Mina Leslie-Wujastyk made headlines last year with her ascent of Mecca (8b+) - to date the hardest sport climb by a female in the UK. A member of the GB Bouldering Team since 2008, she has also climbed V12 and flashed 8a. On first acquaintance you're immediately struck by her affable and bright demeanour (pun intended) but you soon realise that the 25 year-old also possesses a steely determination to succeed. Ray Wood caught up with her in Siruana as she reacquainted herself with tying-on after a recent bouldering trip to the States.
Before we talk about your climbing tell me a bit more about your distinctive name?
It's a nightmare when it comes to filling-in forms. There's never enough boxes as my full name is Marina Phyllida Leslie-Wujastyk. My middle name was after a great-aunt on my dad's side and my surname is a combination of my mum and dad's last names.
Do you think of yourself as a boulderer or route climber?
I think people still think of me as a boulderer who dabbles on routes. I don't define myself that strictly. I'm just a climber who gets psyched for different things, recently it's been bouldering but generally I prefer power or power endurance based climbing.
Why did you choose Mecca?
I'd seen a few people trying it when I'd been bouldering at the Tor and the sequences looked cool. From what people said it didn't have any massive reaches on it and was crimpy power endurance which suits me. It seemed that if I was going to try something that seemed too hard for me this was a good one.
It must have been a bit of a psychological break-through?
Mecca surprised me. Before then hard sounding grades were a bit off-putting and intimidating but now I think if you find a route that suits you, then you can climb harder than you imagine. Prior to Mecca I'd only done a couple of 7c's, a few 8a's and a couple of 8a+'s in the Peak. None of the individual moves on Mecca were at my limit but it was putting them together that was the challenge. If you put the time in you'll get the fitness and power endurance. I used to think that 8c would be too hard for me. But having bouldered V12 and with the chances are that there isn't going to be a V12 move on an 8c, I now think it'd be down to hard work and putting the time-in to get the fitness.
Do you get strong by simply going climbing?
No. I began serious structured training a couple of years ago although I only do it at certain times of the year. This year I'm doing a shorter training phase from January to March before the comps so I don't burn out. In a typical week I'll do four days with a double training session, that typically might be finger and campus board work plus power endurance laddering to fatigue in the morning, followed by a bouldering session in the afternoon. One day is a 'free climbing' session doing routes or bouldering outside, another is active rest such as going swimming and I give myself one full rest day. Every other day I'm supposed to run as well. I have an agenda and if I want to be strong enough to do the things I aspire to, then it may mean missing out on a perfect grit day. Dave Mason helps me a great deal with my training.
I've noticed you're careful what you eat?
Over the last year I've tightened up on what I eat. I try not to have dairy but I'm not super-strict. I stay away from wheat and eat a lot of vegetables, quinoa, eggs, tons of fish and fruit smoothees in the morning. Weight is almost a taboo subject in climbing. It isn't rocket science that being light is important to a competitive climber but still being able to maintain your energy and power is where you want to be. It's a fine line. I also have periods of time when I'm not so strict and allow myself treats. It's not possible to be at your peak all year round.
Do you think climbers nowadays have a more sensible attitude towards their weight?
Some do and some don't and that applies equally to both males and females. I'm very mindful of not being too light. Some climbers yo-yo their weight a bit too much. Although there may be some short term gains it won't work in the long run because they risk burning themselves out.
Some climbers think it's cool to pretend that they don't try hard while you're open about how much effort is involved?
I'm a big fan of being honest and I put loads of effort into my climbing. One thing I'm quite good at is trying hard, whether it's a problem, route or training. I love making progress. It's easy to try hard because I enjoy it. I like feeling tired from exertion. People are perhaps afraid to admit they train in case they fail to achieve their goals.
How does the standard of British female climbers compare with that in the States, France and Spain?
The fuss around me doing Mecca shows how far behind we are. Girls elsewhere are doing 8c/+ without too many headlines. It's not a lack of ability in the UK but it's harder to apply yourself because of the weather and the routes are very bouldery. We definitely have a handful of women in the UK that could climb 8c or harder. If someone like Emma Twyford moved to Spain she'd quickly be climbing those grades with a bit of fitness.
Clearly you spend a lot of time training so how do you fund yourself?
I inherited some money at 21 after my mum died and with it I bought a house in Sheffield. This gives me some income from renting rooms out. One year I didn't even live there but stayed in my van. I also get some financial support from Arcteryx and 5.10. I did a little bit of work at The Works but I now see myself as a professional climber. It's difficult to become sponsored climber without having some financial cushion to start you off. You need to travel and make your mark so potential sponsors notice you in the first place. I do feel a bit guilty that I inherited rather than the earned the money to get me going, but my mum would have wanted me to make the most of the opportunity. And I'd give everything up in a hearbeat to have her back.
What's your favourite type of move and climbing?
I really enjoy steep compression moves and jumping around although it isn't what I'm necessarily best at. Pulling on dirty crimps at 10/20 degrees overhanging is probably where I excel but it isn't as much fun. I enjoy redpointing but I find comps physically and mentally hard. My standard outside is as high as the women I'm competing against but indoors on plastic is a totally different game. I have a love-hate relationship with comps. However, it's one I'd like to do really well at and I've made a decision not to shy away from them.
Thanks to Mina Leslie-Wujastyk for the interview and best wishes for the 2013 Bouldering World Cup Circuit. You can follow Mina's climbing adventures on her blog.