Tailgate Talk:  The Sharp End of Life: A Mother's Story with Dierdre Wolownick

Tailgate Talk: The Sharp End of Life: A Mother's Story with Dierdre Wolownick

Join us as we welcome author, climber, and cast member of the Academy Award-winning film "Free Solo" Dierdre Wolownick to share stories and images from her new memoir The Sharp End of Life: A Mother's Story (Mountaineers Books, May 2019).

Wife and mother. Teacher and musician. Marathoner and rock climber. At 66, Dierdre became the oldest woman to climb El Capitan in Yosemite—and in The Sharp End of Life, she shares her intimate journey, revealing how her climbing achievement reflects a broader story of courage and persistence. 


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.

Adapting as best she could, Dierdre juggled work and raising two young children, encouraging them to be fearlessly confident. She noted with delight how her “little lady” Stasia took it upon herself to look out for her baby brother, and watched in amazement as Alex started climbing practically before he could crawl. 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.

From confused young wife and busy but lonely mother to confident middle-aged athlete, Dierdre brings the reader along as she finds new strength, happiness, and community in the outdoors—and a life of learning, acceptance, and spirit.

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. Follow her at www.sharpendoflife.comand on Instagram @dierdrewolownick .

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