Rock Star

Photo credit Tae Hoon Kim

World-class climber leads CapURec’s active health program.

Ali Funk

There is a misconception out there that rock climbers don’t experience fear. They do, but what allows them to continue reaching up toward breathtakingly steep heights is that they have learned to keep moving despite the fear.

“Breath is key. You have to talk to yourself through it, and slow down your breath,” said Ali Funk, CapU’s active health programmer, a world-class climber who has competed for Canada on the national stage.

And that stage is expanding as the sport of climbing will debut at the next Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Rock climbing, which continues to gain followers year-over-year, is defined by three different disciplines: speed, bouldering and lead.

Speed is where two climbers secure themselves to safety ropes and attempt to scale a 12-metre-high wall, angled at 95-degrees. In bouldering, athletes climb as many short dynamic routes as they can within four minutes on a four-metre-high wall, equipped with safety mats. Lead involves athletes climbing as high as they can within six minutes on a wall measuring more than 12 metres (about four-storeys high) in height. Many elite climbers specialize in one of these disciplines.

Gripped by Climbing

Funk’s specialty is lead climbing, meaning she chases height and speed. Funk first took to the wall when she was 10 after trying it at a birthday party. The naturally athletic young soccer player caught the climbing fever immediately, finding appeal in the mental and physical challenge of reaching new heights. By 12, she joined the University of Alberta youth program and was in her first climbing competition.

“The physical distance makes you feel far away from the world. It gives you a sense of perspective and a flow of movement that is unique,” Funk said.

Rising Through the Ranks

A driven competitor, Funk started on a personal journey to the top. For six years, she fought for a spot on the national team, hovering just outside top placement and the chance to compete for her country at the international level.

“It was quite a journey for me,” Funk said. “I first competed at Nationals at age 14, which was the year my friends got to go to the Worlds in Austria.”

Her most significant hurdle was mental — overcoming the sense that she couldn’t break through to the top heap of female national contenders in her age group.

Ali Funk hands Funk stretches her hands before climbing. Photo by Tae Hoon Kim.
Ali climbing in New Caledonia Competing at the World Youth Championships in Noumea, New Caledonia in 2014.
Ali climbing from above Competing at the Western Regionals in Coquitlam, B.C., in 2014. Submitted by Ali Funk.

Ali's tips for well-being

  1. Move your body every day: Most days I’ll try to get in a proper workout — whether it’s climbing, weight training, running, riding my bike, doing yoga — but even when I’m busy, going for a walk outdoors or a quick 30 minute at-home session boosts my mood for the day. We aren’t built to sit at a desk all day.
  2. Yoga stress release: I’ve found yoga to be a great way to relieve stress (and tension in the body). I try to start my day with at least 15 minutes of yoga every morning (check out Yoga with Adriene on YouTube).
  3. Time in nature: Every week I challenge myself to spend some time being present outdoors. My professor in university called this “Vitamin N.” This can look like taking walks in the trails on my lunch break, going camping or hiking, climbing outside, or going on a bike ride/run in the Seymour Demonstration forest. The North Shore is great for this.
  4. Organized grocery shopping: If you’re well-stocked, you’re less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks. I love to bake healthy snacks like granola or banana chocolate chip muffins for the week and plan my meals so that I’ve got leftovers ready on nights when I’m home late from climbing.
  5. Listen to your body: Being a Type-A person, I don’t typically need more motivation to be active, often it’s more challenging for me to be okay with listening to what I need that day.
  6. Add diversity and make it fun: I am a firm believer that physical activity should be inherently fun (at least some of the time). Find something you enjoy, challenge yourself, and mix it up regularly to keep things fresh.

Climb to the Top

During her teen years, Funk went from regional competitions to the nationals without breaking through. One year, she came 7th in the country — not quite high enough to make the national team, but she was finally able to compete on the world stage

“I didn’t make it to the Worlds that year, but that was the year they held the Pan Am Games in Chile. They were allowed to take a few extra people.” Funk’s hard work had not gone unnoticed, and she was rewarded with an invite to compete with the team at the Pan-American Games. “I was so excited, I cried.”

In Chile, Funk competed in her first climb but twisted her ankle in her second category. The sprain left her unable to finish — a tough end to her first international showing.

But it didn’t keep Funk down for long. She returned from Chile, determined to realize her goal of making it to Worlds. She started working with a new coach in Victoria, went deeper mentally and made it to nationals in Quebec.

She was on an upward trajectory that seemed destined for a happy end, and then her foot slipped at the bottom of the first competition climb — the same mistake that had cost her the event years prior. At the time, because she fell, her score wasn’t high enough to take her to the next round.

“I fell low, and was like, ‘are you kidding me?’” Funk said, recalling making the same mistake a second time. “The first time it happened, I was devastated... this time, I was just mad. I thought, ‘There is no way I am letting this be the end of this journey.’ I saw my next climb, and I knew it would be tough and physical. I planned it in my head.”

She propelled her body up that wall with a level of grit that was years in the making. Through the sheer intensity of her will and her body, she made her way to placement at Worlds — where she eventually placed 21st — and the chance to fulfil a lifelong dream.

Ready. Sweat. Go.

Find out about campus recreation’s virtual and in-person services to support your well-being.

Campus Recreation

Here and Now

Her love of physical fitness carried Funk through her recreation and health education degree at the University of Victoria. Since starting as CapU’s inaugural active health programmer, she has brought her brand of wellness to students and staff, organizing fitness classes, including Zumba, spin, intramurals, drop-in sports, and even unique recreation events like glow-in-the-dark yoga.

Students and faculty in spin class in a gymnasium
Funk takes part in a spin class as part of Experience Well-being Week. Photo by Tae Hoon Kim.

She still climbs recreationally. You can find Funk working her way up the wall at The Hive on the North Shore, still being part of the “amazing” community that she found in climbing. And to share the sport that taught her so much about tenacity, determination and how to push through fear, Funk helped launch a climbing club for CapU students.