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Interview with Elise Sethna, Canadian Champion

Elise Sethna is a Canadian champion and at the age of 21, she has more podium finishes to her name than most other competitors in her category. She also had the women’s world record for biggest dyno.

At eight years old, Elise’s family attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival and with her brother, Eric, she would play around on the temporary wall set up at the annual fest. It was there the Sethna siblings began their passion for climbing.

On March 22, Elise, for the second year in a row, became the Canadian champion at the National Bouldering Championships at Montreal’s Bloc Shop. Gripped caught up with Elise after her amazing performance.

Gripped: How adventurous were you growing up?

Elise: Eric and I were always very adventurous growing up in Banff so extreme sports seemed pretty attractive to us – at the time I started climbing I was also enrolled in competitive karate, downhill skiing and gymnastics. Eric started climbing on the Banff climbing team and I quickly followed in his footsteps.

G: Where did you start training?

E: I trained at the V’sion climbing gym in Canmore under the mentorship of Dung Nguyen for the majority of my competitive climbing years. Dung brought together a motivating team of athletes and encouraged me to test my limits in competitive climbing at a young age.

G: When did you win your first comp?

E: I won my first youth competition at nine years old and my first open Tour De Bloc competition at 14 years old. Since that time, I have won five youth lead national championships and am a three-time open bouldering national champion. I was open Canadian Bouldering National Champion in 2012, 2014 and again this year.

Eric and Elise Sethna after winning the Tour de Bloc at Grip It on Feb. 24.  Photo Eric Sethna
Eric and Elise Sethna after winning the Tour de Bloc at Grip It on Feb. 24. Photo Eric Sethna

G: Where do you go to university?

E: I started university in 2012 after returning from the Singapore Youth World Championships that summer. I am currently in my third year at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. finishing my Honours Bachelor of Commerce degree.

This year I’ve specialized in marketing strategy and analytics. I just returned from an amazing fall exchange term in Sweden where I studied international marketing strategy and had the opportunity to travel and climb around Europe.

Elise Sethna working on her heel hooks at True North in 2011. Photo Miguel Bonuel
Elise Sethna working on her heel hooks at True North. Photo Miguel Bonuel

G: What’s your climbing scene in Kingston like?

E: The Kingston climbing community has been a great place to train and get motivated over the past few years. There are great facilities in Kingston for climbers looking to meet a new community and get strong.

This past year, I was training with the Boiler Room climbing team. Malak Taleb, the owner of the Boiler Room, has been making significant improvements to the gym by investing in the construction of new walls, tons of volumes and training areas. The gym has provided great support for athletes like myself who want to compete. I had actually climbed on almost all the volumes that were used at nationals this year in training mock comps.

Elise Sethna and  at the Boilder Room.  Photo
Elise Sethna and Malak Taleb at the Boiler Room. Photo The Boiler Room

G: What’s it like balancing comp climbing with university life?

The further into university I get, the more I realize how mental competition climbing really is. I definitely don’t have as much time to physically train as I use to, but I am more confident in my ability to succeed at competitions than I ever have been in the past.  I try to train at least three times a week, however some weeks I may only have time to train for a couple hours, once or twice in the week.

I’ve been spending a lot of my lost training time on mental preparation for competition and it has proved to significantly improve my consistency and success at competitions for the past two years. As athletes we train for an entire year to peak at one certain competition for one climb and one movement that makes the difference.

G: What’s your mental training like?

E: My mental training consists of analyzing my training and competition journals and determining what my mindset was at times when I succeeded and times when I failed. I realized that the same pressure I feel at a big competition is a similar feeling I have before a heavily weighted final exam, a business case competition or a class presentation.

I succeed under pressure when I achieve a mentality where I feel centered, energized and resilient allowing me to think strategically and creatively regardless of strong emotion. I try to constantly practice getting into my athletic zone at anytime I must problem solve under pressure – whether it is in training or at school.

Physical training is definitely a necessity in our sport, however at a certain level I believe achieving results in competitions comes down to who is able to perform best under pressure and focus in on what they can control – the field of competitors are getting stronger and stronger and it’s anyone’s game as we saw this past weekend.

Elise Sethna working on her mental game.  Photo Pam Eveligh
Elise Sethna working on her mental game. Photo Pam Eveleigh

G: You crushed it at Nationals, what was the competition like? 

E: The Canadian competition scene is growing every year, which increases the motivation for everyone to work hard and get strong. This year’s nationals were unbelievable. The Bloc Shop outdid themselves in terms of setting, organization and atmosphere. We also had a good representation of competitors from outside of Canada this year to spice things up and put on a show.

Every single competitor had to fight his or her way into semis and finals – there were no guarantee, that’s for sure. I was able to maintain a top spot going into both semi-finals and finals.

G: What was the route setting like?

E: The problems were mostly very powerful, with tricky dynamic movements. It’s easy to have tons of fun on this kind of complex and three-dimensional setting. The route-setting team did a great job to provide a good show while also splitting up the field of competitors.

G: What was the crux for you?

E: The trickiest one for me was the third problem in finals. I knew there would be some sort of slab or balancy problem in finals because we had not been given this type of problem in previous rounds. This is my weakness that I have been working on all year. It came down to unlocking a balancy foot sequence that I was not able to solve in the competition. Not sending the third boulder put a lot of pressure on me to perform on the final problem to secure a podium finish. Only Hung Ying Lee from Taiwan and I sent the final boulder, securing the two top spots.

Elise Sethna on the final problem at the Nationals.  Photo
Elise Sethna on the final problem at the Nationals. Photo Bloc Shop

G: What was it like competing with old friends?

E: It was amazing to compete in finals alongside my friends from back home in the west. At some point in my climbing career, I have trained with just about every single girl that was in finals. It is such an inspirational crew. It is interesting to see the shift towards success in the younger generation of climbers.

I think that Becca Frangos is a force to be reckoned with next year. She was able to get to the last move of most of the boulders in finals and flash the third problem. I have trained with this one in the past and I know that her hard work and determination will pay off big time.

Elise (front, centre) with the 2014 National Bouldering Team.  Photo Bouldering Canada
Elise (front, centre) with the 2014 National Bouldering Team. Photo Bouldering Canada

G: What are your plans after the school year?

E: I am returning back to Alberta for the summer. I have a business internship in Calgary, but I plan on continuing to train and compete on the world cup circuit throughout the summer. I hope to attend the Canadian World Cup and the Munich World Cup. I am still debating whether or not I will compete at the lead National Championships this May.

G: Any outdoor projects?

E: I have countless outdoor projects in the Rockies and I hope to spend all my weekends in the mountains checking off my tick list and having fun with friends. I would love to do a couple outdoor boulder trips down to Squamish this summer as well.

Sisiter and brother talk beta at the Nationals. Photo Bloc Shop
Sister and brother talk beta at the Nationals. Photo Bloc Shop

Watch Elise set the World Record for women’s dyno with a 2.2-metre move:

Written by Gripped editor Brandon Pullan who’s known Elise since her early days at the V’sion over a decade ago.