Being an athlete vs. being a Paraclimbing coach

Katharina Saurwein

Top 10 female boulderer in the World, part of the Austrian’s National Team and paraclimbing coach , Katharina knows everything about training hard and harder till the success.

I’ve always had a pretty easy life. I grew up with parents that loved, supported and protected me. They enabled me to follow my dreams. I got into touch with climbing when I was 8 years old and even though they weren’t the greatest fan of seeing their kids climb (my sister started climbing at the same time), they never said so and opened all the doors for us. Their only requirement was that we finish school and get a degree (and so we did). I soon climbed five days a week, started to get stronger and made it into the competition team.

I am used to be an athlete, I’ve been a member of the Austrian National Climbing Team since I am 12 years old, so I am also used to working with a coach and following training schedules; To be a coach myself though?

I always thought about becoming a coach one day after my competition career, that’s why I followed the trainer courses in Austria and when the moment came, where they asked me to be a coach I was very excited, but also a bit scared.

“Para-climbing athletes never get that chance, they fight to make the best out of their lives and we can all learn a great lesson from them”

Until two years ago I was only responsible for myself, for my body, my training and my performance. As a coach you are responsible for other athletes, you’re supposed to lead the team, you must decide what training is best for them and how to lead them to their best performance. I had to rethink everything and find out how I can fulfill my new role as a coach as good as possible.

As a coach, knowing the athlete-side myself helped me a lot. I know how it feels to be an athlete: how to handle training, stress and how to deal with success and disappointment. I try to teach my athletes everything I know and at the same time I am learning a lot from coaching them. I’ve always been an athlete that looked up to my coaches and now that I’m the coach myself I hope that I can be that person, that athletes are able to respect in the same way.

When I started to train the Austrian Para-climbing athletes I had to get acquainted with each athlete’s character, personality, strengths and weaknesses, their stories and their handicaps. I learned about grave accidents, shocking diagnosis and how these can change the life you always knew within seconds. These athletes taught me how their body changed after the accident or due to their illness, and how this affects them, both physically and psychologically.

It made me realize that life can change so fast and how lucky I’ve always been. As an athlete I’ve had my ups and downs. I was injured a couple of times and had to fight my way back to fitness, but I always got the opportunity to get back to where I came from. My wounds cured, my pain went away, my body recovered and now I only sometimes feel small reminders of old injuries.

Para-climbing athletes never get that chance, they fight to make the best out of their lives and we can all learn a great lesson from them, no matter who we are. This is the most important thing I learned from them.