Aleks is one of those girls you see around the gym who you want to talk to. With a strikingly tattooed left arm and cheekbones that definitely are not from around here—she stands out. She’s a bit intimidating, but that is at odds with the fact that she enthusiastically and warmly chats with about half the climbing gym every time she’s there—which is a lot.
I’ve only known the girl for six months, and I’ve already learned so much. She inspires me to be tougher—I tend to be a bit of a coddler—with both myself and others. When someone wants to give up, I generally let them. With Aleks—if she thinks you’re coming up with excuses (even if they’re valid)—she won’t let you get away with it. A few weeks ago, Aleks literally would not lower me until I finished this 5.12. I was so worked I couldn’t do two moves without falling. My hands and forearms were useless—it was like trying to climb with marionette arms. I was irritated—I didn’t see the point of working the moves without the strength—but her encouragement was relentless. “Just do the moves so you can come back to it next time”. I kind of wanted to throw my chalk bag on her head, but I humored her, and move by move, got to the anchors. I still don’t think it was necessary, but I value her principles, and it was worth the high-five at the bottom.
Aleks is a proud and stubborn woman. She feels strongly about things. She will tell you in graphic detail about her latest period and how it has been for her transitioning to the Diva Cup (male, female, doesn’t matter who you are). She hates Trump (“fuck that dude”). She is an emphatic Lululemon wearer—“They should sponsor me” and does not appreciate when people use the word “Pussy”—and will tell you why—“Oh you think a Pussy is weak? A pussy is strong—a pussy shoves a fuckn’ baby out of it”.
Once you get to know her, Aleks is also just as vulnerable and kind as she is proud and stubborn. She’s a loyal and generous friend—the kind of friend who would come over in the middle of the night if you called, the kind of friend who so frequently showers you with gifts it’s almost embarrassing, the kind of friend who tells you to stop whining and get on the fucking wall. She’s got your back, that Mighty Num Nums—just whatever you do, don’t tell the woman what to do.
ALEKSANDRA SHINELEVA, also known as Nums or more recently Mighty Num Nums
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Profession: Currently I work as a manager at a coffee shop. Is it my calling? Absolutely not. Does it pay the bills? It sure does.
Years Climbing: I started in 2007 I think.
Flash Foxy: You’re a New Yorker. What’s it like growing up in a city that changes all the time?
Aleks Shineleva: I was born in Moscow, Russia and moved to New York when I was 13. I do feel very much like a New Yorker though, since I spent my adolescence in Brooklyn and traveled around NYC freely. In Moscow, I took the metro and buses by age 8, so once I got to New York, I was pretty independent—a 13 year old with a part time job wasn’t scary for my parents.
I really hated NY in the beginning. I found the city dirty and bland, but that probably had a lot to do with me being a depressed teenager, who had to make friends in a country where she did not speak the language. Lack of ability to communicate plus raging hormones and teenage angst = a very bad time. I made do though and found great friends who were willing to tolerate my broken English and able to see past my language imitations. I am grateful for that.
Once I got a handle on the language, the city really did open up. It’s hard to explain what it’s like growing up in New York as a teenager, but if I had to, I would say that it is the best time when you are having a good time, and it is the most violent, shitty time when you are not. It took me some time to learn the balance….but there is balance to the whirl pool.
FF: Do you identify as a Russian American, or a Russian New Yorker?
AS: I identify as Russian American. When people give me a hard time or I don’t feel like talking, I tell them I’m American and that I grew up in Brooklyn. That generally gets followed up with “Really? I thought you were Swedish or Polish”. I am for sure Russian though. I get pretty defensive when people make assumptions about what it’s like to live in Russia, or talk about Putin as though they know the guy personally and understand politics so well they can make arrogant remarks about how corrupt Russian government is. Don’t even get me started.
FF: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen happen in this city?
AS: Damn, that’s hard. I think the city is so nuts that things just stop phasing you after a while. How about a collection:
-I’ve seen dudes jerk off on the train, on the street, in the car and on the sidewalk as though it was no big deal.
-I watched a fight in Union Square at 4 am when a drunk German guy kissed some girl in front of the boyfriend. He got his ass whooped by 5 people and we, being dumbass teenagers, sat there and watched because that’s what we did. It wasn’t our fight so we didn’t get involved. Thinking of it now, it seems totally nuts.
– I saw the planes hit the World Trade Center from the windows of my high school’s English class. That might have been the craziest thing ever.
FF: What do you love most about NYC? What keeps you here?
AS: New York is my home. I’ve lived here for 16 years. When people tell me they are “going home”, or that they need “time off”, I can’t relate because this is home for me. I’m not going to move back to Russia, it is now a very unfamiliar place to me—with a culture that I love—but one I am now very much disconnected from.
If I didn’t grow up in New York, I doubt I would be the person I am today. It is obviously hard to say for sure, nature vs nurture kind of thing, but I do think I have been lucky to grow up in such a crazy and diverse place. I feel incredibly lucky. Like a person that gets to travel the world a lot, I get to grow up immersed in it.
FF: Ever think about leaving?
AS: I think about leaving often. I’ve always loved the outside, so when I started traveling around the US, finding a place to live other than NY was always on my mind. Some place with easy access to nature, a place that isn’t littered with condoms and where wildlife doesn’t consist of large rats and trash pandas.
But it’s hard to find a place that is better than NYC. It somehow always pulls you back in and anyway, I love the rats.
FF: I love rats too. You know those new trendy cat cafes? Maybe we should start a rat cafe.
