I was never very sporty at school. Small and studious, it was clear from an early age that I was never going to make it to the Olympics. Although I did attend a Maths Olympiad in University College Dublin when I was 15. Not quite the same levels of excitement.

The first (and only) time I tried to throw a javelin, I clonked myself on the head with it. Funnily enough, they never let me try the shot putt. My memories of volleyball are of falling on my arse a lot. Being less than statuesque, basketball stardom also failed to beckon, although I do recall being praised for my passing. Sadly my quick-fire passes sprang more from a deep sense of ‘oh my god, get this thing away from me’ rather than from any technical skill or savvy game planning.

And so it was that I limped (mostly metaphorically, although I did once sprain my ankle in a tangle with a trampoline) through my Physical Education in school. My long-suffering P.E. teacher Miss Larkin never lost her enthusiasm, however. Which sometimes somehow just made it all seem worse. But sometimes her positivity was so powerful it even reached me.

Her advice to us all that having a sport that we played would serve us well in later life as a means of meeting people and making new friends, especially if we ever had to move somewhere new, really resonated with me. I guess I was always about the friends. You can keep your medals but I will work hard for a decent social life.

And so it ultimately proved to be. Despite failing to find my ‘thing’ all through school, in my early twenties I found climbing. Dragged unwillingly along to a climbing wall in north London by an enthusiastic boyfriend, to my great surprise I quickly found myself hooked.

Here was a sport that was social without being a team sport. (All that letting your teammates down and being last to be picked gets a bit tired.) Here was a sport where you could just compete against yourself. Getting to the top of routes that felt hard to me gave me real satisfaction, it didn’t matter that others around me were doing far harder stuff.

Best of all, here was a sport you got to practice in the most beautiful and fun of settings. Weekends away with friends started to be spent at the crags of the Peak and Lake Districts and on the sea-cliffs of Pembroke. Holidays were taken to relaxing sports climbing destinations like Mallorca and Kalymnos.

And slowly, without really noticing it, I started to get fitter and stronger and healthier. And, (dare I say it?), even somewhat sporty. Finally gaining confidence in one sport made me much more open and able to try others. Later I would also get hooked on surfing. Being motivated to perform well in climbing would make me turn to pilates and core-strengthening exercises as well as being more aware of my overall aerobic fitness.

Me, climbing at Gandia, Alicante on New Year’s Day 2011

Now, as an ex-pat in Spain I have really lived the truth of Miss Larkin’s words. The quickest and easiest friendships to form have been with other climbers. They are also the deepest. Climbers are the people we spend the most time with. The shared sporting passion unites where language and cultural barriers could divide.

The two photos that accompany this post neatly illustrate the impact of this sport in my life. We had travelled to Alicante in our new motorhome to spend the Christmas fortnight in sunny southern Spain. On 31/12/2010 we pulled up at the foot of Gandia crag at around 7pm. Packing a bottle of Cava and a seafood platter we were ready for an exciting New Year’s Eve spent in our camper with our 14 month old son.

Richie stepped out of the van to make a phone call, as reception was poor inside. At precisely this moment, some Galician climbers we had previously met in Fontainebleau happened to be descending from the crag after a day’s climbing. And that is how we ended up seeing in the New Year with them in their friend’s luxury villa outside Alicante.

New Year’s Eve amongst friends

Sport. It’s a wonderful thing.

This post is for the Olympics inspired ‘Sport’ theme on The Gallery. Click below to visit more Gallery posts.


  1. An amazing story! Like you I was more studious than sporty at school and then discovered rowing in my late teens and loved it! I don’t have time to do it now, but maybe I will one day wen the children are older. Great photos x

    • Thanks so much for your lovely comment Nikki. Finding the time to do anything is tricky when you have small children but if you’ve found a sport you really enjoy then it will always be there for you when you have the chance to go back to it x

  2. Jenny paulin says:

    Wow! Check you out! Such an inspiring and wonderful post to read and that photo of you up that rock face! I am in complete awe – amazing! X

  3. True dat!
    great photo of you. Am feeling very lazy and lardy arsed after reading this.
    I might go to the pub later and see if I can find some climbers then at least I’ve sort of taken part?

  4. What a brilliangt picture of you! I didn;tlike sport in school, at all. It wasn’t until I become an adult and started Karate lessons that I discovered sport can be enjoyable.

  5. Wow! Thats a really impressive photo and a very impressive sporty passion you have there. I was fairly rubbish at most things in sport except rounders and netball!

  6. Great post. After years of team sports, I focused almost solely on surfing and made many more friends. The level of passion and commitment to a sport like surfing or climbing is some ways different…something more of a brotherhood / sisterhood…

    • It’s so true. Both sports have a certain something that inspires a special devotion and also a real sense of camaraderie amongst fellow climbers/surfers. Maybe that’s partly to do with the environment in which they’re practised. Plus I think being a climber or a surfer is often about more than just ‘doing a sport’ – it goes much deeper and affects entire lifestyle choices. Thanks so much for reading!

  7. Lovely picture of you climbing and your story. :) x

  8. This is a great post and I can totally relate. I was never a great athlete in school but I love sports and being active. There’s so much to gain from the experience and so many friendships to form. I love that picture of you climbing too!

    • Thanks so much for reading Christine! I’m just glad that it turns out not being a great athlete in school doesn’t mean you can’t have a fulfilling and active sporting life later on.

  9. This post has inspired me to do two things: 1) Take up climbing and 2) Move to Spain. Beautiful post with wonderful photos.

  10. Great photo and totally agree about climbing, haven’t done any for years but worked in an outdoors shop all through uni and the climbers were all very chilled and interesting people. I also like that often men struggle with it compared to women as they just try to use their arms all the time.

    • I have to say that is one aspect that I like too! Despite appearing to be such a power/strength based sport, technique is so important – and the mental aspect as a whole is possibly the most important of all. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. If my comment shows up twice, please feel free to delete one, one disappeared! I had written how inspirational I thought this post was, although I personally don’t get along with sport, in fact it’s safe to say we hate each other, I will encourage my two to develop a passion about sport for the reasons you have detailed above! :)

    • Ha – only one comment showing up. Hate when that happens. How lovely of you to bother to write it twice. I have to say that Jack having a passion for sport when he’s older is a dear wish of mine. It really is such a positive thing.

  12. Amazing x

  13. I really enjoyed reading this and learning how you became a climber. I was just saying to my husband that it would be great to have some kind of sport we could do together as a family. Very inspiring, and such a good message to impart to our children…

  14. I’ve always admired rock-climbers and mountaineers but a fear of heights never took me there. However we went up Maroma (AndalucĂ­a) with a friend and ended up going in different directions. We got lost on the way down – and yes – there was a nice rock face barring our path. It wasn’t sheer, it just needed getting across (horizonantally) and it wasn’t walking territory. And, I even enjoyed it!

    But my post school sports have been swimming, rowing for a while, and in the last ten years cycling. All good, whatever we choose to do.

    • Totally – it’s all about finding whichever sport suits you. Good effort on crossing that rock face though – that’s a hell of an achievement with a fear of heights. Bet it felt good (possibly more so in retrospect!)

  15. I love to watch athletics and find it truly inspiring watching it on TV but when I’ve tried to do it myself – disaster!
    And when we learned to play badmington at school, the teacher announced someone would not be able to hit the shuttlecock – you guessed it, it was me.

    I’ve never tried climbing, but my children love it.

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