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A Brief History of a Squamish Land­mark by Thomasina Pid­geon

Gripped - - CONTENTS - Story by Les­lie Timms Les­lie Timms was the fourth Cana­dian woman to climb 5.14. She is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Gripped.

Toronto has been the epi­cen­tre of On­tario’s in­door climb­ing scene since the open­ing of Canada’s first climb­ing gym, Joe Rock­heads, in 1990. Since then, in­door climb­ing has con­tin­ued to gain mo­men­tum and an im­pres­sive num­ber of climb­ing gyms be­gan to open across the Greater Toronto Area ( gta). Even­tu­ally, the climbers who be­gan in those gyms started to make ap­pear­ances in the com­pet­i­tive climb­ing cir­cuits, climbers like Ma­ri­eta Akalski, a name that made sev­eral head­lines in 2014.

Ma­ri­eta is the daugh­ter of Sasha Akalski, owner of the Toronto Climb­ing Academy ( tca). The Akalski fam­ily em­i­grated f rom Bulgaria and opened the tca when Ma­ri­eta was 11. The fol­low­ing year, when she was 12, she started climb­ing and her com­pet­i­tive na­ture led her to take the sport very se­ri­ously. She be­gan climb­ing com­pet­i­tively in her first year and at­tended both ju­nior and open com­pe­ti­tions across Canada. By the age of 14, she be­came the first Cana­dian to make fi­nals at the Youth World Cham­pi­onships in Aus­tria. Coached by her fa­ther, she con­tin­ued to com­pete in the in­door scene for 10 years, but then de­cided to quit climb­ing en­tirely and pur­sue a ca­reer as a mas­sage ther­a­pist. “I am very de­ter­mined when I want to achieve some­thing,” said Ma­ri­eta, “But I am not good at split­ting up my ef­forts be­tween two im­por­tant en­deav­ours.”

Ma­ri­eta took a six-year hia­tus from climb­ing and made her re­turn to the sport in 2011. In 2014, she de­cided to fo­cus on her out­door climb­ing ca­reer, with the ul­ti­mate goal of climb­ing a 5.14. “The fall of 2014 was a spe­cial time in my life,” said Ma­ri­eta. “It was a re­sult of sac­ri­fic­ing ev­ery­thing at home, hit­ting the road and wor­ry­ing about the con­se­quences later.” She left it all be­hind to spend six weeks in Rif le, Colo., where she climbed her first 5.13d. “My first 5.13d not only gave me the strength and en­durance, but also the con­fi­dence that I am ca­pa­ble of climb­ing harder.” With new con­fi­dence and fit­ness, she trav­elled to Spain, where she found a num­ber of po­ten­tial 5.14 projects.

“Ini­tially, my goal to climb 5.14 was shat­tered,” said Ma­ri­eta. “The steep and pow­er­ful na­ture of Rodel­lar climb­ing and spaced bolts ter­ri­fied me. I re­fused to climb on cer­tain walls be­cause I was in­tim­i­dated.” She has dealt with those fears through­out her climb­ing ca­reer and knew she had to work hard in­ter­nally to achieve her goals and stay on track. “Some­times, I sur­prise peo­ple with how afraid of fall­ing I am,” said Ma­ri­eta. “I get ‘the look’ from peo­ple that ex­pect more of me.” But, fear didn’t stop her from achiev­ing

Suc­cess was a re­sult of sac­ri­fic­ing ev­ery­thing at home, hit­ting the road and wor­ry­ing about the con­se­quences later.

her dream, although the weather al­most did. While bat­tling storms, wet holds and seep­ing tu­fas in Rodel­lar, Ma­ri­eta knew her time was lim­ited. Ma­ri­eta de­cided to pro­ject the route called Gemini, a clas­sic 5.14a in the Gran Boveda. “Time was start­ing to run out,” said Ma­ri­eta. “I felt like I needed to be­gin pro­ject­ing if I had any hope of com­plet­ing the climb be­fore my set de­par­ture date.”

Ma­ri­eta sent her pro­ject and be­came the fifth Cana­dian woman to climb 5.14. But, as she said, it didn’t go down with­out a fight: “I was full of rage when I sent Gemini be­cause I fell on the last move three times and the poor weather was get­ting to me.” Af­ter the send, Ma­ri­eta found her groove and kept the mo­men­tum go­ing with a send of another 5.14a called Ix­eia. The climb­ing day be­fore I sent Ix­eia, I linked it with two falls,” said Ma­ri­eta. “Never in a mil­lion years did I think I was any­where close to send­ing it.” Her send­ing spree didn’t stop there and with only four days left un­til she left for Greece, Ma­ri­eta tried an in­spir­ing line called Florida, a clas­sic 5.14b.

“The en­tire time I was in Spain, I had my eye on Florida,” said Ma­ri­eta. For her last few days in Europe, she plugged away at the route, de­scrib­ing it as pow­er­ful 5.13c to a V9 boul­der prob­lem at the very top. It wasn’t un­til the last day of her trip that she could link all the moves and when she reached the anchors for the first time, she knew she could send it. Ma­ri­eta ex­tended her trip to Spain and can­celled her trip to Greece. The de­ci­sion proved wise as she would go on to send Florida, her first 5.14b. “Florida chal­lenged me phys­i­cally and men­tally more than any climb to date,” said Ma­ri­eta. “I fell five times on the sec­ond-last move, 39 me­tres up and I never felt close to stick­ing it. It broke me down. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do any­thing with­out over-an­a­lyz­ing the se­quence. I was at the point where I would get to the move and vi­su­al­ize fall­ing. I knew the only lim­i­ta­tion be­tween me and the an­chor was in my head. It wasn’t un­til I took an un­planned rest day and went for a hike to clear my mind that I was able to re­turn to Florida re­freshed and I crushed it.” Af­ter her im­pres­sive trip to Spain where she sent two 5.14a’s and a 5.14b, Ma­ri­eta re­turned to Canada and re­fo­cused on her ca­reer. “Last year my fo­cus was climb­ing,” said Ma­ri­eta. “This year my fo­cus, so far, is on work. I en­joy switch­ing it up and not burn­ing out at some­thing I’m pas­sion­ate about.” Her ca­reer as a mas­sage ther­a­pist has al­ready taken off and she was the Cana­dian na­tional climb­ing team’s phys­io­ther­a­pist at the Toronto Boul­der­ing World Cup and part of the med­i­cal team at the Pan Am Games.

Ma­ri­eta is one of Canada’s strong­est climbers and she has learned to bal­ance her climb­ing lifestyle with her pro­fes­sional one. When asked about what as­pect of pro­ject­ing she had to fo­cus on to help her send, she said: “Ev­ery­one is ca­pa­ble of be­com­ing phys­i­cally strong with to­day’s train­ing fa­cil­i­ties and coaches, but what sets the good from the best is the abil­ity to con­trol their emo­tions un­der pres­sure.”

Ma­ri­eta Akalski

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