WORDS BY MANRICO ERASMI
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM NGO
ILLUSTRATION BY WALKER BALLANTYNE-MAUND
What we do out there matters in here. These are stories about Livewire employees celebrating life outside of work.
“Nat, look back”
Her eyes had been so fixed on the jagged shale, figuring out where to place her hands and feet, she didn’t realize how far she’d come. It was her first time climbing outside the gym, so it took all her focus to calm her nerves and ignore the fear. Which meant not looking down.
But when her climbing partner told her to take a second to enjoy the view, she finally realized that now, having crested the tree line, she was bathed in a glowing sunset and treated to a view that stretched for many miles into the Blue Mountains. As striking as this moment was to her senses, it meant much more to her than a vista.
Livewire designer, Natalie Wong, grew up in Scarborough, Ontario in a traditionally conservative Chinese immigrant family. She, too, was conservative, describing herself as girl who never tried anything and never wanted to stand out. She liked staying in the background – particularly at school.
Her parents always pushed her academic career, expecting her to become a doctor or scientist. She tried mightily, but just didn’t have the interest in math and science to succeed. Her real passion was art. She felt most comfortable sketching, colouring, crafting and taking photos. She could disappear behind art – and that suited her disposition.
Natalie had never considered it a realistic career path until a guidance counsellor saw her potential and suggested that she apply to post-secondary design programs.
Her portfolio was good enough to get her into Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD). There, she excelled at developing her technical skills but her social anxiety continued to be an impediment. Natalie would clam up when presenting her work, unable to get her ideas across. She was so much more comfortable behind her computer, sketchbook or camera, not in front of people. In high school, she could get away with it, but not at OCAD University – and certainly not in the professional world.
Things started to change when some friends invited her to a photography excursion at The Rock Oasis indoor climbing gym in East Toronto to photograph climbers. In a funk after having just broken up with a long-term boyfriend, Natalie thought getting out might do her good.
She took pictures that day, which led to someone asking her to try climbing herself. All her instincts, every impulse in her body, were pushing her to say “no”, but she didn’t. Maybe it was to distract herself from the heartbreak, or simply peer pressure – for whatever reason, Natalie decided to try something new.
And a funny thing happened. She was good at it. There’s a steep learning curve, but Natalie’s strength, slight frame and determination made her a quick learner. And there’s a creative aspect to the sport. Each climb is a puzzle, with several possible solutions. It suited her mind well, along with her body.
Natalie soon became addicted to the sport, going to the gym obsessively, finding a climbing partner and a new group of friends. She even got a job at a climbing gym after completing her degree.
Most think of climbing as a solitary experience, but the reality is that it involves constant communication and support, particularly from your climbing partner. In a gym environment, it’s even more so a team sport. Not only is it more of a social event with large groups of friends, every climb is watched by everyone. You’re getting instruction, judgement and criticism each time. It’s performance under pressure. Natalie started to realize that as her confidence grew in the gym, it grew in her design. Her ability to present her ideas and herself, began to improve.
Then, one day, she got a call from a recruiter who wanted her to interview for a design job. She now jumped at the chance, where she used to recoil at the prospect. That’s how she landed at Livewire.
Her good fortune continued through climbing. At the gym, she met another climber, Chris. They started dating, fell in love and have been married two years now.
Things happen so gradually in life, that it’s only in retrospect that you can see how much things have changed.
“Since then, every significant moment of my life I can tie back to climbing.”
That’s what Natalie felt that moment she turned around on that first outdoor climb. Up that mountain, in that moment of reflection she didn’t just realize how far she’d come, but how much she’d changed.
“Through climbing, I found myself.”