Thursday, November 08, 2012

Interview with Iyma Lamarche, Part Two!

Welcome to the second half of my interview with Iyma Lamarche, Canadian rock climber. (To read the first half, click here. To listen to our conversation, scroll to the bottom!) Enjoy!

Iyma about to send at the 2012 Canadian Bouldering Championship
Photo: Nic Charron


Interview with Iyma, Part Two

Do you have a particular technique, or strategy for focusing? How do you deal with the pressure of the moment?

Generally I listen to a lot of music and... actually I do something recently that I saw -- I don’t even know if this is what he was doing, but when I was at Bouldering Nationals in Montreal this past year... I saw Mark Button sitting in his chair, and he had his eyes closed, and my dad was like, ‘look at him, he’s not even moving!’

Mark Button has posture. (TdB Eastern Regionals @ Altitude)
Photo: Nathan Ng

I looked over and he’s sitting in his chair, and he looked like he was sitting on the beach. It was ridiculous. And he was completely still, and his breathing was so slow, and it was beautiful. And he’s the most relaxed climber ever, you watch him climb and it looks like he’s just playing around. It’s ridiculous.

So I actually took that, and I tried it at Youth Nationals. I just sat, and I literally -- I know people say, ‘concentrate on your breathing’ and it’s so -- I’m always like, ‘ok, I don’t understand’, and then I did it.

Iyma practicing her relaxation prior to
W3 Finals, TdB @ Coyote Feb '12
Photo: Nathan Ng
I was trying to do what it looked like Mark was doing -- I don’t even know if that’s he was doing -- but I sat, and I breathed really, really deeply.

I tried to breathe as slow as I possibly could, to take the air in as slowly as I could, and I have never been as calm as I was, after I did that. So from then on... my calming-down focusing thing has been to sit down, put my music in my ears, and breathe really deeply.

And climbing. The warmup is essential for me, because it also gets rid of my nerves. So I just do a lot of traversing. If I’m feeling a little jittery, and I can’t sit still.

What’s the next big event that you’re going to be training for?

A wrist injury at Joe’s last year
Photo: Aaron Eden
At the moment -- well, Atlanta was my ‘finale’ for the year, for last year, and then I’ve been training in preparation for the beginning of the Youth season, and Tour de Bloc. The Tour de Bloc at Joe’s is my first comp for the year. We’ll see how that goes. Last year I injured my wrist at it. Hopefully it goes better than that one!

You still made finals in that one, didn’t you?

Oh -- I injured it in finals, so hopefully it goes better. I’ve just been preparing for the beginning of this season. At this time of year usually is where I get my training peak.

Kicking off TdB season 10
Iyma made finals, placed 2nd at Joe’s
Photo: Aidas Odonelis
So I get to my best just right before this comp, and then it kind of levels out. And then I peak again at internationals. At the moment, I’m just gearing towards getting better.

[N: This year she wound up making finals again]

And then, Tour de Bloc and all that regular stuff, and then the next kind of big one will be Tour de Bloc Nationals in May or whatever.

Do you ever find that there’s a tension between the enjoyment of climbing and the competition aspect? Because almost all of us climb because, you know, we love it --


-- We enjoy the physicality of it, we enjoy the beauty of the motion, the adrenaline of going higher and not falling off, the satisfaction of figuring out a problem or sequence -- But at a comp, there’s this other dimension involved, the competition --

Yes! Absolutely.

Do you find there’s a tension there -- how do you reconcile that?

Enjoying the beauty of climbing
2011 European Youth Championship, Austria
Photo: Pam Eveleigh
The reason why competition climbing works for me, is that I’m not very competitive with other people. I don’t hold a lot of... tension, or threat towards other competitors. So in terms of my relationship with other competitors at comps, that’s pretty neutral. Where it gets --

-- You don’t have any rivalries?

Not really, no, not at all! Maybe other people have rivalries with me! But I’m pretty calm.

Like when I climb, I’m always trying to beat Pia [Graham, another youth competitor].

[Laughter] That’s hilarious.

If I have an amazing day and she has a crappy one, I can just barely squeak in...


I just push myself with other people. If I see someone doing something really awesome, then I think maybe it’s going to be a bit harder for me. It motivates me. Where I get my issue and my competitive edge, where I can get a little bit stressed out and forget about why I’m there, is when I pressure myself or self-doubt...

