

Hendrawati has never been asked to pose for a calender shoot, but her jilbab has not stopped her getting sponsors, including the Government of Yogyakarta, to pay for her trips. Sponsors also pay for her equipment and her special shoes.

No-one has yet offered to pay for her jilbabs. "That's not a bad idea though," she said.

News courtesy
By Matthew Moore
January 31, 2004

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