The climbing coach talks about how kids (and adults) can push themselves in the gym and on the rock.
Though Andrea Szekely calls Boulder home—she shares a condo with Climbing editor James Lucas and his partner, pro climber Nina Williams—my first memory of her is from 1,250 miles across the country. Szekely and I first crossed paths 10 years ago in Yosemite Valley, back when she was studying psychology at Stanford in Palo Alto, California. During a cool autumn day, from across historic Camp 4, I saw her midway up the world’s most famous boulder problem, “Midnight Lightning,” a line as difficult as it is tall. The overhanging climb boasts hard moves 20 feet off the ground, and many notable climbers have broken bones attempting it.
Szekely made easy work of it, even employing a crazy cross-through move with her arms that I’d never seen done before. It may have looked smooth on the outside, but on the inside she was gripped. “I was so terrified at the top that I closed my eyes when I reached the last hold,” she says. Her climb marked the third or fourth female ascent (she doesn’t know for sure) of the route that was first ticked off in 1978. “I don’t pay much attention to the female thing,” she says, laughing. “I was more psyched to do that boulder problem than anything.”
Today Szekely, 30, who started the sport at age 8, is still climbing hard as ever, and is sponsored by some of the top brands in the industry including Organic, La Sportiva and FrictionLabs. She competed indoors throughout her childhood and into her mid-twenties. In 2005, when she was 16, she placed first in Youth Nationals. She also placed second at several adult U.S. Nationals in the sport climbing and bouldering disciplines.
She no longer competes but still climbs several days a week and also trains with weights and with hang boarding (hanging from her fingertips). She’s currently earning her Masters in Business via online classes from a school in Madrid, while working full time at the climbing fashion company Verve, managing clothing orders and communication. “I do everything that needs to be done in the office, aside from sewing clothing,” she says. As if that’s not enough, she also coaches the youth climbing team at Movement + Fitness climbing gym in Boulder. And she raises her three-year-old dog, Emiko, sharing their travels on Instagram @emiko.thehappysheba.
I caught up with her recently to get her thoughts on coaching, comps and the future of climbing.