For me the line in competition -- it’s more about just myself, self-talk, and what I expect from myself, my own expectations.

Climbing: a personal experience
Photo: Aaron Eden

That echoes -- I read a recent post from Elise Sethna; she commented the same thing: she finished in a certain place, but what governed whether she was happy or not was how she thought she did --


Like, never mind the rankings -- did she do the absolute best she could do on that day?

I think that’s a really important one actually, it’s just to be happy with your climbing. I mean, focusing on results is pretty much useless. If you climb your best, and you’re super strong then you’re gonna win.

It’s not, you can’t really... you can’t judge that because someone might have an insanely good day, you might have a bad day -- it’s hard with competitions like that, because climbing is such an individual sport, and so self-governed --

-- Personal --

It’s super-personal, and people take it personally a lot of the time, when they don’t beat people, or don’t feel like they did their best. Which is where that kind of competitive edge comes in, and I think that it’s really important to keep that out of there, and focus on your own performance, and if you think you did your best --

For me, the only competitive edge comes when I feel like I haven’t done my best, or if I’m putting pressure on myself.

[LINK: TdB Local @ True North, Women’s Finals. Footage courtesy Matthew Tee]

Do you pressure yourself to succeed?

The pressure obviously increases, as the competition increases. Or as my focus on a particular competition increases. I try to keep the pressure off unless, unless I’ve been training for something all summer, or if, you know, something like that, I definitely put pressure on myself. I try to make sure that that isn’t going to stop me from succeeding. I place a lot of importance on things, but I don’t necessarily scare myself off the wall.

Yeah. I put pressure on myself, but I think it’s positive.

Do you think that that is necessary in an elite athlete? I read an Angie Payne interview a while back, where she was describing a near obsessive training season, where she was compelled to send this particular problem, some v13 or whatever, and she basically spent a month doing this thing again and again and again, and it just seemed so painful. As an outsider it seemed like, ‘are you actually enjoying that?’

I was wondering, how do you --

It takes a certain type of person to enjoy that. It comes a lot from who you are, and it comes a lot from... competing, to me, has gone past -- I know people say ‘all that matters is if you had fun’, but for me, I know I’m going to have fun either way, it’s not about that -- it’s about the competition, and it’s about pushing and it’s about sending the route, and it’s about that.

It’s competitive. You’re there to win, you’re there to qualify, whatever you’re there to do -- you have goals and you’re there to achieve them. It goes past... obviously Angie’s a motivated person, she’s done some crazy stuff. It goes past the having fun part. I think it’s a given. You’re having fun, but the fun comes sometimes from pushing yourself. It’s necessary. I think people on the outside definitely look at it as, ‘why would you do that to yourself?’, but for me inside, it’s because -- I love it.

Photo: Dennis Barnes
Do you find it odd cheering for the other competitors? Because you never want someone to fall off, but at the same time, you have to do more in less attempts...

I think I’ve gotten to a point where I really can just appreciate other people for what they do. You know, they’re not you, and you did all you could to be there. So I think that the cheering part has gotten, like, I just cheer for everyone. Because there’s really no point in wishing for them to fall, because they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do, and whether or not that means kicking you out of finals or beating you or winning, like, that’s their own thing. You already had a chance, or maybe you haven’t had a chance yet.

You use that as motivation, or something that makes you depressed -- it’s your choice. It just depends on how you decide to look at that person, whether or not you look at them as a threat or as a competitor or as a teammate, like a peer... I try to look at all my competitors as peers, or as people who I look up to, as role models.

I cheer for everyone.

I want to shift to women and climbing.


In many ways, it’s still a male-dominated sport. Are you conscious of being a role model for other female climbers -- younger and older?

Well -- I have three little sisters. So I’m definitely conscious of being a female in the sport. But I think that part of the way to break that barrier, and to break that kind of ‘men-only’ trend, is to not even really acknowledge the fact, and just, you know, participate with both genders, and to get women into it, as much as you get men into it.

“I’m a woman and I’m happy about that.”
Photo: Dennis Barnes

Because I think that to single out women, and say ‘women you need to get involved’, or ‘we are the minority’ is to encourage it, and I think that an important thing is for all the women and girls that are interested in the sport to just pursue it, and not take that as a threat, or think, ‘oh, maybe I shouldn’t, there’s only men’.

