Alejandra Contreras is one of the finest climbers in South America. In this exclusive, she shares her story as a climber, the sport in Chile and more.
Zushan Hashmi: Tell me a little bit about your life outside of climbing and sports in general? What do you get up to?
Alejandra Contreras: When I’m not climbing I love to play the piano and read, I also like watching movies a lot. Nowadays I’m in at college in Chile studying Sports Science.
How did you get involved in climbing?
I celebrated my 7th birthday in a climbing gym and I fell in love with the sport.
Tell me a little bit about your training regime?
I have two training sessions per day in the morning, I do two hours of gym and in the evening four hours of climbing training.
What are some of the highlights of your climbing career?
I competed in Buenos Aires in 2018, and I’m also I’m the 2019 Panamerican youth champion in lead, speed and combined; 2019 World youth vice-champion in speed, and I made semifinals in lead at the World Championship Hachioji 2019.
Do you climb traditional routes much?
Not that much, between training, studying and competitions I don’t have enough time to climb outside, but I enjoy the moments when I have the chance to.
You’ve performed really well in the World Youth Championships, what is it like in terms of shifting it up a notch and moving to the senior championships?
It’s really exciting. I think the grades in the routes are pretty similar sometimes, but the competitors are another thing.
Now you don’t compete against people who are the same age as you but with people of (almost) all ages.
There are super strong girls with sixteen or twenty-five (just as an example) and you’ve got to focus on yourself.
Let’s talk a bit about climbing in Chile, how is the sport growing in your country?
Most Chileans don’t know a lot about climbing as a sport. There are many rock climbers around, but the sport (and the Olympics) is still a new conversation for many people. But we do have youth climbers who are excited to learn and compete. They are training hard to achieve their goals.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a climber in Chile?
Many people have helped me and supported me in my climbing career. But there are others who have said, “Chile doesn’t have the level to compete at the international level, you’re wasting your time”.
At first, the words hurt, mostly because (in my case) they came from people who used to be my friends; but now I even make jokes about it and I’m happy I never gave up the sport. Those words made me stronger, and I’ll keep it that way.
And more generally speaking, what are the challenges that climbers face in the country?
Sport climbing is new, and at first, we didn’t get any money to competed(we even had to make our own uniforms).
When climbing got into the Olympics (and after proving that we actually had a little chance to qualify) we started to get some help to go to competitions. That’s how the sport works in Chile, if you have a result, you’ll get help.
How is the sport placed for women in Chile?
Initially, people used to cheer and support only male climbers. If you were a girl who wanted to compete and get a good result, all you would get was “oh that’s cute” or “good luck”; if you were a boy, everybody donated to help you go travelling.
Now things have changed, girls can have great results and we have equal opportunities to prove ourselves too.
How are you managing your time amid the current pandemic and lockdowns?
I’m trying to see the bright side. I have time to study, learn new things, and be with my family. At first, I was worried and unmotivated for everything, but I understood being negative wasn’t going to be good for me and my family. I’m still sad because of everything that has happened, but I try to keep my mind busy and hope for the best.
What would you say to young women who are interested in climbing regularly in Iran and around the world?
Give it a chance! Climbing is really exciting and beautiful, you can learn many useful things for life and have an amazing experience doing so.