She overcame painful injuries and constant setbacks to become GB’s first female Olympic climber.
So it’s no surprise that Shauna Coxi MBE installed a mini rock climbing wall in her home to inspire the next generation of climbers.
Six months out of Tokyo – and her retirement from competitive climbing – Shauna is preparing for her next challenge: motherhood.
“I thought I was depressed after the Olympics at first because I was so exhausted, but maybe it was just pregnancy!” says the 28-year-old, who is five months pregnant!
“Every night I lie in bed and it’s like a dance marathon with all the kicks. We’re really excited.
“My baby boy husband has built a rock climbing wall in the attic of our house. I don’t think they will get the choice of being dragged to climb.”
Next week, Apple and Amazon Prime will be releasing a feature film called The Wall: Climb For Gold.
It charts Shauna’s emotional two-year run before the late Tokyo Olympics, along with three other elite female climbers from around the world.
There are also warm shots of athletes training as children.
Cheshire-born Shauna is an 11-time gold medalist and the most successful British climber.
The documentary reveals both her highs and her lows, including suffering from back pain and surgery during lockdown.
While training, a few days before the Olympics, Shauna tore some cartilage in her knee, which is called meniscus.
“It probably meant I was out of the games,” she says.
“Had I made it to the finals, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to compete that day, because my body couldn’t move forward. Getting to 10th place was really unexpected and just amazing.”
Shauna initially had concerns about participating in the Olympics.
It specializes in rock climbing, but the games require participants to compete in three very different classes – rock, speed, and driving. But failure was never an option once Shauna decided to move on.
“I committed to the Olympic journey and it was an epic battle on many different fronts,” she says.
“There was a point when my coach Leah turned around and said, ‘You don’t have to do that, you know,’ and I said, ‘No, I do. It is no one but me. I have to finish this.’
“Maybe it was just me who pushed me in the end.
“I think the injuries make it worth more because you struggled to get there, and it just seems weird. It just means so much because of what I’ve been through and that’s something I’m still dealing with.
“Everyone was, like, ‘Oh, you’re going to return a medal,’ and I was, like, ‘No, I’m just going to try to get off the ground… You have no idea!’ “
Shauna is one of only four women in the world to have climbed a rocky road with a grade of 8B+ – the third hardest rated ever.
She is the most successful British competition climber ever.
And in 2016, she was included in the Queen’s Birthday Honors list as an MBE recipient – and that same weekend she won the IFSC Boulder World Cup title. Tokyo wasn’t just a defining moment in her career.
Having reached the semi-finals, it also marked Shauna’s retirement from competitive climbing.
“It’s hard to explain to people, but I’ve never had any sense of failure at the Olympics,” she says.
“I was very happy that I was able to do any of them. I am lucky to have had this experience. I achieved everything I wanted with all the world titles, but I chose to try Paris or not. [the 2024 Olympics] It was very difficult. I had a serious back injury and there was also a desire to focus on rock climbing – which is still there – and the desire to start a family.
“At the time the decision to retire was definitely difficult. Only now I am pregnant and expecting, with rock climbs on the horizon, is a decision I feel more comfortable with.”
Shauna, who set a British women’s sprint record of 9.141 seconds at the 2019 World Championships, describes qualifying for the Olympics that year as “the most unexpected moment of my life”.
She explains, “I got the flu in Japan and was really sick. Getting to that event looked really crazy, so qualifying was actually just crazy.” And in March 2020, the same day Shauna heard that Covid would postpone the Tokyo Olympics, she also learned that her wedding to her partner of 10 years – climbing champion Ned Vihale – would be delayed.
But Shauna took it all in her stride. “Ned was really relieved that he hated public events,” she says.
“And I am one of those who, if I can’t change anything about my situation, I just focus my energy where I will really make a difference.
“The hardest part is that until then, my diary was planned out for every minute. I knew how much sleep I was going to get, when I was eating and working out. Suddenly that schedule was gone.”
When gyms around the world closed, training sessions were limited to Shauna and Ned’s home in Sheffield, where Ned had just finished building two climbing walls. During lockdown, Shauna also underwent knee and wrist surgery to help improve the injuries he sustained after years of climbing.
Looking at her career, she says winning her first world gold at the IFSC Bouldering World Cup in Switzerland in 2014 was her favorite moment.
Shauna says, “Everyone called me a maid of honor before that because I’d been on the podium a few times before, but I’d never won a medal. It was so surreal to finally take that step and win. It was so magical at first and it was big.” .
Now she’s embracing the less rigorous life of a former Olympian — and enjoying some indoor climbing to stay active while pregnant.
Shauna admits, “As an athlete, I know my body very well and feel good against the wall, even if I’m not used to having a baby inside of me.
“I’m more likely to stumble on the street! I listen to my body, but try as hard as I can to keep climbing.”
Shauna first entered the sport at the age of four after being encouraged to try it out by her father, Mike.
A year earlier, she had watched a TV show about French freestyle climber Catherine d’Esteville, which she says “changed her life.”
Shauna hopes the new documentary will inspire others to start climbing — or find a sport they are passionate about.
She adds, “A lot of people have watched the Olympics and will now watch this documentary. I just hope that it will push some of them to climb because it’s so accessible these days. Finding something you love is so magical.”
The Wall: Climb for Gold will be released digitally via Apple and Amazon Prime on January 18.