A 12-year-old Dromindoora girl is climbing the ladder of success in an unusual sport, rock climbing. Eleanor Lawrence is making waves on a national scale and has just won silver in an Irish competition where she was pitted against girls aged up to 16.
Having spent her childhood living on the monkey bars and climbing frame in her local playground, it was no surprise to her parents that Eleanor was interested in the sport at an early age.
Eleanor’s dad Steve was also a keen rock climber and encouraged her to develop her skill and compete. By the age of seven, she had competed in her first national competition.
Having moved to Clare in 2007, Eleanor has taken part in a number of Irish climbing competitions and in the last week, she received a silver medal in the U-16 girls’ section of the Irish Bouldering League, held in Dingle.
For the past three years, she has been a member of the Ireland Youth Team and has represented the country at the youth finals in Edinburgh and Wolverhampton.
As well as competing in indoor climbing events, Eleanor is no stranger to the great outdoors and has honed her skills in Doolin and Ailladie (in the Burren) as well as participating in trips with the Irish squad abroad in Fontainbleau, France, and the Peak District in the UK.
Speaking to The Clare Champion, Eleanor described what she likes most about the sport. “It’s meeting new friends and it’s the fun of solving a hard problem and trying different moves,” she said.
She explains with the indoor competitions it involves negotiating a climbing wall that has been specifically designed by someone known as a ‘problem setter’ and the trick is to work out how to use the grips or holds provided to get you to the top.
“You have to try to figure out what types of different moves you need to do. Some are pretty easy and some are really hard and you have to have really good strength to pull yourself up onto them. Some of the grips or holds can be turned upside down or on their side so you might have to do different moves to get past them. Some are good and some of them are slopey so it’s really hard to get a grip on them. There are some far apart, so you might have two really close and then one you have to jump for,” she said.
Eleanor explained that in order to get to the recent Irish Bouldering League final, she needed to first complete four rounds before she could qualify, which works on a points system.
“You get three goes to climb the wall. So on some hard ones, you try to work out what you need to do beforehand but some you need to just figure out when you’re on the wall. If you get to the top of the wall, the first time you get 10 points, on the second, seven points and the third, four points so if you fail once, you don’t fail completely,” she outlined.
“I think I was one of the youngest in the competition. I would probably be the only one from around here doing climbing. Sometimes, I climb in Shannon, Limerick, Dublin and I think I’m going to start going to Galway, there’s a nice wall where I could train. We all help each other and give hints to try to solve a hard boulder problems,” she added.
Eleanor said as she gets older she will definitely continue climbing and has set herself a goal.
“I’d like to travel the world climbing the best places, inside and outside. One of the best places I went to here was Ailladie where I was climbing the sea cliffs. You can get lower down on the rope near the bottom and you have to climb up with the sea and the waves underneath you. It was quite scary but it was really fun.
“You have a chalk bag to stop your hands getting sticky and not being able to get a grip. You lose a lot of skin, it grows back. Last year in Ailladie, it was really spikey so every hole you took, your fingers hurt. It is hard but you have the rope but you have to man up and push through until you get to the top. Once the top is in sight, you really want to get to the top. It’s really good to get to the top,” she said.
In bouldering, Eleanor said you don’t use ropes but there is a cushy mat underneath in case a climber falls.
“I’ve fallen before, you don’t hurt yourself but for the higher routes, you do need a rope,” she said.
Among the techniques required is stretching, which ensures that the climber doesn’t pull a muscle. Eleanor also trains for 10 minutes each night on a specially built wall she has at home in order to improve her stamina and keep up her strength.
“I have a little wall in the garage at home and I do about 10 minutes every night on that. I do feel stronger from it. Some of the techniques are very difficult, some you do by watching and copying others and some you have to practise and find out yourself,” she concluded.
Eleanor is now looking forward to her next competition, which will see her climb in the UK and Ireland Youth Climbing series in the coming months. If successfully placed in the top three, she can go forward to climb with the Ireland Youth Climbing Team at the final in Edinburgh in June 2012.