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Chat with Petra Klingler at the Women’s Climbing Symposium 2018

Chat with Petra Klingler at the Women’s Climbing Symposium 2018

Petra Klingler, the Bouldering 2016 World-champion from Switzerland, led the competition bouldering workshop at WCS2018. We were excited to get a chance to chat to her at the end of the day and reflect on the day’s events, the food (particularly the cake table), and our baking specialities (Petra’s is cheesecake/bread/homemade ice cream).

How have you found today?

It was an incredible event. It was my third event like this. It’s really amazing to see these girls trying so hard and wanting to progress. I got the chance to give the competition boulder workshop, and see these girls progressing and getting more confident about jumping and running on the wall. It was my honour to give them advice and seeing them succeed in these boulders where at the beginning I think barely any girls thought they would be able to climb it. And I think this, this is what they need, they need this little shot, that they will keep on trying in climbing gyms and they will not be too shy to try hard problems, dynamic problems, and it’s really amazing to be able to help themon their way to this.

Is sharing that part of climbing quite a big part of your climbing journey?

Yeah definitely. For me I think one of the nicest things of being successful is to be able to help other people and just share this excitement about, and love for climbing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a strong climber or a beginner. You can do it together. I can learn as much from them as they can from me, and that’s what’s so inspiring. For me it’s really a big family. Seeing how we can bring climbing to the next level, to give something back to people who are cheeringfor me, who in a way are part of my team around myself.

A symposium-goer at WCS2018, tackling some boulder problems as the symposium winds down

How do you think your journey has been shaped by your experience as a woman (in climbing)?

Both of my grandmas are, or were, always big role models for me. My mum’s mother wasn’t into sports, but art. She has this thing about talent, to seek every little positive thing. She inspired me by going through things with this smile on her face and not complaining about anything. This is always my goal. I never wanted to complain about not being strong enough, or being too small to do a move. If I couldn’t succeed at my goal in a competition I would try to see the positive things, like being at the competition, which is already a huge success. On the other hand, the mother of my father was really into sports. She was into cross country skiing and alpinism. When people said “you’re exactly as determined as she was, you never give up, you’re just like her”, it made me proud, even though I didn’t really know her, to have this part of her in me. Then, my mum – who always supported me. And, I probably shouldn’t tell this, but she sometimes did my homework, so I did have the time to go train and didn’t have trouble at school. She really helped me through school and supported me all the way. My whole family did. It’s so nice to have women inspiring you, because you can see what is possible for women.

I think if we get together, we can support each other in ways a man can’t. Even though they’re really close or best friends, it’s not the same.

There is something to be said for sorority and outside of the physical side of climbing, just hanging out with your friends.

Definitely. Being able to talk about disappointment or emotions with a girl is so much different than with a guy. That would help me a lot as well, having friends, non-climbers as well,girls who I can talk [to] about my emotions, because I was getting into tears quite often, because I was disappointed, because I always pressure myself. I set high goals, I was always really harsh on myself. If I managed to do something it was like oh it wasn’t so hard. So I barely am, or was, satisfied with myself. And having other girls to talk about this too, maybe cry once or twice, or tons of times. It felt good. And I think it wouldn’t be the same if it was a guy.

“Sisterhood” – Standing, Left to Right: Anna Stoehr, Leah Crane. Sitting, Left to Right: Caroline Ciavaldini, Shauna Coxey, Nina Williams, Beth Rodden, Petra Klingler

But on the other hand it’s also nice to have the guys, because, for me, they always push me in climbing, because we didn’t have a lot of girls who did bouldering in Switzerland for a long time. I was one of the first really dedicated to bouldering. I had nobody to compare, so I always compared myself to the guys. They were motivating me and they were pushing me like ‘try this you can do it, try that you can do it’. If it wasn’t for these guys I wouldn’t be here as well, so, it’s both.

One topic we were discussing in the World Championship finals was how your period can affect your climbing, which is actually a taboo theme, still. It can definitely affect your climbing. I find a lot of male coaches, they just can’t understand, they forget about it and as a girl, you’re often probably too ashamed to just tell it out loud. And that’s something we should talk about. You should talk with the youngsters about how it can affect you, what you can do, and so on. It’s part of training, it’s one little puzzle piece. We once had a doctor who did a presentation on this for different sports. I wasn’t there but I got the presentation, but I heard it was really good, just having a professional talking about it, how it can affect, and why it can affect you. So that could also be some topic for next year here. Yeah there’s a lot we can learn from each other, girls.

There’s a lot to be said for breaking down taboos and stereotypes.  

Yeah, exactly, the stereotypes. For example, me, I’m a powerful build. I’ve heard a lot of guys, when I was like 16, often the first thing [when] they saw me, was “oh wow, you’re so strong”. And it was [a] done deal. You’re the bodybuilder type. I felt so stereotyped; ok you’re in this box, here you go. It was hard to break this stereotype thinking of “a girl should be girly”, and “climbing is not a girly sport”. It wasn’t always easy. And then I also got messages on Facebook, “what kind of supplements are you taking that you have such big biceps”. Come on, really? Can’t a woman be muscular? I train, you train, you have muscles, I have muscles. Where is the difference? I think guys don’t realise what they are saying. I think. But I think also for younger kids, who are this build, to know that it’s not negative, is important. But you have to talk about it.

Absolutely, people’s bodies don’t come in one size.

And it’s OK. You still can be strong. It’s not like in basketball where you have to be like two metres to be able to be successful. That’s the nice thing in climbing, you can be whatever size. Yeah maybe in one boulder you have a disadvantage and in another you have an advantage but if you work [on] your weaknesses, you will be able to manage. And girls can manage much more than they think, I’m pretty sure. I surprised myself tons of times, and so can anybody else.

Events like this are so much more personal than that, or as personal as you make them. People connect.

I find, like a lot of climbing trips, they start at events like this. You chat with people and then it’s like ‘oh i’m planning on going there’ and they’re like ‘oh yeah that would be great’ and then you meet up there again.

So we’ll see you in Switzerland! 

Yes! We have a lot of great rock in Switzerland. If you come to Zurich – Text me! Yeah, I can show you around.

We can go get some cake! 

Excuse me while I go pack my bags and book a flight to Zurich.

Petra, Ellie and I, excited at the prospect of cake

You can keep up to date with Petra’s climbing journey on instagram (@petra_klingler), Facebook and her website. 

By Roxy Barry



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