'Spiderwoman' Aries Susanti Rahayu: "I try to be an example for others"

Indonesia's sport climbing world record holder Aries Susanti recounts her journey into the sport and that day where she cemented herself as a household name.

Aries Susanti Rahayu is a world record holder.

In 2019, the sport climbing star became the first woman in the history of the sport to scale a speed climbing wall in under 7 seconds.

The 25-year-old was also the only Indonesian athlete named on Forbes Asia's 30 under 30 list in 2019, which included the likes of two-time Grand Slam tennis champion Naomi Osaka.

Olympic Channel caught up with the Olympic hopeful who has her sights on creating history for her nation at the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Olympic Channel: Who is Aries Susanti Rahayu?

Aries Susanti Rahayu: Aries Susanti is a woman who wears a headscarf who likes a sport that is usually dominated by men, that is sports climbing. And she is also a very a shy person, but loves to talk and socialize and loves discovering new things.

OC: What do you like about sport climbing?

ASR: Ever since I was young, I liked to climb trees. And I used to climb a lot of trees as a kid. When I heard about sport climbing I was very excited because it took the activity that I liked to an even higher level. That’s why I chose to get into sport climbing.

And I also love speed. I love the challenge of speed. You can break your own record and you can show yourself on the world stage if you are fast enough. So that’s why I love the speed.

OC: How does it feel to be a superstar in Indonesia?

ASR: I feel very proud to be considered a superstar in Indonesia. I'm also proud that I can showcase my country, Indonesia, at the world stage through my achievements in sports. So for me personally, I’m proud and for sure I do it all for Indonesia.

OC: Do you have difficulty being out in public in Indonesia? 

ASR: Sometimes when I go to the shopping mall, I get asked by a few people “are you Aries, the speed climbing Spiderwoman?” Sometimes it makes me feel awkward and a little shy. But I do feel happy when I get recognised however it does mean that I have to guard my privacy well.

OC: Do you have to be careful with what you say nowadays?

ASR: Yes, I have to watch what I say and my behaviour, especially on social media, because my posts reach a lot of people. So I try and post things that are of useful and helpful. I don’t just post for my own pleasure, but I also try to be an example for others.

OC: How has your success had an impact on sport climbing in Indonesia?

ASR: My success at the Asian Games as well as breaking the world record is really a result of the Indonesian Sport Climbing team.

Without the team, I don’t think I will be here right now. I don’t think that I would have managed to break the world record. So the team is like my family.

We're not only connected when we train or compete and go our separate ways afterwards. I really consider them to be my family and I have to work with them to reach the level of performance that I have, which I do for our country, Indonesia.

And the success of sport climbing in Indonesia is not just because of me, but also because of other athletes like Puji Lestari, Aspar Jaelolo and others who have all worked together to grow the sport in Indonesia.

OC: What do you think about your nickname Spiderwoman?

ASR: It’s okay, no problem. I don’t mind people calling me Spiderwoman or Spider-Indonesia. I don’t mind. But to me, Spiderwoman Indonesia is not just me, but there are a few. So if I'm a Spiderwoman, then my teammates are also Spiderwomen. Because we have a lot of fast climbers on the Indonesian team.

OC: How has life changed since becoming the world record holder.

ASR: There hasn’t been much change actually. Because the way I see it, breaking the record, is a thing of the past. Now I want to focus on being better, on improving myself further for the future.

OC: Tell us about the day you broke the world record

ASR: At the time I broke the record, I had an injury on two of my fingers.

It was around here (points to her left index and middle finger). These two fingers were actually injured, about a month or so before going into that competition where I broke the record.

So going into the final, I kept telling myself, I’ve been competing for a while with these injured fingers, so at the start I just told myself to just climb as fast as I can. I was now climbing for myself.

I wanted to prove to myself that this pain does not affect me when I compete. So my mindset going into the race was not to focus on the pain but to focus on the race ahead of me.

All those thoughts were running through my head. And it just goes to show that if we want it badly, we can do it.

OC: Was there anything that you did differently to prepare for that competition?

ASR: I didn’t do anything different.

My usual routine before each competition is to wake up, go jogging and then to have breakfast. After that we then usually head off to the competition wall and just before that we all say a prayer together. Then when we got to the venue, I spoke with my coaches as I usually do, so everything was normal.

The only difference was my mindset. As well as the words of advice from my coach and teammates to forget the pain and focus on the race and leave the rest with God.

OC: What was your reaction when you saw the time that you achieved?

ASR: Wow, I don’t think I describe how I felt in words.

For sure I was very grateful to God. I was so thankful to God for finally helping me break the world record because it is something that I have been trying to do since 2018.

Especially if you take into consideration my physical state at the time - I was injured, so you would think that the injury would have been a barrier to perform. But I was able to dig deep and perform even better than I expected.

I think it just goes to show how much we can achieve when we really want it.

OC: What’s the secret to Indonesia's success in speed climbing?

ASR: The desire of the Indonesian people is very strong. So when we decide that we want to compete at an international level, despite our physique being much smaller than others, we try harder because we want to prove to the world that people with smaller physique can be a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.

OC: Tell us about the movie that was made about you

ASR: It's called 6.9 second.

Before I broke the world record, they made a film about me entitled 6.9 seconds. The film is about my childhood up until [winning gold at] the Asian Games. and it really made me reflect on my life before sport.

It tells the story of my childhood and how I was separated from my parents who when to work overseas. So as a child, you can say that I felt a lack of love. And that made me determined not to have to follow in their footsteps and to find a different life for myself.

And with the help of God, I became a speed climbing athlete and found my own path in life. Looking back, I'm very grateful with how my life journey has been to-date.

OC: Will you ever consider acting in the future?

ASR: This was my first time acting and I felt a little stiff at times especially when there are cameras right in front of my face. I think I was focusing on the cameras...(laughs) more than the people or the place I'm supposed to look at.

For sure it was my first time acting and I only had to play myself, so it felt quite easy actually. I might consider acting in the future, if someone makes me an offer.

OC: How will the Olympics change sport climbing?

ASR: Sport climbing being part of the Tokyo 2020 program will certainly increase the level of performances by climbing athletes.

The sport will also reach a wider audience all around the world and we'll gain fans who might not have paid too much attention to it because it was considered an extreme sport. But I think that by being part of the Olympics, it shows that the sports isn’t that niche or extreme.

OC: Do you have a message for other sports climbers who will have to wait another year to make their Olympic debut?

ASR: Never get bored of waiting. Because if we feel bored then it means that we’ve succumbed to our laziness.

So never get bored of waiting because the in time that we have to wait, about one year, we can benefit from it to improve ourselves on the climbing wall.

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