Monday 27 November 2017

Turnaround Year

What a weird and wonderful rollercoaster of a year 2017 has been. Somehow it feels as if I’ve actually managed to pack two years into one! When I think back to where I was in January 2017, so much has changed and so many exciting things have happened. This year has definitely been one of the most challenging years to date but also the most rewarding by far. 

To summarize it all will be a challenge in itself. Over the past 11 months I’ve learnt such a large amount about myself and especially how to ‘focus’, making it hugely beneficial for me to be able to look back on n the future. I hope that in sharing my story it might inspire a few others to face their fears and keep striving for their goals and dreams no matter what.

So let’s rewind back to what feels like an age ago when we were spending January trying to finish that delicious giant ham from Christmas Day 2016. 
Those close to me will know that during the first few months of 2017 I was tapering off a prescribed neurological medication I’ve been on since I was 7 for treatment of ADHD. I’ve written a whole separate blog about this difficult journey over the past 12 months which I’ve been hesitant to make public...but I think I will release it soon as a way of putting it in the past and moving on. To undertake one of my greatest fears and get to where I am today, to not have given up once, and now being medication free for around 9+ months makes me feel like I can conquer anything I put my heart and mind to. It’s indescribable. 
Lead World Cup Chamonix 2017 - Photo by Sheila Farrell McCarron
I decided I would tackle all the same competitions I had last year, but this time I would do it without my meds. It was unusual yet such a relief to finally not have to apply for a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption- WADA) to be allowed to compete. My first comp of the year was QLD State Lead. I was unusually nervous (for obvious reasons) but managed to take out first place. 
Up next was Australian Lead Nationals and I will be completely honest in saying I was scared of losing my title as Lead Champion and still nervous about how I would perform med-free. Of course focusing on this did exactly what you would predict; distracted me from what I should have really been focusing my attention on. It ended up being a very close finals, and although I still managed to make 2nd place, I was still very unhappy with how I climbed and my headspace throughout the competition. 

I moved on from this ‘disappointment’ and went on to spend 5 absolutely amazing weeks living with Alex in a van and climbing around the Grampians. I had such an incredible amount of fun over there and it was such a struggle leaving that magical rock wonderland. Being outdoors did a world of good for my stress levels. It really grounded me and reminded me of what truly matters. I was also really stoked to come back with a solid amount of ‘sendage’ under my belt, found a few projects for future trips and rediscovered a frothing passion for outdoor bouldering.
On the send of Monkey Puzzle (28) - Photo by Pat Banda
After 4 weeks back in Brisbane I then set off on another 3 month overseas IFSC World Cup adventure. I did 8 comps in total including 2 Boulder and 4 Lead World Cups, as well as The World Games (in Wroclaw, Poland) in both lead and boulder disciplines. I also spent 3+ weeks training in Canada and was really excited to make immense progress in my performance at the Chamonix Lead World Cup. It had been the place of my worst performance both of the two years prior, so it was fantastic to see I had been successful in strengthening my weaknesses. 
The World Games 2017 (Wroclaw, Poland) - lead Qualification - photo by Polski Zwiazek Alipinzmu

A week or so later I was absolutely thrilled to be one of 12 athletes selected to compete at the World Games in Poland in both Lead and Boulder. It was an incredible experience climbing against the best in the world in such a small field of competitors. I was lucky to share the experience with Campbell Harrison who also competed in both Lead and Boulder disciplines. I was absolutely thrilled to watch him make finals in lead! What an awesome achievement! 
I was satisfied with my own overall performance but was also quite upset that I got food poisoning right in between the two days of competition. It was terrible timing but I was fortunate to be well enough to climb when it came to my turn.
This put a bit of a dampener on my psych and also forced me to restrict my diet. I became slightly obsessed with over-controlling what I ate from then on and ended up accidentally losing a lot of weight I couldn’t really afford to lose. Later at another World Cup in Munich I somehow managed to get food poisoning again which only made things worse. I was doing my very best to stay as healthy as I could but things just weren’t working out entirely as planned. At the end of my 3 month trip I was really grateful to spend two amazing weeks outdoor climbing in Arco, Italy with Alex. It was a wonderful way to round out the trip and I had so much fun but I was also ridiculously exhausted mentally and physically. Realistically, I was just feeling completely burnt out. 

