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Words With Actress and Comp Climber Helen Colliander

Helen Colliander is an actress and competition climber based in Vancouver. With over 20 credits to her name on the IMDb website, including the popular TV series Heartland, it’s fair to say 15-year-old Helen Colliander has her work cut out. Her weekly routine includes balancing a full-time school schedule, a hours of training for comps and an unpredictable schedule for acting.

Helen Colliander at The Edge. Photo Shane Murdoch
Helen Colliander at The Edge. Photo Shane Murdoch

Gripped recently caught up with Colliander for a short interview on family, climbing and working as a TV star.

When did you start climbing and does any of your family climb?
I started climbing about two-and-a-half years ago. My sister, Sonya, was on the team at Boulderz gym when we lived in Toronto and for march break in 2013, my family and I went to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky with some of the team.

The community was so encouraging. I fell in love with outdoor climbing. So that June, I tried out for the team. My parents just started climbing this year and Sonya and I have been having a great time teaching them the climbing slang. My sister has been an inspiration for my whole family and this summer we took a few trips up to Squamish to boulder under The Chief.

What climbing team are you a member of and how often do you train?
A year-and-a-half ago, my family moved to Vancouver. Last year I was on the Swarm team at The Hive and this year I moved with our coach, Matthew Johnson, to the Base5 Climbing Team, where other great coaches such as Kaleb Thomas and Andrew Wilson.

We train three times a week for three-hour sessions. In preparation for bouldering, we’ve been focusing a lot on “funky” moves, such as things you wouldn’t necessarily try in training, but might show up in competition. We have a good time.

I always look forward to training. I wouldn’t say that competition is my focus of climbing, but I do compete. I like competition because it puts me in a mindset that helps me push myself as hard as I can. Plus, I get to see awesome people climb. This fall I have attended The Hive TDB and The Edge Fall Classic. Both were super fun comps.

How often do you climb outdoors and what was your summer like?
I climb outside as much as I can. What made me start climbing was outdoor climbing, so it’s something I love to do, but I’m definitely not an experienced outdoor climber. I visited The Chief with my family, where we did some bouldering and shamefully ate our Fruit Loops among all of the healthy granola- and kale-eating climbers on slack lines.

Helen Colliander climbing in Squamish. Photo Ken Chow
Helen Colliander climbing in Squamish. Photo Ken Chow

We also went on routes with an amazing guide named Ken Anderson in Murrin Park. Later in the summer, I went up to Squamish again with a group of friends. We had a great time and I got to try some harder boulders. I also went up in September with members of the Hive team, including my sister Sonya. We went with Andrew Coffey and Christian Core. It was pretty awe-inspiring to watch Christian climb. I learned a lot.

When and why did you start acting? How helpful have your parents been in your acting career? What are some current projects you are working on?
I was seven years old when I wanted to start acting. I was a pretty delusional child who thought she was Lucy from Narnia and I had fun speaking in a British accent. I was encouraged by some actors to try professional acting and just got it stuck in my head.

I nagged my parents to let me start acting professionally for three years before they were convinced that it wasn’t just a “phase” I was going through. I got headshots and an agent, and began trying out for roles. My parents have been very supportive.

Helen Colliander as Olivia Wheaton on episode 612 of Heartland.
Helen Colliander as Olivia Wheaton on episode 612 of Heartland.

Whenever I need to go film somewhere, they make it work, even if it’s hard on their schedules. I wouldn’t be able to handle everything without them helping me manage and advising me through the process. I recently switched schools for the International Baccalaureate program and joined my school’s debate team.

Along with climbing and acting, my schedule is busy. I have to work hard to keep it all up, but in the end it’s just doing the things that I love. This fall I was away for about three weeks filming for a TV series called “Heartland” in Alberta. I play Olivia Wheaton, the mean girl.

Who are a few climbers that motivate you?
I would say that the climbers that motivate me the most are those I actually know. My coach, Matthew Johnson, is a huge inspiration. Not only is he an incredible climber, he’s an amazing coach. He has taught me a lot about how to mentally view climbing and how that translates into your actual climbing and physical improvement. Thanks Matt! A lot of my climbing friends and teammates also inspire me. Having a great climbing community makes a big difference.

Ivan Luo is a fun climbing buddy and a talented climber. I also trained with my close friend, Bea Evans, while I lived in Toronto and I have learned a lot from her. She is hard working and has taught me that determination and perseverance get you where you want to be. In addition to the people I know, I look up to Ashima Shiraishi. It’s inspiring to see someone my age crushing some of the hardest routes around the world. Not only does she show that age is not a barrier to achievement, but she is proving that climbing like a girl means climbing strong. Her pants are also just the coolest climbing pants ever.

Helen Colliander during a training session. Photo Jenny Bardahl
Helen Colliander during a training session. Photo Jenny Bardahl

Who motivates you in the world of acting?
Kevin Spacey because he is just amazing. You always know what’s going through his mind, but he’s still mysterious. He is incredible at drama and comedy. You can love his characters but consider them horrible people at the same time. He’s absolutely phenomenal.

What are your climbing and acting plans for 2016?
I love lead climbing and enjoy the difficulty competition format. I’m excited for the lead season to start. Also, climbing at The Boulders gym in Saanich for competitions is always super cool. I’m hoping to get a lot stronger over the course of this school year and then crush some real rock.

I want to get outside even more next summer and project some hard routes. When it comes to acting, it’s an unpredictable industry. Sometimes you won’t know you’ll be filming until a week before. I’m hoping for a lot of auditions and to land some new gigs.

– Be sure to follow Helen Colliander on Instagram @helencolliander.