It is hard to say how much I enjoy climbing. I remember doing a climb down in Kerry on a sea cliff, I had just given up running and I remember getting that same feeling of focus I got while running and also a lot of joy at having achieved something myself. Sometimes, you just flow up the rock and nothing else in the world exists. Other times, you spend countless hours trying different ways of doing a single hard move before succeeding. In that way, it can be a bit like programming – lots of problem-solving and tweaking to get something right.
I’m Helen Wallace, I come from Wexford, and through a series of good fortunes, I arrived where I am now – working as a Software Developer at Murex, where I enhance their Capital Markets platform. I was madly into art and climbing as a teenager, but ended up putting Engineering on my CAO. 2 years later, when I had to specialise, I chose computer engineering on a whim and haven’t looked back. Currently, I live in a house full of climbers and computer nerds, which is really fun and motivating.
Outside of work, I love to climb and paint. I think it is important to have something aside from work that gets you excited. Climbing and painting kind of go hand in hand – climbing takes me to beautiful places and when I get tired I can capture them. We have an office in the backyard where we can train for climbing – there’s a hangboard for finger strength and lots of room for stretches. Also, the only sport we watch in our front room is Climbing. It’s nice to be around a group of people where everyone is as excited about climbing as I am.
I started becoming interested in climbing as a child on adventure camps around 13/14. When I was 16, I saved up and went to Wales and did a 2-day course to ‘learn the ropes’. I bought all the gear and just started going outside as often as I could find someone to go with and sometimes on my own. When I started, I really had no idea what I was doing and there were probably a lot of times I could have got hurt. Luckily, I found a local club where people actually knew what was what and they showed me how to be a bit safer.
Before trying something at my limit, I like to warm up on something easy – this gives my body a chance to warm up and be ready to pull hard and gives my mind a chance to get used to concentrating on the moment. In climbing, you need a mind that can switch off all the background noise and just focus on the next move. If I know what kind of climbing I want to do, I will try focus on that, so maybe training to hang on small edges or doing big moves. For general climbing, the best training is to climb – that being said, I like to add to that by training my fingers on a hangboard (my friend comes by a few mornings a week and we do it together). I also do a bit of work on stretching which is helpful for preventing injuries.
There are lots of strong professional climbers like Nina Caprez pushing the limits of what is possible and they get me motivated to keep training when the weather has hampered all outdoor endeavours. But the people who inspire me the most are my friends watching them trying their hardest reminds me that I can do the same.
Travelling for climbing is maybe the best part! You get to go places you would never go otherwise. I’ve gone as far as Turkey to climb and I spent 9 months between my Masters and my Undergrad driving round mainland Europe rock climbing in lots of different places. I hope to go to South Africa to climb soon – the rock formations there are very unusual and lead to very interesting climbing. My favorite place to climb was on one of my favorite trips was a month-long trip to Ceuse in France, where we hiked up the side of the same mountain every day and climbed till we ran out of daylight. The climbs are long and follow up these blue and yellow streaks, and the holds are small and easy to slip off, making the climbs quite technical.
When I was in college, I taught A LOT of people to climb when I was part of the climbing club. It was always a little worrying to watch them set off on their own, hoping they would remember enough of what I had taught them to not get in trouble, but it was always great to see new people excited by the sport. During college, we used to bring some kids from the inner city to climb at the college wall – they were always so full of energy and it was great to see them have an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
I think the greatest thing rock climbing has taught me is to trust myself in the moment. When you are climbing, you really need to trust your decisions and not spend time second-guessing what you have just done, because the longer you spend hanging around thinking the less energy you have to keep going. Working in tech is not great for the body or the stress levels; there is always something more to be done, some minor improvement to be had. In climbing, you get to be active while your brain is motivated by lots of small achievements. It is never a case of forcing yourself to do another kilometre, it’s more a case of your body telling your mind to stop.
My advice for aspiring rock climbers would be to just go for it, though maybe get a little more mentoring than I did. There are lots of indoor walls where you can learn the basics, and then there are several wonderful guides who can bring you on to climbing outside. Climbing is a wonderful way to turn off all the noise of everyday life and has helped me focus more on the task at hand. It’s also given me the confidence to try something and fail, knowing I can just try again.