Alena Holbert, 16, was born in China during the country’s one-child policy. Due to the skewed preference of male offspring, infanticide and abandonment of female babies were not uncommon; Alena was left at a train station not long after being born, wrapped in an old sheet, wearing a flower-print dress.
She was adopted through CCAI Adoption Services and moved to Colorado. Now, she’s a competitive climber, a defending Divisionals Sport And Speed Champ, a young philanthropist, and on a mission to fundraise for an orphanage through Zhuzhou City Children’s Social Welfare Institute.
So far, Alena has raised over $3,000 through her GoFundMe page and bake sales. The fundraiser continues through July 12, 2017, when she will return to the province she was born in, with an organization called Adopteen to lend a hand at an orphanage similar to the one she was adopted from.
Alena will be competing in USAC Youth Sport and Speed Divisionals this weekend. [/vc_column_text]
So, Alena! Where and when did you start climbing?
My elementary school in Castle Rock, Colorado had a climbing wall that I climbed on a few times. Then, going into 6th grade, my mom told me to pick a sport and get off the couch. Instead of track or something, I joined the climbing team of Rock’n and Jam’n.
Is Augy your coach?
Augy is awesome. Do you boulder, sport, and speed climb?
I do all, because I’m in the youth circuit, but I like sport climbing the most by a lot.
Cool. I read in one of your interviews that you’re aiming for the Olympics in 2020?
Yeah, I know that’s a big goal, but I think it’s a good goal. Regardless of whether or not I get there, it’s important to aim high.
Absolutely. This is a very generic question, but what do you love about climbing?
I like the challenge, I like that it’s mental and physical, but I also used to struggle with my body image. Climbing has helped me get over that; everyone in climbing comes in all shapes and sizes, and they can still be amazing.
You’re beautiful! I hope you never worry about body image again. I love that there’s so much body-positive activism right now, and a girl-power movement. What female climbers are you inspired by?
Of the pro-athletes I really like Shauna Coxsey and Margo Hayes; they seem so humble and nice. But of the women I climb with, I really like Laura Capps. I climb with her a lot and love her.
As a competitive climber, do you sometimes lose touch with how to have fun in climbing?
Yeah, that’s something I talk to my parents and coaches about a lot. I know I care too much about what other people think of me. Last year I found myself making up a lot of problems, most of which I made up in my head, so I took a few weeks off, and thought about why I climb, what it does for me, and why it’s important. When I came back, I felt much better about climbing and myself.
That’s huge insight. What would you tell young women your age about the benefits of climbing?
The climbing community is really strong and supportive, and has that that girl-power movement you’re taking about. Another benefit is learning how to overcome mental challenges such as expectations or confronting failure. Among physical benefits, climbing has forced me to push my limits so that I keep learning about myself and all that I am capable of. I’ve gotten so much stronger, and so healthy. I really do want to take care of myself and my body because of this sport.
You’ve been competing for the past three years; what accomplishment are you most psyched on?
I won the Colorado High School Climbing League Women’s State Champion for this past school year, against all high school girls; it is one of the biggest titles I’ve earned. Also last year I was 1st in my age group for both sport and speed in USAC Divisionals, and placed 16th at Open Nationals in Sport. Also, I qualified for Youth Nationals 4 of the 6 seasons I’ve been competing (hopefully soon to be 5 of 7).
Holy smokes, that’s awesome. What’s on your mind for Divisionals this upcoming weekend?
The categories have changed this year, and the competition is unusually stacked and strong. I don’t know, I think I’ll do well, but because I’m going to China in July, I’m not going to Nationals, and I don’t have that pressure and I can really focus on just having fun.
I’m sure you’ll crush. I’m seriously impressed with what I’ve read so far about your fundraising efforts. Can you tell me more about it?
First of all, the orphanage is in the same province I was born in, which is a big deal to me. I went back to China in the Summer of 2012 and visited my old orphanage, but this will be my first time giving back; working with kids and assisting the orphanage where needed.
The one-child policy ended in 2015, but knowing that I could still be there is crazy. There weren’t enough resources, there weren’t enough hands to go around and give tons of attention to the kids, and it reminds me of how lucky I am to be where I am. Going back, now that the one-child policy is gone, it’s going to be a lot of disabled and sick kids whose parents aren’t able to, or don’t want to take care of them. When I was living there, it was mainly orphan girls.
Have you ever meet your biological parents?
No, I’ve always wanted to, but with the one-child policy, we were all left in different places. We weren’t brought to orphanages, so I was left a train station. Some others were left at police departments. I wasn’t left with a note or any contact information. According to my report, “the blood around my umbilical cord had not dried” so it had been cut just prior to me being found. Also, I was wrapped in an old sheet and was wearing a flower-print dress. I’m not sure if that is relevant, but it does show that my biological parents cared about me.
Wow. You’re a survivor. Hope you don’t mind me asking, but is that something you’ve had to deal with as you’ve gotten older?
I’m really not upset about it. I’ve always known I was adopted. I went to cultural classes through CCAI for people of Chinese heritage to learn the language and take dance classes. I don’t remember a lot of it, but I do remember being comfortable and surrounded by kids like me.
I’m not a fan of the one-child policy. I understand why the Chinese Government did it, but it was definitely not the best way to confront the issue, and it resulted in an imbalanced population with a disproportionately large amount of male and elderly people.
Is your background something you think about a lot? Does it fuel you at all as a climber? Or is it just so interwoven into who you are, that you barely think about it?
The second one. What’s most important to me is being a good role model for people on my team. It’s important to push myself because I think it encourages other people to push themselves. I also want to push myself just to learn more about myself and be a better person and climber.
How does it make you feel, when someone donates to your campaign?
It’s just really exciting to increase awareness for what I’m raising money for. It would be amazing if all the kids found homes—I want them to have the same luck I had—but if I can’t do that, I want to help in any way I can.