Vertical Life talks to the current Australian Women’s Bouldering Champion for 2016, former Queenslander now Canuck, Tiffany Melius
You can read Tifany’s sweet piece about her most precious climbing possession in issue 19 of Vertical Life. Download the Vertical Life App from iTunes or the Kindle Fire App Store here.
You recently became the Australian National Bouldering Champion, but many Australian climbers may not have heard of you since you live in Canada – can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into climbing?
I started climbing at Rocksports in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane when I was 14. I had been looking for a sport that would keep up my strength and flexibility (that I had from doing gymnastics since I was tiny), and a neighbour recommended trying Rocksports since it was only a few blocks from my home. I went one time and I was hooked!
My coach at the time was Adam West (now General Manager of Pinnacle Sports), and he supported me to do competitions, which I loved. At one point I got fed up with always having to travel down south for competitions and so I and a few others – Adrian Amies, Phil Crane, John Merz, Emily Amies (nee Alick), Mindy Coles and others – became the Queensland Climbing Reference Group to start organising competitions up in Queensland. Our first comp was the 2003 Queensland Climbing Championships at Paramount Adventure Centre in Burleigh Heads, which famously went until 2:.30am, with a group of committed spectators staying all the way to the end for award presentations! The QCRG ended up creating a grassroots climbing comp series called the Queensland Social Competition Climbing Series, which held comps as far north as Rockhampton.
All this was going on while I was finishing high school, and then studying theatre (yep, you read that right) at QUT. About six months before I finished university, Adam approached me to be a manager at a new climbing gym that he was opening – Urban Climb. Of course I said yes, and for the next two years I created and delivered all the climbing programming at Urban.
Then I left Australia in February 2006 for a three-year round-the-world-tour and never came back! I’ve visited over 40 countries, lived and worked for a year in Japan and England, and now live in Vancouver, Canada (since 2010). I’ve climbed in some amazing places, competed in World Cups representing Australia (and even made a semi final in one), and now I can say I’m also Australian Women’s Bouldering Champion!
How did a Brisbanite end up in Canada, is it because Canadians really are nicer than Australians?
Canada was just meant to be one more stop on my world tour, but I kinda just didn’t leave… Westcoast Canadian culture is very similar to Brisbane’s in that everybody is quite laid back and people can take a joke. There is also a great deal of tolerance here in Vancouver – it is very rare to find someone who cares what race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc, you are. I also love that there are four seasons here – you can really see the transition from summer to autumn, and from winter into spring – and there are super accessible outdoor activities for all times of the year. North Vancouver (where I live) has three ski mountains less than 20mins drive from my doorstep. Whistler is less than two hours away. In the summer, Squamish (a world-class climbing destination with endless crags for big wall, sport, and bouldering), is about 45 minutes drive away. Want trail running, kayaking, mountain biking? All have world class locations so close to home. It’s also way quicker and easier to access other countries from Canada so climbing trips abroad are common practice!
We know that you love to compete, what is it about competitions that fires you up?
I think it’s a few things: 1) I love the rules. I am a very rulesy kind of person (teacher’s pet…) and I love that the expectations of what I am supposed to do are very clearly laid out. 2) I love that competition is an acceptable forum to be competitive. Not everyone is competitive and those who aren’t don’t generally like it when others are around them, so this is a place where I can be competitive alongside others who like the same. By competitive I don’t mean aggressive, I mean striving hard to be the best you can be, and perform on demand in a situation where everyone else is trying to do the same thing. 3) It really gives a focus to my climbing, with a clear and tangible goal that is time-bound. Where an outdoor goal could go on for a long time because the route or problem will always be there (at least in my lifetime), competition only exists for a short period of time and so you need to do what you need to do then and there (similar to performing in theatre). 4) There is a huge camaraderie in the competition scene. I have friends from all over the world who I meet up with at comps and the inclusivity of the community is one of the things that makes this sport great!
Do you compete a lot in the Canadian scene and how successful are you there?
For the past few years I have competed a lot in the Canadian scene at the local level and have been BC (British Columbia) provincial champion in both bouldering and lead. I haven’t competed in many national comps as it mostly requires travel and I haven’t needed to do them to qualify for anything as I represent Australia. The two national bouldering championships that I did compete in I came 8th.
How does the competition and general climbing scene compare between Canada and Australia?
I can’t really speak to the current climbing scene in Australia as I haven’t been in it for so long, however, I think the standard of climbers in Canada is a bit higher, mostly due to our proximity to the States. I think it’s really easy in Australia to get stuck inside our island bubble (in many things, not just in climbing), and not realise how we as a country relate to things outside of ourselves. When I am just a few hours’ drive from Seattle and competitions with names such as Alex Puccio and Ashima Shirashi, it’s easy to see where I sit in the big scheme of things. It’s inspiring to be constantly humbled by a stream of incredibly talented climbers, both from right across Canada, and across the border. Canada is 2 million square kilometres larger than Australia, with more people per square kilometre, and we’re adjoining another country with a similar area, but with TEN TIMES the number of people per square kilometre. Being surrounded on all sides by water, Australia has benefits for sure, but it’s very easy to be isolated too.
We read somewhere that you came back specifically for the Nationals, what motivated you to make such a long journey for one comp?
