After years of intense high-level ice climbing, Beth Goralski was forced to reconsider what she wanted from her career when she sustained a serious hip injury. We spoke to Beth about her story ‘Cracking the Ice’ and how her mindset was transformed by this season ending injury.
You began your love of climbing through rock climbing, rather than through ice climbing. What’s different in ice climbing compared to rock climbing, apart from the obvious?
One thing that is decidedly different in ice climbing compared to rock climbing is the tools. In rock climbing, often the teeniest, tiniest of handholds are used to facilitate upward progress. Whereas in ice climbing, even though the tip of the ice pick can rest on some very tiny holds, the sensation is totally different because of the large handle on the ice tool.
What kind of training regime do you have for ice climbing?
My partner and I have turned our entire garage into a climbing gym, so we are able to train throughout the year. The gym is made up of three wooden walls at different angles and we have every type of training apparatus you could imagine for climbing. I try to train two times a week in our garage for 2-3 hours at a time. On the weekends, I climb outside all day. I find that seems to be a good combination of activity and rest.
Can you tell us how you prepare for a climb and the process you go through to complete the climb?
Before every climb I am hit by a certain amount of nervous energy. The important thing is to channel that energy effectively. It is the same with any sports competition. My method is to visualise myself on the climb, remind myself to breathe and just try not to get too anxious.
What motivates you to keep climbing?
The exhilaration and the drive to accomplish my goals. When I am climbing, the sense of exhilaration is addictive. There is nothing else that excites and terrifies me in the way ice climbing does. I constantly surprise myself with what I’m able to accomplish when I let go of fear and trust my body. Although, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared sometimes but the highs of climbing outweigh this.
You have spoken about how you have push yourself to the limits with your climbs. When do you think you started to do this? And why do you think it started happening?
I’m just hardwired to try hard. I have always revelled in the way my body feels after a long, debilitating sports practice. Even when I was younger, I was always chasing high endorphin levels, whether that was in swimming, running or climbing.
You recently sustained a torn left hip labrum which ended your ice climbing season. What impact has this injury had on you?
Yes, I actually tore my hip running as I was resting a shoulder injury at the time and couldn’t climb. I was pushing myself hard and my body was trying to tell me to slow down – but I didn’t listen. As a result of my injuries I have had to severely cut back on my activities. However, it is through doing easier climbs that I have been able to rediscover my original love for the sport. Before I was pushing myself so hard all the time that I wasn’t really enjoying the climbs – I was just pushing myself to succeed. Since my injuries have forced me to slow down, I’ve realised the importance of rest and I’m not so obsessed with pushing myself to the limits all the time.
From your experience and your response to your accident, you clearly have a positive mental attitude. How big a part do you think that attitude has played in your career, and your recovery?
Acceptance is the answer. I think acceptance of your situation is more than half the battle. I’m injured and I don’t like it. Sulking isn’t going to make my body heal any faster. I have to accept that I am a human with physical limitations – that is my reality. Accepting life on life’s terms gets me to a realistic starting point. The injury won’t stop me from enjoying climbing. As my partner often reminds me, as long as climbing is fun, I’ll have a long climbing career.
From what you’ve said, getting injured when you did actually give you the chance to fall back in love with your sport. Do you think that can often be the way with high achieving athletes? Or do you think that more-so applies to you and your situation?
In a way, I’m more motivated than ever to climb. Being put in an involuntary time-out reminded me why I love climbing. In retrospect, I was starting to get a little burnt out. I was always pushing, trying to do more. That constant pushing is what led to my tendonitis and hip injury. It takes a toll mentally to always be “on”. Before climbing, I was a competitive swimmer. Now, unless I’m snorkelling with the fish in the tropics, I have no desire to swim. I put so much energy into swimming, I burnt out. It’s a side effect of being an over-achiever and this injury forced me to take a step back and I’m grateful for the insight.
What advice would you give any new climbers, just starting out?
Have fun! Don’t compare yourself to those more experienced than you. Learning something new can be frustrating if you compare yourself to those who have been doing it for a long time. It’s also important to find someone who can act as a mentor. Climbing is inherently dangerous and it’s best to learn from someone who knows what they are doing.
Where do you see yourself and your ice-climbing career going in the future?
I hope that I can recover from this injury and be both mentally and physically stronger. I have learnt a lot about myself and I’ve had to accept that I’m no longer twenty years old. My brain tells me I’m twenty, but my body says something different. As I have got older, I have had to learn how to care for myself and understand the differences between my physical and psychological state of mind. I know many people older than myself who continue to perform at an elite level but they don’t train as if they are 20 years old. I feel in many ways, I’m much stronger than I was in my twenties. I have experience which is infinitely more useful than youthful ignorance.
To find out more about Beth’s story click here.
Photographs by David Clifford, David Roetzel and Janette Heung.