I go on climbing trips with all guys all the time! It’s mostly just guys, but that’s fine; I’m a woman and I’m happy about that, but I’m not going to look at it as like, ‘oh I feel so threatened because I’m the only female.’ I mean, women are getting in there, and it’s happening. It’s not like it’s not going to happen.

This might be stupid but -- I’m going to ask anyway --

Yes --

2011 World Youth Championships
Photo: Pam Eveleigh
Do guys give you a hard time at the gym -- and then back off when they realize you’re a better climber than them?

Oh, all the time. I think the worst is actually... It actually does really affect -- or at least it did -- not my self-esteem, but I would always kind of notice it, and it’s frustrating, is when, you know, pfft, guys, random guys, will come up to our finals problems.

And the women’s finals problems are always the first ones that the guys try. And they’re always, ‘psht, can’t be that hard’, and whatever, and they fall. Or they do it, and that makes it even worse. But then they’re like, ‘oh, it’s not that hard, the girls did it’.

And it’s like -- you know, come on. We try really hard to be here. And being a woman in climbing doesn’t mean that you’re weaker in climbing. And it definitely doesn’t mean that your problems are easier in climbing. I mean, even the guys who look at me in the gym, same sort of thing at my training, like ‘pssht, she can’t be that good’ -- that’s definitely a frustrating aspect of it.

I think that’s the most frustrating thing about being a woman in climbing, those guys who... expect it to be ‘not as hard’ because you’re a girl. I think that is definitely something that needs to change. And it will change as the sport matures. But it’s frustrating.

Do you get a lot of unwanted male attention at the gym?

Sometimes! I think it’s sometimes different for me, because my dad owns the gym and I’m like, ‘hey dad’, and everyone kind of backs off, but when he’s not there... yeah. I mean, guys are weird that way. But boys will be boys, and that kind of thing happens. It can be frustrating, because it can be a bit... not a distraction, because I’m not necessarily entertaining it, but just like, c’mon, I’m trying to do something here. I’m working hard. Like, get out!

So it’s hard.

Pssht. She can’t be that good.
(SSF ‘12 Women’s Finals, en route to victory)
Photo: Nathan Ng

More seriously, do you think that women climb differently than men, or rather learn to climb differently than men?

I have noticed I’m not a very feminine-styled climber. I don’t have the same kind of physical traits as a lot of women do. It has a lot to do with our own centre of gravity and our own body shape. Women use their hips a lot more, and are definitely a bit more technical, and generally it seems that women are better at balancy styles -- and not necessarily as strong in the upper body department.

But then you have people like Alex Puccio, who are like, crazy burly. In general, yeah, women are stronger in terms of the technical, more balancy aspects of climbing. That just comes with how women are built.

Wackiness in the cave
Photo: Andrew McBurney

For me, it’s not like that. I’m better in super-overhanging areas with very shouldery moves. Because my upper body is enormously more strong than my lower body -- or than my hips, at least. It depends on the person, but generally I think women climb differently than men, in what they’re better at. Not to say that women couldn’t be good at the same problems as men -- but yeah, I think there’s a difference for sure.

[N: of tangential interest: this article by Thomasina Pidgeon on competition]

Next topic -- the future. Lead climbing is on the shortlist for new sports for the 2020 Olympics. The IFSC is making a pitch and they’re making a decision next year. Now... if your developmental trend continues... AND they actually get on the list... it’s not entirely implausible to imagine you, at the peak of your physical prime, representing Canada. There’s an outside chance of that, anyway.

Is that something you would aspire to? How would you feel about participating?

Since I’ve been really small, I’ve really admired the Olympics. I’ve looked up to the athletes. I’ve always wanted to go since I was very small. I’ve always wanted to go -- never knew what sport, I never knew what I would do, and now that climbing... there’s a possibility that it might make it into the Olympics -- that’s fantastic for me.

I understand where people are coming from with the whole, ‘climbing isn’t a sport for the Olympics’ or ‘it’s not commercial enough’ or ‘climbing is too much of an individual journey in itself’ -- those are all things that I appreciate about climbing -- but I also think that it would do some fantastic things for the sport. And I don’t think it would change necessarily the nature of the sport.

Citius, Altius, Fortius...

I don’t think it would change the spirituality about the sport. I think that people look at it differently, and maybe would look at it differently if it were in the Olympics -- which could be negative or positive. For me at least, it would be pretty fantastic.