I hadn’t visited home since 2007, so it really was time to make the trip back to see friends and family I hadn’t seen for ten years, and remind myself of where I came from. However, the timing was determined by Nationals for sure. I really had unfinished business in the Australian comp scene. In 2003 I had placed second in both bouldering and lead nationals, and had represented Australia in the Asian X-Games in 2004. I represented Australia at a few Bouldering World Cups since coming to Canada, but I still had not won a Nationals in Australia. Last year I watched the livestream of the Bouldering Nationals in Ballarat and had this feeling like I should have been there. I had competed alongside Claire (Kassay) and Emma (Horan) in the BWCs and since I represent Australia I felt like it was time to prove myself on home turf, not just on paper (I had been qualifying for the World Cups based on Canadian results). All of my training for the preceding six months had been focused on this one comp, and everything just came together!
How did you prepare for the Nationals this year?
I am on the Climb Base5 (Climbing Gym) Open Performance Climbing Team so I work with a coach who creates my training program for me. We called it the “Tiff’s “Crush All the Aussie Boulders” Training Plan”. We used a periodised program starting with a volume/movement phase, followed by a hypertrophy/strength phase, moving to a power phase. Then there was comp strategy, power two, dynamic stamina, comp strategy, comp simulations and then taper.
All throughout these phases I was doing a lot of work on the mental side of things with a significant amount of my training focused on creating a better relationship with my inner critic, increasing my self-confidence, and visioning – I had photoshopped a picture of myself on top of a podium at another comp onto a picture of Urban Climb Milton where the Nationals was held, and had that as my background screen on my phone and home and work computers. By the time I got to the actual podium, I had stood in the moment and visualised it so many times that it almost felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The hardest part about doing this is that to fully step into a vision like that, you have to be able to fully believe that it’s possible, and you have to allow yourself to REALLY want it. And that means being able to silence that inner critic who tells you that it’s not realistic, because in the end, if you fail, it will hurt.
The inner critic’s job is ultimately to keep you safe from getting hurt (not to pull you down), and the best way I’ve found to deal with that is to have a visual image of the character and say ‘thank you for your concern, but I don’t need you right now’ and maybe visualise yourself giving them a hug. Because if you can love even that part of yourself that seems to try to bring us down, then that contributes to your self-confidence.
How did the comp go down and what were the highlights for you? Were there any lowlights?There were definitely some highlights for me:
Obviously 1) standing on the podium, having achieved something that it felt like I had been working towards since that second placing in 2003.
2) Flashing a few moves during qualifiers which were weaknesses of mine that I had been working diligently on in training was a huge accomplishment.
3) Stopping climbing before my time was up on problem three in the semis as a strategic move to conserve energy (really, really difficult from an ego/pride perspective), which must have worked because my next highlight is…
4) Doing the final problem in semi finals that no one else completed.
5) I also had a moment on the first problem of the semi-finals when I kind of came out of myself and teared up because I had this surge of emotion and thought ‘I love doing this!’
6) And just before I came out for my last problem of the comp, I got a message from my inner critic saying “you’ve got this”, which was such a huge victory in the mental work that I had been doing.
Low lights – the only thing I can think of was that I wasn’t feeling great mentally heading into semis and so warming up for that was really difficult. But I had done so much training on this aspect of my performance that I was able to turn it around. I was a bit annoyed at myself also for a couple of falls that I didn’t need to take because my arousal level was too high, and I would have liked to have topped the last problem in finals, but really in the big scheme of things those are niggles and I can take them away as things to work on in the future.
What do you think was your edge over the other competitors?
Definitely my experience as a competitor – I’ve been competing for over 19 years now – and the self-awareness I have very consciously and intentionally developed allows me to know when to use certain mental tools really well.
Given how well you’ve done, do you have any plans to compete on the World Cup circuit?
As I said I have done a few World Cups representing Australia before, and even made a semi final (finishing in 18th), so it’s a bit of a complex situation for me. I’m 33 now which is kind of old when you consider that the emerging climbers now, who are way stronger than me, are around 15 years old. Realistically speaking I will never make a World Cup final and so the question is really what would the purpose be? If Australia wants me to compete I absolutely will. At the same time I need to take into account the rest of my life. In my day job I am the Executive Director (CEO) of New View Society, a nonprofit that provides services to people with mental illness. This is not a job where I can just take an extended leave of absence to do a whole World Cup circuit (which is what I feel like I would be most rewarding for me now). Additionally, it’s expensive and exhausting to travel extensively for competitions, and while I do get some support from my sponsor Pinnacle Sports, it’s not nearly enough to cover multiple international trips. So the short answer is no, but I’m open to it if opportunities arise.
You also managed to have a quick trip down the Grampians to boulder, did you have a good time? Did your form indoors translate outdoors and what did you climb?
Interesting question. I would say that no, my competition form did not translate outdoors in the way that I would have liked. I found that the mentality you need to send outdoors is very different from what you need in competition, and I had spent so much time on the narrow focus of comps in that respect that it didn’t translate (and I didn’t have enough time there to switch mindsets). Having said that, once I let go of needing to send hard things and just climbed for fun, it was really great!
Where do you live in Canada, and do you do much climbing outdoors there? What are the best areas in Canada for boulder lovers?
I live in North Vancouver, and I climb outdoors, mostly in Squamish, in the late spring, summer, and early autumn. It rains for most of the other six months of the year here, or it’s too cold (for me) to climb, so most of that time is spent in the gym training, and it’s also comp season so that keeps me busy. Squamish is definitely the best bouldering spot in Canada.
Is there much talk in Canada about building a wall if Trump wins the election?
Hahahahaha. Well, he won… and the Canadian Immigration Website crashed from too much traffic the night of the election so maybe it’s not such a bad idea…
But seriously, Canada welcomes anyone with similar values. There has been an influx of Syrian refugees over the last 12 months and the economy hasn’t crashed yet so I’m sure we can handle a few disillusioned Americans!