My climbing story
It is only fitting to start my blog and website with the story of my life… but I promise to focus mostly on climbing! Actually, this piece was originally published in German in the Berliner Bergsteiger in January/February 2017 (read it here). The Hungarian translation was published on the website of the Hungarian Mountaineering and Sport Climbing Federation (read it here). And here you can read my original version:
I love the feeling of climbing. It makes me forget about everything else around me except for the movement of my body on the wall from one hold to another. In these moments, I am completely absorbed in solving the puzzle presented to me in the pattern of possible hand- and footholds with the objective of getting to the top of the route. It is almost like a form of meditation: I focus on the moment and follow my intuition.
Road to climbing
Climbing was not an obvious sport for me, and I only discovered it when I was already 30. I was born with only 3 small buds on my left hand instead of actual fingers. My mother tried to deal with my ‘situation’ as best as she could. She encouraged me to choose a path in my life where my disability would be less visible, and I would be confronted with as few obstacles as possible. She did this to protect me, but it made me shy about my hand, and I struggled to accept myself the way I was.
Then, I discovered climbing. My path led through my love for nature, even though I climb mostly on plastic in the gym. After returning from a hiking and wild camping holiday in Iceland and Northern Norway, I found myself feeling restless being back in the city (I lived in Amsterdam), and daydreaming about my next Northern adventures.
Then, my hiking friend, Dóri, and I decided to start climbing. I was quite worried that I would not be able to do my share of belaying. Luckily, it turned out that I am able to use one of the semi-automatic belaying devices (GriGri). I also figured out that if I put sport tape around my left wrist, my skin does not get damaged by the rough contact with the holds. Since then, I’ve been climbing at least twice per week. Climbing makes me feel like being in nature, even when I’m climbing on colourful holds in the climbing hall. At these moments, I feel happy, peaceful and determined to explore new things.
These last four years of climbing have been life-transforming for me. Climbing has taught me a lot about myself. About knowing my fears, about distinguishing between rational and irrational ones, about expanding my comfort zone, and about being focused, persistent and committed. Climbing has made my body stronger and more balanced. It taught me new ways to use my left arm, and made it stronger. Now, I no longer feel the urge to hide my hand in everyday life. Instead, I feel proud of my little hand that can take me up on the wall even on overhanging routes! In this way, climbing has finally allowed me to accept myself the way I am.
Having a disability also shaped my climbing style to rely more on balance, foot work and body tension. I don’t have much power in my arms, so I have to use my body as best as possible. This allowed me to progress my climbing so that now I can lead climb up to 6b+ (VII+), including on overhanging routes, and I am working on projects that are up to 6c+ (VIII).
Everyone can climb
Climbing has taught me is that it is truly a sport that everyone can enjoy, with or without a disability. Every person is built differently. A small person needs a different climbing style and approach than a tall person to succeed on the same route. I enjoy watching climbing competitions, and seeing that even very difficult routes can be climbed in many different ways. It shows me that my handicap is not a disability. It is the way I’m built, and using the appropriate climbing technique can take me quite far.
Climbing is also becoming popular as a therapy for psychological disorders (for example, depression or hyper-activity) due to its flexibility in allowing people to experience success and opening their minds to new solutions. The experience of success comes from being able to climb more and more challenging routes. Rather than comparing myself to others, I focus on my own progress in climbing.
Getting ready to compete
After several years of personally experiencing the benefits of climbing, I became determined to spread awareness about the physical and psychological benefits of climbing. I thought I would be taken more seriously if I competed in the Paraclimbing World Championship, which seemed like a fun thing to do. So I called the Hungarian climbing federation, and told them I wanted to compete in this year’s world championship. Luckily, they quickly agreed. I was going to Paris in September to compete in the World Championship!
Naturally, the first step was to train hard to prepare – a great excuse to spend more time in the climbing gym (3-4 times per week). Luckily, my climbing partners (Esther, Justin, Lydia and Vikram) were very accommodating in letting me climb in a more structured training format. Justin even joined me in an intensive training program for overhanging routes, and in some sense became my personal coach. My training program mainly included endurance training (climbing the same route multiple times in a row), 4×4 bouldering training for power-endurance, core exercises (for example, forearm planks) and some stretching.
Lead climbing was also an important element of my strength training. In Amsterdam, I mostly climbed top-rope. When I moved to Berlin, I started lead climbing regularly. This quickly increased the strength of my left arm, because I usually hold myself with my left arm while clipping the rope with my right hand.
