Mia Weeda: Australian climbing, vying for the Olympic spot and her future

Mia Weeda, an Australian climber was born in the Netherlands, moved to Australia with her family and has qualified for the Youth World Championships. She now wants to regularly climb in World Cups and hopes to qualify for the Olympics one day.

Sportageous caught up with the 16-year old to discuss her story, aspirations and climbing in Australia.

In partnership with Sport Climbing Australia, we bring you another feature with professional climbers from across Australia, vying for a spot at the Olympics from the region.

Mia Weeda at the 2019 Australian Youth Nationals - photo by Climbing Rocks Photography
Mia Weeda at the 2019 Australian Youth Nationals. (Source: Climbing Rocks Photography)

Kinza Tahir: Tell us about yourself outside of climbing, your story, likes and interests.

Mia Weeda: I was born in the Netherlands but moved to Melbourne just before my third birthday. My family then moved briefly to Darwin before finally settling in Sydney when I was six.

Outside of climbing, I’m mainly interested in writing, reading, journalism and activism. I’m hoping to study journalism and possibly international relations next year. In my spare time, I’ve been writing a fictional book. It’s nowhere close to being finished, but I’m enjoying the process of writing.

I also love travelling and am looking forward to doing more of it in the future.

How did you get involved in the sport?

By the time I was five, it was already clear that I enjoyed trying to get as high up as possible. My dad showed me how he used to shimmy up poles and palm trees as a child and I became obsessed with it, quickly learning to climb a multitude of other things.

When I was eleven, my parents signed me up for the kid’s club at the local climbing gym. The sport quickly clicked with me and I attended a social competition a few weeks later.

The skin on my hands was still weak and was often damaged, but I was happy and keen to compete again.

I’ve been interested in going to the Olympics for a long time. When I was a young child, I would daydream about being an Olympic gymnast.

Which athletes do you look up to the most and why?

I find it inspiring to watch live streams of World Cup finals and observe climbers better than me at competitions. Although I don’t have a particular role model or idol, it’s good to be reminded of the point of my training and the level I want to achieve.

What would it mean to you if there is a potential qualification for the Olympics?

I’ve been interested in going to the Olympics for a long time. When I was a young child, I would daydream about being an Olympic gymnast.

When I heard climbing was going to be an Olympic sport, I decided I would qualify someday and started training seriously. I later prioritised other competition goals, but the Olympics have remained symbolic of success in my mind.

Making it there would prove to me that I’d done well in my climbing career.

READ: Campbell Harrison talks Olympics, pro-climbing in Australia and his career

What has your preparation been like vying for the Olympic spot?

I’ve been training more strategically than ever, working harder on my training days and adding more rest days to make sure I recover properly.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a week off, which I’m taking to get back some energy for the next few weeks of training.

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I’ve never liked having to rest from climbing, but for the first time, I’m tired enough to be grateful for the time to recover!

Mia Weeda at the Speed Climbing at the 2019 Youth World Championships - photo by Lisa Weeda
Mia Weeda at the Speed Climbing at the 2019 Youth World Championships. (Source: Lisa Weeda)

How has COVID-19 affected your fitness, nutrition and training regime?

Although the gyms are open now, I think I was affected by the lockdown earlier this year. It was hard to train effectively while I was stuck at home.

I lost a lot of endurance, but my home wall, my hang board and extra running were enough to maintain most of my fitness. Some aspects of my climbing were actually better by the time the gyms re-opened.

I think having a break from my schedule benefitted me in a way, as much as I hated it at the time.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career and why?

There was a point where I had to face the fact that I wasn’t improving and hadn’t been for a while. I thought I had reached the limit of what I was capable of. I kept training harder, but it wasn’t making any difference.

I didn’t know what I’d do or who I’d be if my climbing came to nothing. I now know that I had been training in an unproductive way. Once my current coach helped me focus on what was wrong in my training and technique, I started improving again.