It would have a positive impact?

There are both harmful and positive things that could come out of the sport becoming more popular. It’s pretty selfish, but in terms of my own wishes, and my own -- what I’ve aspired to -- I think it would be awesome!

What do you think that we have to do -- Canada -- to get to the next level of accomplishment? If you look at a country like, France or something, they have a fairly large --

Austria -- it’s like the national sport!

I think a) it has a lot to do with popularity, b) our country is pretty huge, and it’s spread apart -- the two general climbing communities of the East and West. For Canada to move forward, in competition climbing, especially, we need to get the Prairies a lot more involved -- if they want to, you know -- but I definitely think that we need to involve more of the country as a whole. And look at all of us.

There’s a bit of separation between the East and the West, and I don’t necessarily think it’s positive. That needs to change -- there’s too big of a separation. We don’t look at each other as equals. Which is unfortunate, and I wish it were different.

The East is younger at the sport -- in terms of competition climbing, which is sad, but that’s how it works, and I think that if we were all just a bit more accepting of the fact that we’re separated by a lot of land, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to be separated by beliefs, and the way that we climb, and who we are as people.

We just need to connect a little bit more, and get more people involved, and be more positive, and not have any kind of disagreements, or hatred, or competitiveness towards each other.

East and West on Team Canada in 2010
Photo: Gail Adamson

Does there need to be more funding for youth programs?

There needs to be more funding for climbing in general! Is that realistic? It would be nice if it were a nationally funded sport. It would take a lot of pressure off of the people going to Worlds, and the people competing at Nationals, and even just the kids who are interested in Youth programs in general. Not even just the youth -- the Open team, they have a lot of struggles with competing too, because it’s expensive.

-- just to get there --

And we get no funding! It’s expensive for the uniform, getting there, the hotels -- it really adds up. That’s detrimental to the sport as well.

Side question -- speed climbing. Silly or cool.

Oh, speed climbing’s great! It’s fine for what it is. I mean, I never do it.

It just looks so weird!

It does, it looks funny.

I can appreciate what they’re doing -- but at the same time, it looks goofy.

Yeah. It’s not that I don’t have an appreciation for it. I totally understand why people do it. It’s not what I value in climbing. I’m a technical person, and I enjoy the beauty of climbing. Speed is beautiful in its own way, but... I don’t necessarily agree with it, for me. But I think that the fact that Canada is making its step forward in speed climbing is super positive, and I think it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s awesome.

A little closer in time, there’s an effort underway to bring an IFSC World Cup to Toronto. Does that excite you?

Will Toronto get an IFSC
Bouldering World Cup in 2013?
Oh yeah! It excites me a lot.

Would you want to compete on home turf, and represent Canada?

It would be nice if it were a lead World Cup but...

Or would you want to travel?

No! It would be nice to have it here, to bring family and even friends, let people know about it, but I think it will do a lot for the sport in Canada, especially to have it in the East... I think that’s going to be great, if that ends up happening. That would be cool for sure.

All right. Home stretch. Personal topics...


Canadian climbing power couple
You’re going out with Eric Sethna?

I am. Yes.

You guys are like a Canadian climbing power couple. Discuss.

[laughter] Some people say that. Yeah.

You train with him, right?

He’s in the co-op program at Waterloo in engineering. So when he’s on his co-op term, generally right now he comes to Toronto, and we train for the four months that he’s in Toronto together. And then, when he goes back to Waterloo, he’s on the Grand River Rocks team. Obviously our climbing is very... tied, like we climb a lot together, but not necessarily train together when he’s back at school.

Are you guys competitive?

[Laughs] We push each other. We have opposite strengths for sure. We play off each other’s strengths, we try to challenge each other as much as we can, it gets pretty funny sometimes. But it’s all fun. It’s all fun.

He’s quite an accomplished climber in his own right, so --

Absolutely -- he’s very strong. A very strong climber. I learn a lot from him. He teaches me a lot about my own climbing even, just about my style, and, you know, what kind of techniques are easiest for me, what makes things harder. I’ve learned a lot from him in climbing. I think I’ve learned more from him in climbing than I had been for -- it’s really positive, our relationship around climbing.

Iyma and Eric climbing together in Atlanta

I’d like to talk about your longer term goals. Career interests, for example. What do you want to be ‘when you grow up’?

