Filmmaker, Matt Raimondo, interviews and films Queensland climber Lucy Stirling talking climbing and competing.
When did you discover climbing?
The first time I went climbing was probably a tree when I was two years old. As soon as I could walk I could climb pretty much anything. My parents wouldn’t know where I was at any one given time.
But when I first actually climbed on a climbing wall was probably at high school when I was about 13, and I loved it. It felt like something I was made to do. And from then on I’ve pursued it in every way I can get access to, trying to be the best climber I can possibly be.
I also grew up doing gymnastics, I did it for about five years. I loved the sport, but I think there was something missing and I needed to move on. And then I found climbing. Given that I did quite a bit of gymnastics before climbing, I was straightaway pretty good at it. But I wasn’t as good as I thought I was going to be and that drove me more.
What does climbing mean to you?
It’s not just a sport, it’s my passion and it’s this incredible lifestyle that I dedicate every moment of my life to. It’s something that’s all encompassing. And when I do it, when I’m on the wall, it’s everything. I can’t think about anything else. And I think that in itself is amazing.
How do you feel when climbing?
When I’m climbing, it’s pretty much the only thing I can think about. When I’m on the wall, everything else just disappears and I can only focus on what’s in front of me, the rock beneath my fingers or the holds that I’m holding.
It’s almost like meditation because you’re very in touch with the here and now and it brings you to the moment rather than getting caught up in life itself.
I think probably problem solving in climbing is what makes it so much fun. You’re not only just exerting yourself physically, but you’re being mentally challenged at every moment. You have to map out where you’re going and you problem solve what’s in front of you and your body works with your mind to tell you what it can do and what’s beyond its physical limit.
What are some of your competition highlights/achievements?
I’m currently the Lead Oceanic Champion and I have been since 2013. I’m pretty proud to have that title because retaining a title is not nearly as easy as it sounds. I also came second in Bouldering at the last Oceanic Championships and third in Speed. I’ve also competed at the World Games in 2017. That was an incredible competition to be a part of and I felt very honored to be selected as one of 12 athletes from around the world to compete at that event.
Have you always been a competitive person?
I have always been a competitive person, but more so with myself, I’ve always pushed myself to be the best I can be in whatever it is.
I really like competition climbing for a couple of different reasons, it gives me something to measure myself with and to work towards. And having the opportunity to test myself is really important to me. Not only is it a great sense of achievement, but you also meet hundreds of different people along the way and I learn something new with each person I meet and it’s really special. There are the relationships you build, and then there’s also just being on the wall and climbing these amazing routes that route setters have put a huge amount of work into. And you get to test yourself on them and you get to put yourself under the pressure of an intense situation. And that’s the ultimate test and I love that.
Do you get nervous before a competition?
I get pretty nervous before I compete sometimes. Being able to learn how to use those nerves is what makes a good competition climber. And I think having those nerves means that you have the adrenaline needed to perform at your best. It tells you you need to give this a hundred percent right now. You have a job to do, just get it done.
I generally focus in on where I am right at that moment, what I’m doing, the job I need to do ahead of me and just focus on myself. I forget about everybody else and, it sounds very selfish, I pretend nobody else is there. And what I do is all that matters and I’m just curious to see how I perform on this route and let my training pay off.
What are some of your big goals for climbing?
My goals with climbing are quite extensive. I would really like to make a semifinal round in all three disciplines of climbing. I’ve been quite close with lead, but not yet with boulder or speed. So I’d like to get all three. I would also of course like to compete for Australia and Oceania at the Olympics in 2020 and even the next ones in 2024.
I would also really like to pursue my climbing outdoors and strive to find new places and climb harder climbs and get on world-class routes. I’ve seen quite a bit of the world, but there’s just endless climbing out there and it’s so beautiful and I just want to be a part of as much as I can.
What’s it like to be on the Australian climbing team?
I feel very honoured to be a part of the Australian climbing team in all three disciplines. I’ve competed for Australia since 2010 and being able to represent my country is very special and drives me in my training and pushes me to be as good as I can be.
What are you currently training for?
I’m about to leave for Europe and Japan. I’m going to do three lead World Cups and two Speed and then I will continue to Japan to do the World Championships. I will then return to Australia and do a few more lead World Cups at the end of the year and compete for the Oceanic Title at the end of the year.
At the moment my training is very much based towards the World Championships and the Oceanic qualifying event. So I am trying to cover all three disciplines at once, which is quite difficult.
What’s your training schedule like?
Every day is different. Depending on what phase I’m in and what competition I’m training for. At the moment my normal training routine is about two strength sessions per week, which includes upper body strength, lower body strength and power and finger strength. I do three circuit sessions a week for cardio sessions, speed training if I’m in Melbourne, I’ll probably do two sessions a week and two bouldering sessions a week.
I do quite a bit of running as well which helps my fitness for climbing, but I also use it as a bit of therapy before the start of the day. I love it because it’s easy to do and it wakes me up.
I love training. I love being able to push myself every day, but there are definitely some days where it is just not fun. Many days when it’s just not fun and you’ve just got to do it.
Climbing and training for comps isn’t just about enjoying climbing. I’ve done that before and it does pay off in some regard, but I need to push myself every day past the finger pain and one more set. And just to better yourself that much more, you need to do that much extra. And yeah, it’s hard.
What’s your weakness?
I focus a lot of my training around strength and power because I feel that they are some of my biggest weaknesses with climbing. I’ve always been quite good at endurance and my fitness is quite high. So when it comes to training, most of it’s based around bouldering and finger strength and upper body and lower body power.
How do you stay motivated?
Staying motivated comes easily when I remind myself about what I’m training for. And sometimes I don’t always do it by myself. I reach out to people and find motivation in any way I can. Watching movies and videos and talking to the people that initially made me love climbing in the first place.
How did you feel when climbing was announced to be in the 2020 Olympics?
As most people I’ve talked to when I heard that the Olympics were going to include climbing as an introductory sport, I was thrilled. It’s so exciting for the sport and means that we get more funding and the sport has this chance to develop so much more. So many more people will learn to love what I’ve come to love and knowing that I might have the opportunity to compete at the highest level in my chosen sport is very exciting.
Can you picture being there?
I can imagine myself standing there at the Olympics and representing my country and climbing in a competition that no one has ever experienced before. I think it would be such an incredible moment in time.
What if you don’t make it?
If I don’t make the Olympics, to be honest, it’s not the end of the world. I’m dedicating a lot of time and energy to getting there. But it’s the journey that is really the wonderful part of it. I am going for this goal because I know that every step of the way, I am going to better myself as a climber and if I don’t go for it, I’m going to regret it 100%. So if I don’t make the Olympics, there will be another one. And I have many other goals that I want to strive for.
Where do you love to go climbing outdoors?
One of my favourite places to climb is Mt Flinders. It’s this massive cave with the rock is really sharp, but you learn to love it and there’s so many forms of weird gymnastic climbing that goes on. And I really have developed a love for the rock and the routes that have been put there. Just the style of climbing in that cave is really special and unique to any place in the world.
What are your thoughts on failure?
Failure is very much a part of climbing. You’re just constantly failing. You’re falling off the wall all the time and a lot of people don’t realise how much time you spend off the wall figuring out what went wrong and how you need to improve and change. What do you need to change to better yourself for the next time you get on the wall. And that aspect of failure is very much a part of climbing. But then what we perceive as failures on a goal level or competition level is something that I don’t actually even believe in. I label them as ‘failures’ but truly see them as stepping stones to being a better climber and having the experience and picking yourself up after those and learning from each moment.