Sunday 17 November 2019 at 14:30


Kendal Town Hall

The Sharp End of Life: A Mother's Story

with Dierdre Wolownick

Join us as we welcome author, climber and mother from the USA to share stories and images from her new memoir The Sharp End of Life.

At 66, Dierdre Wolownick became the oldest woman to climb El Capitan in Yosemite — and she reveals how her climbing achievement reflects a broader story of courage and persistence as she finds new strength, happiness, and community in the outdoors.

Over the years, I’ve often heard about ‘the season’ in Yosemite. [My son], Alex Honnold and his friends and colleagues train there spring and fall each year. They make history.

I've had many "seasons" during my decades as a teacher, writer, conductor, mother. Seasons for exams. For traveling. For concerts. But my Yosemite season has been like no other.

Each year, when Alex and I climb together, I think, “I’ll never top that!” And each year, I do.'

- Interview with Dierdre

  • The author proves that age is just a number and that determination and grit can take a person to unexpected heights. For her, that meant conquering El Capitan at the age of 66. Wolownick's story of her drive to push her physical body beyond her mental limits will serve as a stimulant for those yearning to do more with their lives. A motivational tale of a woman who overcame her biggest critics, including her inner self, to achieve one dream after another.

    Kirkus Reviews

About the author

A native of New York City, Dierdre Wolownick has lived and worked in many parts of the world. Since 1971, she’s taught five foreign languages on three continents, and recently retired from teaching at American River College, near her home in Carmichael, California. Her award-winning writing has appeared in books and in magazines world-wide. At the age of 55, she began long-distance running. Three years later she started rock climbing, and at the age of 66 became the oldest woman to climb Yosemite’s iconic El Capitan. She continues to be a motivational speaker and a performing musician.

Dierdre grew up under the watchful eyes of a domineering mother and realized early on that her parents’ plans for her future weren’t what she wanted for herself. Later, what seemed like a storybook romance brought escape, with new experiences and eye-opening travel, but she quickly discovered that her husband was not the happy-go-lucky man he had first appeared.

Dierdre juggled work and raising two young children, encouraging them to be fearlessly confident. After years of struggle in her marriage and her ultimate divorce, Dierdre found inspiration in her now-adult children’s passions, as well as new depths within herself. At Stasia’s urging, she took up running at age 54 and soon completed several marathons. Then at age 58, Alex led her on her first rock climbs. A world of friendship and support suddenly opened up to her within the climbing “tribe,” culminating in her record-setting ascent of El Cap with her son.

Photo credits Karissa Frye (right) and Amy Mountjoy (left).

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