In terms of what I want to be, I’ve always had a struggle with that. I’ve always liked everything, that I kind of do, so it’s been hard. I’m not necessarily really great at one thing, which can make it harder at some points in time. I tell people that, and they’re like ‘oh you should just be happy that you’re not only good at one thing’ and that’s true, but it’s very hard to pick and choose what area I want to go into.

I’m looking into a program at Laurier, that is based on anthropology and psychology and English. Which are my three main interests at the moment. I love writing, and I love psychology. We’ll see where that takes me -- I’m pretty open to switching career paths, but in terms of where climbing fits into that -- when I was a kid it was ‘I’m going to be a professional climber!’

Many elite athletes face a choice...

-- between pursuing that --

And school. Where do you...

Travel in the future?
photo: Iyma Lamarche
I definitely want to go to university. But I may end up taking a year or two to just climb. I definitely need it. I think that it would do a lot for me, to keep climbing in my life. I mean, climbing will always be in my life, but just to really strengthen that.

But -- in terms of do I want to be a professional climber? No. Probably not.

Back to the most general question -- why do you climb? Tell me what climbing means to you.

I started climbing because -- honestly, I think I started climbing because I had a propensity for it. But I’ve continued climbing, because it’s something for myself. I’m an introverted person, in terms of my own self-reflection... I don’t necessarily love team sports. But I’ve always been a very athletic person.

Onward and Upward
for Ms. Lamarche...
Photo: France Lavoie
Climbing embodies what I appreciate about athletics, as well as what I appreciate about being by myself, and solving my own problems for myself.

It’s very personal for me. It means that I get to do a lot of self-reflection, and learn a lot about myself, through a sport. That’s a huge, huge motivating factor.

And also, it’s just so fun!

It’s so exciting. It’s a great sport. And it’s physically demanding, it’s mentally demanding, it’s a smart sport, you know.

It requires thought, which I appreciate, and for me it means peace. It means focus. It’s a meditation for me to climb.

We’ll finish things off with a lightning round. Short answer, first thing that comes to mind. Favorite movie?

Ah - One second. The first thing that came to mind is Tarzan! But that’s actually accurate. I love Tarzan.

Author or book? Michael Ondaatje. In the Skin of a Lion.

Best music to climb to? Rap.

Climbing shoe size? Four.

Brand? Sportiva.

Harness? Arcteryx.

Chalk. Flashed, all the way.

Do you use -- Actually liquid chalk, Mammut.

Complete the sentence. Climbing makes you: Happy. That’s so generic!

If you could only go to one event this year, it would be: Route Nationals.

Favorite fruit? Strawberries.

Excellent. Any other comments you’d like to share? 

Mmmm. I don’t only eat healthy. I love Nutella.


It’s like, my vice. Serious. I can’t get enough of it! I don’t want people to think I’m some health freak. Well, that’s not a bad thing. But I love Nutella.

Other interests?

I love reading. I love literature. And I love writing.

And I love family and people. I love spending time with them. I’m a people person, but I’m not. It’s weird.

I’m introverted, but I love spending time with people. I’m an oddball a bit I think. But that’s ok -- we all are.

Thank you so much for your time!

That was fun!

 [LINK: Iyma discusses climbing and music. Footage courtesy Dale Sood]


Audio Bonus: Listen to Part 2 of Our Conversation

[Use THIS LINK if the above doesn’t work in your browser]


Thanks and Acknowledgements

Thanks of course to Ms. Lamarche for graciously enduring my random questions, and to her parents for their support.

I also would like to thank the numerous people who generously consented to the use of their photographs and footage for this interview, including: Gail Adamson, Dennis Barnes, Nic Charron, Aaron Eden, Pam Eveleigh, G6 Climbing, Will Hummel, Iyma Lamarche, France Lavoie, Mike Makischuk, Meagan and Aidas Odonelis of (Ruby Photography), Dale Sood, Matthew Tee, and Lauren Watson.

Going for it!
Photo: Nic Charron

Please share this post if you liked it!!

See Also

Onward and Upward (Iyma Lamarche’s blog)
Iyma on Twitter
IFSC Competitor Record: Iyma Lamarche

Other thematically related pieces:
My series of posts on competing at the Tour de Bloc
Interview with Rock Oasis’ Founder and President
Profile: Justin Readings, Downhill Skateboarder