Qld Academy of Sport training
A couple of weeks after arriving home I was contacted by the Queensland Academy of Sport who wanted to interview me about a potential position in their P4G (Prospect For Gold) program. I leaped at the opportunity and they were excited to have me on board in preparation for the 2020 Olympics and the qualifiers in 2019. I became the first ever sport climber to be a part of their program. As a part of the QAS team we would be working to gain insight into the best training methods for the sport of climbing and I am positive that this knowledge base will help open up many more fantastic opportunities for climbers in the future.

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics very much in the forefront of my mind, I was feeling a little stressed about my performance and head space throughout the year so far but knew I had to keep it together. The Oceanic Sport Climbing Championships (held in New Caledonia) were only a few weeks away and I was committed to going and making the most of the unique experience. Nerves rattled me almost every day leading into it. It would be my first ever time competing in speed, let alone all three disciplines in the one competition (the closest thing to the combined 3 discipline format required to compete and qualify for the Olympics). I would also me aiming to defend my 4 year Oceania Lead Champion title, so the pressure was on. 

Despite feeling exhausted I trained as hard as I could over the next month and went into the Oceanic competition with an open mind despite the pressure I was feeling in the background. I acknowledged the fact that I’d already had a challenging year and wasn’t feeling at my best so couldn’t really expect amazing results. I decided I would take the opportunity to really focus on myself during the competition and not give in to worrying about how all the other athletes were doing in comparison. I would set specific in-comp goals which would help me maintain focus as much as possible. 
It turns out that this relaxed yet intrinsically focused mindset is exactly when I perform at my best. 
Oceania 2017 Bouldering Qualifications - Photo by Structure d'Escalade de Noumea
Oceania Lead Finals top out smile - Photo by Structure d'Escalade de Noumea
Speed Qualifications Oceania 2017 - Photo by Structure d'Escalade de Noumea
I completely surprised myself by coming 3rd in speed, 2nd in boulder and 1st in Lead defending my 5 year Oceanic Champion title. I was absolutely thrilled yet completely blown away. Where on earth did that all come from? 
It’s such an indescribable feeling when you realise that all your hard work is finally paying off. The Oceanic Championships were a massive turning point for my headspace and motivation. Immediately my spirit was lifted and I was psyched to get back to training hard for the next one.

But the 9 month season was not yet over with the Australian Bouldering Nationals held just 5 weeks later. I arrived home and immediately focused my training to strength, power and bouldering and I was psyched to see how it would pay off. I had also been feeling far healthier after upping my protein intake over the past month. After a few sessions with my new QAS dietician I felt far more comfortable exploring a new eating plan and I very quickly saw massive improvements in my performance. Things were getting better and better and I felt stronger, happier and more motivated. 

I am still beaming from last weekend at the Australian Boulder Nationals held at Nomad bouldering gym in Sydney. After 5 years slowly making my way up the podium, I continuously placed either 2nd or 3rd at each national bouldering event, and everyone seemed to consider me more of a lead climber... but when I finally took out first place as Australian Boulder Champion last weekend I accomplished a massive personal goal and couldn’t even attempt to hide my excitement about it. 
As I stood atop the podium all I could think was “who would have thought that I would make it here... in the year I had almost labeled a complete write-off, I ended up performing better than any other year before”.
2017 Australian Bouldering Nationals Podium - Photo by Set In Stone Photography
Usually at the end of comp season each year, I am begging myself for rest, but this time I’m frothing for more. I am so psyched to knuckle down and work on my weaknesses before next season begins.

I am so incredibly grateful to all my family and close friends who have always stuck by me, loved and supported me every step of the way. When times are tough I can always rely on you all to encourage me to never give up, but also  support me along any road I decide to take. I would never have made it this far without you all. 

There are such exciting times ahead and I’m already planning out my adventures, training and comp plan for next year. 2017 will always be a year to look back on in happiness and wonder but I’m positive 2018 will be even more rewarding.
In front of the speed wall in New Caledonia. Photo by Tiffany Melius