The first paraclimbing competitions
At the paraclimbing competitions the belaying is always done with top-rope for safety reasons. Before the World Championship, I took part in two international competitions in Imst (Austria) and Campitello di Fassa (Italy). These were held on large outside walls of climbing gyms, and had a very friendly atmosphere. This was the first time in my life that I met other climbers with disabilities. It was truly inspiring to watch climbers fight their way to the top with a missing leg, arm or hand, no eyesight (with a guide) and serious neurological disabilities. Of course, the routes were more or less adjusted to the different ability levels.
The best part of the competitions for me was to get to know some of the other climbers. There were climbers from many European countries, but also from Israel and India, and from 18 to almost 50 years old. Some of them started climbed only some months before, while others already many years ago. For one of the competitors, climbing was the first sport where she did not use a prosthesis, and she was happy to be able to be herself when climbing. I also learned that many climbers lost their leg due to cancer. Of course, I also got to know the German paraclimbing team.
The competitions are always like friendly meetings of climbers, which is why I enjoyed these events so much. The best surprise for me was that I won gold medal at my first two competitions! I was very happy to share these moments with my husband who came to support me at all the competitions.
At my first competition in Italy, we had to climb two qualification routes (where we could watch the others climb). The three best climbers of each category then competed on the final route (before which we were held in isolation), just like at the world championship. We had only one try on each route. I had never been part of a climbing competition before, so naturally I was a little nervous. But luckily I managed to focus on the climbs and got to the top of all my routes. As a celebration of my first victory, I went with my husband for a beautiful hike in the Dolomites the next day.
The next competition in Austria was my favorite one. We had to climb a total of six routes, spread over two days. The first few routes were easy, but later routes started to get progressively more difficult. Since all routes in Imst were climbed in front of everyone, we could cheer on all the other climbers. Once again, I topped all my routes, and won again in my category! For this, I even received a trophy, and the Hungarian national anthem was played while someone held up the flag of Hungary. It was really a special moment for me!
The World Championship
These competitions had made me even more excited to compete at the World Championship. According to the rules, only those categories were allowed to compete that had at least six climbers from at least four different countries. My category just satisfied these requirements. The event was organized together with the other disciplines of climbing (lead, bouldering and speed) in the large Bercy arena in Paris.
I was happy to finally compete with Maureen Beck of the USA, who won at the World Championship in 2014. Being in a large stadium, I was extremely nervous during my first qualification route. Luckily, I still managed to top the route, as did Maureen. During the second qualification route, I already felt a bit more relaxed. However, this route was more challenging, and I made a mistake and fell in the last quarter of the route. Maureen fell exactly at the same spot, so we were tied before going into the final route on the following day. Surprisingly, this route was easier and more straightforward, and I managed to climb to the top easily. Maureen climbed last, and was able to rush to the top to beat me on time. She won, and I got the silver medal. I have to admit that at first I was very disappointed. However, then I decided that I want to get better, faster and stronger to compete at the next competion!
My best memories of the World Championship are that we shared the stage with the best competition climbers in the world like Adam Ondra, we warmed up on the same walls, and we watched the finals of the lead, boulder and speed competitions from the athletes’ zone. I even got to carry the flag of Hungary at the opening ceremony. The men’s blind and leg-amputee categories were selected to showcase paraclimbing between the other finals, and the crowd was just as enthusiastic and encouraging for them as for the other finals. My first World Championship was a great and unforgettable experience!
Dreams and ambitions
I’m quite happy with where climbing has taken me. However, I still have quite some dreams and goals in climbing. I would like to spend more time climbing outdoors. After the World Championship, I joined a group of paraclimbers to boulder in the famous Fontainebleau forest, and this has really increased my appetite for outdoor climbing. There are also so many other places and different types of rocks I would like to explore! Of course, I also want to go to the paraclimbing competitions next year, and to the World Championship in Innsbruck in 2018. These all motivate me to train harder.
I enjoy being a member of the paraclimbing community, and I hope that our community will grow ever larger in the coming years, as climbing keeps becoming more popular around the world! After all, climbing will be at the Olympics in 2020!
However, my greatest ambition at the moment is to help establish a climbing group for people with physical disabilities in Berlin. The idea is to provide people with disabilities with an easy possibility to try out climbing, and have an open-minded community where members encourage and support each other in climbing. Naturally, people without disabilities are also very welcome!