Marieta Akalski’s journey to the upper echelons of sport climbing has been filled with twists and turns. From her early days at her family’s Toronto Climbing Academy to her pursuit of a career in the financial industry, her passion for climbing has never faded. After six years away from the sport and a foray into the financial world, Akalski realized she needed to refocus and recommit to her sport. Now she’s conquering her hardest climbs yet, while working as a registered massage therapist. Simply put: she’s living the dream.
By Allison Kennedy Davies
Tell us a bit about what you’re currently up to.
I’m currently on a bouldering trip in Hueco Tanks, Texas. Bouldering challenges me in different ways compared to sport climbing and I’m here to break down some of those barriers. I’ve been aiming to climb as many classic boulders as I can, regardless of the grade.
Can you tell us a bit about your beginning as a competitive climber, your shift in focus to school and fi nance, and your eventual return to the competitive scene and a new career?
I began competing as a youth and travelled the world to climb throughout school. I graduated university with a business degree and achieved my goal of working on Bay Street but without the deep satisfaction I thought it would bring me. After four years of working in the industry I realized it was not for me. I had quit everything I loved including climbing to pursue my career full-hearted but in the end it wasn’t making me happy. I transitioned to the health field when I attended massage therapy school. In 2011, I began a very rewarding career, which allowed me to help the general public with the aches and pains from a sedentary lifestyle, and to work with athletes—who helped remind me who I really am.
My love for treating sports injuries has led me to balance my climbing with all the continuing education courses I’m taking to be the best therapist I can be.
“I achieved my goal of working on Bay Street but without the deep satisfaction I thought it would bring me. I had quit everything I loved including climbing to pursue my career full-hearted but in the end it wasn’t making me happy”
When you were working in finance, was there an “a-ha” moment that made you realize you needed to get back to the sport you love?
It was more of a gradual decline in my wellbeing. I had become a “couch potato” if you will. Working 12-hour days followed by studying for the CFA [Chartered Financial Analyst] exams for years left me with no time to do anything else but sleep. I started to break down near the fourth year and luckily found yoga to help me get out of the rut temporarily. Returning to climbing was certainly a major motivating factor in my decision to pursue a new career so that I could get back to it.
Have you climbed around Ontario much?
I’ve visited most of the Ontario crags, but I would say majority of my climbing has been at Lion’s Head. It’s still one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure of climbing.
What are some of your favourite Canadian climbs?
To this day I think my most memorable Canadian climb is Coeur De Lion [Lion’s Head], my fi rst 5.13a. This climb took me two seasons to complete back when I was a youth: the longest I’ve ever spent on a climb. It was quite challenging for someone my height (5’4”) with full-extension move after move on pockets. I was lucky to learn the tenacity and perseverance it takes to complete a climb at your limit that you had continuously failed at. This climb taught me the art of projecting. A climb I’ve wanted to try for a long time is Titan in Lion’s Head. It’s definitely one of the most iconic lines in eastern Canada.
“I was lucky to learn the tenacity and perseverance it takes to complete a climb at your limit that you had continuously failed at.”
Last year, you started climbing 14s. How did you push yourself to this level and what are your goals for this season?
It all started when I made the decision to retire from competing and focus on sport climbing. Dedicating my time to just climbing was key. I arrived in Rifle, Colorado the most powerful I’ve ever been, but with no endurance. Once I adjusted to the climbing style and gained endurance I started projecting. I worked my way up a pyramid from 5.12c to 5.13d, sending over 20 climbs in the 5.13 grade during my six-week stint in Colorado. One month later I found myself sitting in the maze of canyons known as Rodellar in Spain reminiscing on my life-goal of climbing 5.14. For the first time I believed that I was actually capable of climbing that level. I now had the experience, the strength, the endurance and the mental capacity to climb 5.14. I was a little unlucky with the weather in Spain at first but I refused to let it hold me back from achieving my goal. As goal-oriented as I am, when others avoided climbs because parts of the crux were wet, I persevered upward and onward and climbed them anyway. The clock was ticking and this was my chance. I was in the best sport-climbing shape of my life and I was in an area with an abundance of climbs at that level. Sending three was more than I expected but who stops when you’ve achieved your goal anyway? Currently, my goal is to improve my power and strength, which I’m working on in Hueco.
“The clock was ticking and this was my chance. I was in the best sport-climbing shape of my life and I was in an area with an abundance of climbs at that level. Sending three was more than I expected but who stops when you’ve achieved your goal anyway?”
If you had to explain the allure and appeal of the sport to a non-climber, what would you say?
Where do I begin? The community in climbing is like no other. On the one hand, it’s an individual sport, which lets you be one with the rock and nature. On the other, you build lasting relationships quickly—your partners hold the key to your lifeline. Climbing is far more involved than just the physical aspect that meets the eye. The skills involved to climb a “project” [climbing a route at your limit from the ground to the anchor without falling] are transferable to everyday life. What once seemed impossible or unachievable becomes possible through hard work and perseverance. In project mode, we continuously face failure in the eye, which leads us to analyzing the weaknesses and limitations that we need to overcome in order to reach success. It can bring us confidence, a sense of security, self-reliance, and personal responsibility.
Read more from this issue of Mountain Life Ontario.