Sunday 9 August 2015

World Cups 2015

Holding the Aussie flag at my First Open Lead World Cup in Chamonix, France. Photo by Rob Parer.
“Lucinda Stirling de l’Australie!” The French MC announces my name as the girl before me unties her rope and walks away having attempted the route. I take a deep breath and I step out onto the open stage in front of hundreds of people in the middle of the beautiful Chamonix, France. As I walk forwards, holding my rope like a leash in my hands, I am shadowed by a huge wave of a competition wall which holds the first Open World Cup lead climb I will have ever done. An epic train of thoughts and words rush to my mind. It feels like a dream to finally be here and as I approach the starting holds I am using every second I can to bring myself back to reality and focus on the task at hand. “It’s just another climb.” I step off the ground and the climb begins...
Tying in to begin my first climb in Chamonix, France. Photo by Rob Saunders

My second qualifier climb at the Chamonix World Cup 2015. Photo by Rob Saunders
What an awesome experience it all was. My first two Open World Cup Competitions were a mixture of nerves, excitement, intimidation, mental numbness and just not knowing what to expect at all. I learnt such a huge amount and I’m incredibly psyched to keep pushing myself to improve at an international level and become the best climber I can possibly be.

Just after my onsight of 'Makach Walou' (7c+) in Ceuse. Photo by Ciro Tracey
Before the comps I spent two weeks outdoor climbing and camping in Céüse. I had so much fun, met so many wonderful people and the routes and limestone rock were absolutely awesome. In my first week there I was really happy to get my first ever 7c+ (28) onsight on a super fun climb called ‘Makach Walou.’ And also tick my favourite route at Céüse called ‘Mirage’ 7c+ (28) on my 3rd shot. I was really happy with my resistance at this stage and felt very ready to tackle my first two World Cups in what would have been in a week’s time. I was also really keen to spend my second week trying few of the harder routes… but instead I was devastated to have to call it quits and stop climbing a week before the comp!

It happened just after I ticked ‘Mirage’ and later I found out it was an impingement caused by muscle imbalance. One minute it felt strong and perfectly fine and the next minute I couldn’t lift my arm above my head without painful clicking and crunching. I was absolutely devastated and after it didn’t improve at all the next day, I was sure my dreams and plans for my first two World Cups in a week were over. I was lucky to find a physio in Gap (the nearest largish town to Céüse) which I visited as soon as possible (4 days later). It felt like an absolute miracle the day I woke up and could lift my arm above my head again without any pain. I almost cried in happiness… Chamonix might actually still happen!
Climbing on Cascade wall, Ceuse 2015. Photo by Secretspots.

It improved even more over the next few days and by the time the comp came around it would only occasionally twinge, but nothing a good warm up and stretch couldn’t fix. The devastation that the shoulder injury caused made me realise something really important though. I had to accept the fact that I might not have been able to compete at these competitions I’d been working towards for so long. I had focused so much on actually making it to these competitions that I had forgotten the reason I was truly there. It made me look at the bigger picture and realise I hadn’t been training all this time just for one or two comps… they were simply a stepping stone and valuable learning experiences in my goal of becoming the best climber I can possibly be. I was grateful to have gained that perspective before the comps came around.

Chamonix has got to be one of my favourite places on Earth. Nestled in the heart of the French Alps and on the doorstep of Mont Blanc, it really is overwhelmingly beautiful. There are so many adventure activities to do, and no matter where you are, you feel like you’re in the centre of a postcard.
Chamonix, 2015. Photo by Lucy Stirling

It’s hard to describe my feelings leading into the Chamonix comp. I just had no idea what to expect but was so happy to be there and wanted to learn as much as I could. The warm up area was my first challenge. Almost every section of wall was taken up by a climber. No one seemed to care if they were above or below or almost completely on top of you as you bouldered. I knew I would have to be stubborn if I wanted to get a solid warm up. I was pretty proud of myself for managing to stay on the wall as climbers ‘attacked’ from all angles, putting feet on holds I was using, almost kicking me as they blindly dyno to a hold above my head. It was quite a funny experience seeing everyone silently battle it out for warmup space.

I couldn’t help but feel quite intimidated by the girls I was up against. They’re all such lean mean fighting machines and each one of them looks very confident in themselves, like they’ve done it a hundred times before. I attempted to look confident as well, hoping it would change my state of mind… maybe the other girls were trying to do that too.

When the moment finally came around and it was my turn to climb, I felt strong on the wall and ready to give it everything I had. There must have been many things going on in my head but I tried my best to hush them and let my body just climb. There were a few sections on the route I was a little unsure of as I saw a fair few girls struggle and fall off. I wondered how I would feel getting through those moves and it would be interesting to see what level I’m at amongst such a strong field of climbers. I was incredibly happy as I got through these moves with relative ease and it boosted my confidence to know that I’m actually at the right level for these comps and I’m not far behind the rest of the world. It’s something I’ve been intimidated by for so long.

Second qualifier climb at the Chamonix World Cup 2015. Photo by Ciro Tracey.
On both routes I was really happy with how I climbed despite how I ended up ranking against all the other climbers. I was pleased that after each climb, I clearly understood the main reason I fell off and could easily recognise areas I need to work on in my training.

Before the climb. Photo by Sheila Farrell McCarron
The next weekend brought along with it my second Open Lead World Cup. This time in Brianҫon, France. It was much lower key than Chamonix but I could certainly still feel the pressure. At times I almost felt more pressure than at my first World Cup, as everybody said it would be easier. So in my mind that means the expectations are higher after the first one’s over and done with. I know that’s not what they meant, but it’s crazy what pressure does to your logic and sanity.

Just about to watch the finals at the Briancon World Cup 2015
I was quite happy with my efforts on the first qualifier climb despite getting a little confused with my feet and the rope. I was a bit devastated by my second qualifier though. I felt so confident as I got on the wall and the first few moves felt perfect. But I got a bit stumped and hesitated at a big move with some tricky holds and my confident headspace went out the window. I was flustered and had lost focus. I tried to relax, recover and rethink but was incredibly pumped and could not latch the next hold long enough in order to stay on the wall. At the time I was devastated as I hadn't seen anybody else fall at that point. But I realize now where I went wrong, and that I can learn from it and it can only improve my climbing in the future. I guess I felt a little more confident in Brianҫon but my headspace has a world of room for improvement which will stem from experience at this level of competition.

These first two World Cups have been amazing and essential learning experiences in my climbing career and I am so very happy to have finally reached this big stepping stone.
I am incredibly motivated to continue training and pushing myself harder each day to improve my climbing in every way I can, and each year improving at the World Cups. It is a long road ahead, but I'm looking forward to every step of the way. 
First Qualifier Climb in Briancon, France. Photo by Sheila Farrell McCarron

I am so incredibly grateful for all the amazing support I've had from friends and family back home and across the world. It means so much to know you’re all behind me. An especially big thank you to Flight Centre Active travel, Pinnacle Sports, ICP and Feeney Family Law. Without you, none of this would be possible.

Back home now and already I’m planning for the next one. I can’t wait for next year with my plans to compete in more World Cups, train a bit over in Europe and also compete in the World Championships in Paris! Another stepping stone in my goals and plan for the many exciting years ahead! 
Emma, Mum and I at the Briancon Open Lead World Cup 2015