Striking a balance between life as a Stanford Psychology student and sponsored climber, PG student/athlete, Andrea Szekely, spent the summer of 2011 on a tear through Europe’s finest rock – and plastic. After competing in World Cup competitions in Vail, CO and Arco, Italy Andrea posted up in Rodellar, Spain where she had an amazing six week trip, repeating a handful of hard sport climbs including three 5.14’s – all with a broken thumb. Andrea kindly made some time between training and studying to answer a few questions about her trip and the Steep Climbing Lead Clinic she will be teaching Saturday, Feb. 25th, at PGSF. ¬†Email Andrea to reserve your spot!

I know you were in Europe for the World Cup Circuit – how did you end up doing in comparison to your expectations? What do you feel like the main difference is between the European climbers and the American climbers when it comes to competitions?

I’ve been competing in World Cup competitions for a few years now, not consistently, but trying to attend a few events in summertime when I can travel more easily to attend events. This summer I competed in only two competitions, the Vail Bouldering World Cup and the Arco World Championships. In Vail, I had one of my best performances yet for a bouldering event. Bouldering is not my strong point, it has never been, but I ended up in 18th place climbing with a broken thumb, and missed 12th place only because my foot accidentally slipped on my first attempt on my first problem! It was the best competition experience I’ve had in years, I was really happy afterwards. In Arco, I unfortunately didn’t do as well as I would have liked because I ended up getting sick right before the competition began, but I guess that’s bound to happen sometimes.
In terms of the difference between American and other climbers, I think that American climbers are still quite a bit behind the Europeans and Asians – this is partially due to the fact that most Americans don’t attend the World Cups regularly (the only ones to have competed in an entire World Cup season I think are Alex Johnson and Alex Puccio) and thus lack experience. The World Cups are a lot more demanding physically and psychologically than competitions here. There are more competitors, and a larger portion climb at higher levels than events here in the US. Another important factor, I think, is that most American climbers are not as disciplined in their training and preparation for competitions. That’s not to say they don’t train, but I think that their training is more sporadic, and not focused on an entire year/season of competitions.

Can you talk a little bit about the training you did before heading over and how that is different – if it is at all – from your usual training for seasonal outdoor climbing?

Well, last spring I decided to dedicate a lot more time to bouldering and strength, which has always been my weak-point. For 3 months, I focused on training my power and power endurance, working on boulder problems close to or above my limit, and trying to work on repeating harder problems at the end of a session (fatigued). I also started doing a lot more complementary weight training, which I think really helped me, personally, though I don’t think that this is something everybody needs. It turned out that this training was not only effective for my comp preparation, but also my 6 weeks of climbing outdoors in Spain afterwards. Right before starting my outside trip, I did shift some focus back to endurance, keeping an even balance between that and bouldering, but only for a month or so. Then, I ended up sending more hard routes at my limit on ropes than ever before. Even though I think I have had more endurance perhaps in past seasons, having gained more power this year allowed me to do the crux moves on routes and not power down immediately after. So zoning in on my weaknesses has really paid off.

As a sponsored climber/student – how do you balance your time training/competing/climbing with your academic life?

Keeping a balance between school and climbing can be kind of tough sometimes, but I really love both, and refuse to give up either. Usually this means that I’m in a chronic state of sleep deprivation, because I’d rather go to the gym, train, get home super late and stay up and do my schoolwork, than not go to the gym. It’s all about managing your time, which is easy to think about and sometimes really hard to do. But I’m the one who chose to make both climbing and school part of my life, so I’m the one who has to figure out how to make that work.

120208 - Andrea climbing kaleidoscope - photo by Pete McDermott
photo by Pete McDermott

What is it that you’re studying?

This is my fourth and final year studying Psychology at Stanford. I’m graduating in fall of 2012. Psychology is a really interesting field because you can go in so many directions with it. What interests me the most is probably motivation and performance in the workplace. How can you help people perform at their optimal level? What are the dynamics of high performing teams in business or other workplace contexts? How can top managers perform under pressure? How can multicultural teams work efficiently and effectively? These are all questions that really intrigue me (which probably has to do with my involvement in sports and background in travel). When I finish my studies at Stanford, I’d like to do a Masters program in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and also, at some point, attend a Business School that offers a degree specializing in that area. And of course, I have to find a job by next January…

Sum up – if possible – your 2011 climbing season on the whole. Any particular highlights from the year or goals for 2012?

2011, for me, had its highs and lows. I started out with an injury, fracturing my thumb and tearing a ligament that attaches the metacarpal bone to the trapezium. The doctors first told me it would heal with time, but I didn’t want to stop climbing, and they ok-ed me for climbing in a splint, not using my thumb. So, I trained and waited for it to heal, but no improvement. Then in June I went to see a doctor in Spain, Dr. Mir, who is one of the best hand surgeons in the world. He told me that surgery was my only option. I decided to continue my thumbless climbing until the end of summer, and I’m glad I waited because that’s when I had my best moments of the year. I got to climb in Rodellar for 6 weeks and had an awesome time. I met and climbed with a really cool group of people that I met there who became really good friends of mine. I got on a bunch of really beautiful routes, sent three 14a’s (I had only ever done one, and that was four years ago) and found my project for this year, a route named Pata Negra (8c/14b), one of the most spectacular climbs I’ve ever tried. That’s one of my major goals for 2012, to climb Pata Negra. I’d also like to compete in some of the World Cup competitions again and at least do as well as I did last year, and hopefully even better. Because I had surgery in the fall of 2011, I had to take three months off completely and only started climbing and training again recently, so 2012 is off to a slow start. But that just means I will be working 150% harder!

Your last clinic with PG SF went over really well – how do you decide what/how to teach? What is this upcoming clinic all about?

I try to focus my clinics on things that I think people in the gym would really benefit from in pushing their climbing to the next level. My last clinic, for instance, was on redpointing strategies. I noticed that most people just jump on stuff at the gym, with no methodical way of working routes in order to send as fast as they can. They just kind of throw themselves at the route over and over and over. Doing that means you will eventually send, but you can do so a lot faster with a more strategic approach. So that was the inspiration for the last clinic. This upcoming one will focus on how to climb on steep terrain. The constant wall at PGSF is rarely being used when I go to PGSF to climb, even though it always has a bunch of cool routes. It seems like lots of climbers like to stick to the more vertical terrain, which they are more comfortable with. However, improving your climbing means getting better in all different styles of routes. So Mick Petts (PGSF Assistant Manager) and I came up with this Steep Climbing Clinic to teach people techniques that help to climb more efficiently on steeper angles and hopefully make them more comfortable on overhanging routes. Technical instruction, training tips, and basically all you need to become an awesome steep-route-climber!

Andrea climbs for La Sportiva, Petzl and, of course, Planet Granite. She will be teaching the Steep Climbing Clinic at PGSF this Saturday, Feb. 4. Sign-ups are under way and filling up so drop a line to Andrea to reserve your spot!  She can be emailed at

Special thanks to Jason Crase for another great interview!