Hungarian climber Andrea Szekely graduated from Stanford University in December and moved to Boulder earlier this year to live and train. She finished second at USA Climbing's American Bouldering Series nationals in Colorado Springs this year -- even though she says bouldering isn't her strong suit.

We caught up with Szekely to hear about balancing studying and climbing, her Olympian mother and more.

 

How did you get into climbing in the first place?

I'm from Hungary originally. I was born in Hungary, but my family moved back and forth between Europe and the U.S. a few times. At one point when we were living in Hungary and I was 8 years old, that's when I started climbing. They had a climbing wall at my brother's elementary school, and my mom heard about it. We signed up and started climbing there.

At that point I didn't really take it very seriously. Some days I would go and didn't even climb, I would just hang out and play. Then we moved to Maryland and found a climbing gym, and we joined the local junior team.

When did you get serious about climbing?

The first U.S. nationals I went to, I was 11 or 12. When I was 14, we went to the youth world championships, and because I'm from Hungary, I didn't have to qualify for the U.S. team. I went as a Hungarian climber, and I wasn't really that good at that point, but going and seeing all these kids who were just amazing, it made me really want to be that good.

My mom was an Olympic gymnast, so she told us, 'if you guys are going to be competing, you can't just sit around at the climbing gym, that's not how it works. You're going to have to really work hard for it.'

So your mom, Eva Ovari, went to the Olympics?

She went to Montreal and Moscow. She was Hungarian champion. Fourth in world championships on the balance beam, and at the European championships on the balance beam.

What did you do after you finished high school?

I finished high school in Maryland, and then my parents moved back to Europe. They live in Belgium now, and I took a year between high school and college and I moved to Belgium with them. I was hanging out there and climbing in Spain a bunch. I met this Spanish coach (David Macia) that I trained with for four years and took language classes. Then I moved to Stanford and started school.

While you were at Stanford, was it ever hard balancing climbing with schoolwork?

It was hard to do school and climbing at the same time. The first year especially I had trouble balancing the two, but I got better and better at it as time went on. Climbing -- it's so important to me. There's some people who go to school and stop climbing for a while, but I was never going to do that. I thought, 'I just won't sleep. I'll go climbing and have all my homework and just not sleep.'

You took second at this year's bouldering nationals, and yet many people say your strength is in roped climbing.

It was certainly unexpected. I would've given myself zero chance probability of being in finals. No one you would've talked to would've predicted I would even be in finals, because I'm really not that good at bouldering. I went into the competition with no expectations and that helps a lot.

I was lucky in the aspect that usually these bouldering competitions have been very geared toward power and powerful movement, which is definitely not my strong point. This year they balanced it out more, so of the four climbs that we had in semi-finals and finals, two of them were a lot more technical than they usually are or have been in the past. Because I'm not that powerful of a climber, my technique is pretty good. It has forced me to develop really good technique. In the finals I had no expectations, no pressure and managed to do all the technical problems there, too. It was luck in my favor, and having that mentality of 'Let's just see what I can do.'

--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.