I’m still unlearning some bad habits on the wall, but I’m not stuck anymore.

What are the important things to remember when overcoming any kind of barriers when you’re climbing?

When I face a challenge, I often become overwhelmed with memories of my past failures. The best thing to do is remind myself that thinking about the past does nothing but limit my ability to deal with the present.

I can’t finish a difficult climb, build missing strength or write a better training program if I’m distracted by experiences which are no longer relevant.

When a problem persists and seems impossible to fix, I remember all the things which seemed unfixable in the past. Most of those things have come right and even when they didn’t, the effect was never as bad as I imagined.

How do you think the growth and development of climbing can be evolved in Australia?

I think that more investment in climbing facilities throughout Australia would help. I’m lucky to be living in Sydney where there is a good choice of climbing gyms and opportunities to train in all three disciplines.

When I face a challenge, I often become overwhelmed with memories of my past failures. The best thing to do is remind myself that thinking about the past does nothing but limit my ability to deal with the present.

However, not all cities have a range of gyms to choose from and there are also only a small handful of speed training facilities countrywide. This limits the number of people who can train effectively to compete at national and international levels.

Also, while in some sports being an elite athlete would be well supported or even a paid position, many climbing athletes in Australia currently fund their own equipment costs as well as travel and accommodation costs when competing nationally and internationally.

Further, our governing committee is made up of volunteers, as are the team coaching staff and physiotherapists. They are highly dedicated to the success of the athletes - taking time off their jobs to run training camps and supporting us at competitions.

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I would love to see both the athletes and the coaching team gain more support. There are a number of companies who are very supportive and help where they can, which has made a difference.

It would be great if more funding and sponsorships were available to support further development of the sport.

READ: Mia Krampl on Slovenia, climbing and Tokyo 2020

What is the perception of climbing in Australia? Do you think it has changed since you have joined climbing?

People often categorise climbing with far more extreme sports, possibly from watching films such as ‘Free Solo’. I’ve been asked multiple times whether I climb full-sized walls without a rope (I don’t!).

Climbing, at least in its common forms, is no more dangerous than many more mainstream sports, like soccer or gymnastics. The whole process is carefully controlled.

Since climbing was announced as an Olympic sport, I’ve seen more media coverage of climbing from the perspective of indoor competition.

More people have been visiting gyms after hearing that climbing is going to be in the Olympics (or seeing climbers perform well on Ninja Warrior). Climbing seems to be becoming a far more common hobby, which is great to see.

Mia Weeda at the Team Training. (Source: Tara Davidson Instagram: @cuppa_t_)

What has been the highlight of your career and why?

I’ve never been prouder than I was on the weekend I qualified for the Youth World Championships. I remember Nationals ending and everyone who had qualified staying behind to hear details about accommodation, competition dates, etc.

I stood there listening, unable to believe that I was part of the group that information was meant for. My time in Italy for that competition was just as amazing.

I had wanted to compete for Australia almost since I started climbing and I had worked towards it, but it had started to feel more like a fantasy than something that might be in my future.

Realising that goals and dreams could be translated into something real was a turning point for me.

At a young age, climbing must bring in a lot of challenges as you are still exploring. How do you think changes can be made for young athletes to get them more involved in the sport?

Climbing is becoming more accessible to young people in Australia, but this is mainly in the larger towns and cities. The climbing community is incredibly supportive of young climbers and there are a growing number of coaches who are skilled in coaching children and teenagers.

Social competitions, such as the Sydney Boulder Series and Tour de Corde top rope competitions, helped to ease me into the competitive side of climbing.

I think making this sort of beginner-friendly competition more widespread would be a great way to help young people discover competitive climbing in a low-pressure environment.

What are your aspirations for the future?

I’d like to compete regularly at World Cups and consistently do well. My future plans also include travelling a lot and visiting all the best places to climb, ideally with my sister.

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