AS: I would love to start a rat cafe, except they don’t live that long, so I would always be crying when I lose another friend. It will be one sad rat cafe.
FF: Okay scratch that idea, that sounds terrible. I also think it’s not a sound business plan…we would go bankrupt. How did you get into climbing?
AS: Sara Becker got me into climbing. She would probably flip her shit if she saw her name mentioned on the Internet. I don’t think I have to worry about that, because I don’t think this woman has internet. She is off the grid. Sara got me into climbing and I dearly hold her responsible for making me into the feminist I am today. She is the most bad ass, strong, independent and incredible human I have ever met in my life.
She took me climbing for the first time in Glacier National Park. I did some mountaineering there across two summers, and then she took me bouldering and that was what really sealed the deal. After going with her once, I ordered a tiny tiny Black Diamond bouldering pad and my second time out, I broke a foothold on the top out of some boulder and smashed my knee into the rock so hard I had to hobble back to camp. I had a very hard time walking that week. It was silly to get a pad and not even land on it. Who eats shit on the top out? This girl.
After that I quit the summer gig I had and spent the rest of the summer traveling around the country being a climbing newb. It was awesome.
FF: What is it about bouldering that sealed the deal? Why did that click more than mountaineering?
AS: I think bouldering felt more physical right away, it was new and it required a different skill to achieve success. With the mountaineering that we did in Montana, it felt more like hiking and route finding, which was fun, but it was more about endurance and the desire to drag a heavy pack through talus. I don’t think I ever felt that challenged or scared. Out of breath- sure, but not challenged the same way I feel bouldering.
Bouldering seemed more delicate, in a way only a brutal sport would feel. I love the tiny shoes that mangle your feet, perhaps because I’ve always wanted to do ballet. I just loved it.
FF: What is it about climbing that always has you coming back for more?
AS: I wish I knew. I think it’s the snacks.
FF: If you didn’t climb, what would you be doing instead?
AS: Dude. I would paint more. As a matter of fact, I need to paint more.
FF: You are a known presence around the gym. Girls seem to gravitate to you—I know I did. You’re good at being simultaneously supportive and pushing people to try harder.
AS: I don’t think I seek women out, it just happens that way. I’ve always climbed with men because there were not that many ladies around. I love climbing with both, but I think I got tired of being sprayed. I’m not saying that women don’t spray, they sure as hell do, but I realized that I was growing angry when someone yet again offered me “advice” on how I should do something. My boyfriend always tells me that I’m stubborn and that I don’t listen. He is right. I do not listen. I want to figure it out. On my own. I want to have that chance. If I need help, I will ask for it.
When it comes to climbing with women, there is just a very different dynamic. Some are competitive, some are not, but there is always an overwhelming support, even if sometimes it feels as though “she” is measuring you up. I know I do it. I want to know how well we can play together.
FF: You recently wrote on the FF blog about your fear of falling. Talk to us a little bit about it. How’s it going?
AS: God damn falling. It is a never ending process. I’m still scared but I am always working on it. I’ve pushed past my fear, which allowed me to excel to the point I did not think would be possible–then I got comfortable and stopped falling, and now I’m back at that stage where I need to fall again to be comfortable and push it harder. It is a never-ending cycle.
FF: Fear of falling is something that almost all of us can resonate with. I think a lot of my fear of falling comes from a fear of losing control. If you were to break it all down–what do you think your fear is about? Have you had any other successful methods for taming the beast outside of the obvious desensitization process of falling frequently? Anything that definitely does NOT help?
AS: The falling thing is a bitch man. I think it’s a control thing and I think it’s my irrational (slightly rational) fear of getting flipped upside down and smashing my dome piece.
I will continue to work on it, I know you will help me to keep my shit together and call me out when I try to bail and act like a little hypocrite coward shit. Can I count on you? I seriously need all of the help I can get. For real.
FF: I’ll do my very best. I tend to be better at coddling than pushing, but for you Nums, I’ll do anything. Tell me about your trip to France this fall. What’s the plan?
AS: The plan is to fail a lot, have a great time, eat the shit out of some chocolate croissants and not get arrested.
FF: …Have you ever been arrested?
AS: I’ve taken 3 trips in the back of the cop car.
I’ll tell you later 😉
FF: You just turned the big 3-0. Any goals this year?
AS: Big 3-0. Whatever. I’ve always wondered what is this obsession and fear with turning 30. It’s chill. My goal this year is to climb a V10 with Sasha Turrentine, do a 5.13, learn how to code so I can get a job as a web developer, be nicer to my boyfriend, see my family more often….
FF: And as of yesterday, do the splits, a one-arm pull-up, and front lever. We have a lot of work to do, woman. (I’m typing this while in a deep lunge. Stretchin those quads).
AS: You know…I’m 30. I do not feel like I am 30. I often wonder if for me turning 30 wasn’t a big deal (or maybe it is and I’m just in deep denial) because I’ve surrounded myself with people that I love, who are active, self sufficient and motivated. We are not the kind of crowd that waits for the weekend to drink our sorrows and miserable weeks away, we do shit that makes us happy every day, or we at least try, because happiness has just as vague of a meaning as turning 30. We, for the most part, are not married with children trying to fit in some comfortable society-assigned form of success (success, another one of those words that drives me crazy)–there is nothing wrong with marriage or children, just ain’t our thing to be obsessed over. We are non-conformist. I think I was a misfit from day one, I just didn’t know that, so perhaps turning 30 brought me that clarity, to be cool with being a misfit. I also love the word misfit and I also love The Misfits.