Cracking the Ice

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After giving up on a life in the city, Beth Goralski wanted to focus on her passion – ice climbing. After years performing at the highest level however, she suffered a season ending injury which forced her to stop and recover. Although she hadn’t realised it, by pushing herself so hard, she’d completely fallen out of love with the sport. We spoke to Beth about her story, Cracking the Ice, and how a less intense pursuit of her sport fuelled her passion for it all over again.

Photo by Janette Heung

I have always loved the thrill of individual sports, whether it be swimming, running or downhill skiing. The idea of competing against myself, the elements or the clock has always appealed to me. It brings the most out of my competitive nature and it has allowed me to attain a high level of achievement. In every sport I have taken part in, I have always wanted to improve and push myself to get better. When I was a competitive swimmer, unless I was snorkelling with fish in the tropics, I had no desire to swim. As a climber, I wanted to complete the most technically difficult routes and there was no room for error.

Out of all the sports I had competed in though, it was through climbing that I found my true passion. I had participated in rock climbing for many years before I took my first Ice Climbing Outdoor Education class, offered by my University. I loved the intensity of ice-climbing. Whilst rock climbing involved a gentle caress the rock face, ice climbing required aggression, coupled with pinpoint accuracy. It was an area of climbing which I demonstrated particular talent.

For me there has always been something incredibly satisfying and almost zen like about climbing. The whole experience is like a moving meditation, where I am able to follow my breath and stay ever present, mindful of every moment. Looking back, this gave me far more fulfilment than a suffocating job in the big city ever could. Nevertheless, in my younger years, I let life get in the way of what I loved. I got into a job, got into a relationship and I put my ice tools away.

Photo by Janette Heung

It turned out then to be a blessing when my relationship and job both came to an end and my love for ice climbing could begin again. My love for the mental intensity of ice climbing, something that both excites and terrifies me, came back quickly. It was too strong not to bring me back into the sport. For eight years, I was highly focused on ice and mixed climbing and my drive for success in the sport pushed me in pursuit of my goals.

Unfortunately though, my body’s response to what my mind was telling it to do started to let me down. When I was diagnosed with tendinitis and impingement in the shoulder, I had to take a break from climbing, resorting to trail running to fulfil my insatiable desire for high endorphin levels. This however, resulted in a torn left hip labrum that would require surgery.  The injury meant my ice climbing season was over – as was any chance of me achieving the goals I had set out for myself.

The injury though would prove to be an invaluable lesson. I had to learn to accept life on life’s terms. To recognise that I was no longer 20 years old and to appreciate the sport that my body has allowed me to enjoy. I was forced to rest, something which had been alien to me for so long. The climbing activities that I was able to be involved in were at a significantly lower level. What I rediscovered was an original love for the sport. I remembered that the reason I got involved in ice-climbing in the first place was for fun and enjoyment. It gave me a release from everyday life. This had become lost amongst the desire for increasingly difficult climbs and the promise of what I could achieve if I pushed myself harder. I hope now for a quick recovery and I know that I have many more years in ice climbing ahead of me.

Photo by Scott Cramer

My recovery will now move forward on the back of an invaluable lesson. The fragile and ever-changing nature of the ice reminds me that as humans we are also constantly changing. I realise now more than ever that I must enjoy each moment and appreciate the opportunity I have had to pursue a sport which I truly love.

To read more about Beth’s story click here.

Photos by Janette Heung and Scott Cramer.