This interview with Cian O’Brolchain is part of an ongoing series of interviews I do each season with Everest climbers. Not the famous, sponsored ones who get plenty of publicity but the regular people, who have full time jobs, full time families in many cases and climb for the love of climb. Please send me your suggestion for an interview. Now here’s Cian:
So what does professional tennis have to do with mountain climbing? Well, a lot it appears from my conversation with now retried Irish tennis professional Cian O’Brolchain.
I first met Cian on Denali last summer. We shared more than a few stories while waiting out poor weather that ultimately stopped our attempt. I was struck by this man’s commitment to the climb but more so his commitment to his reason for climb.
In spite of more time holding a tennis racket than an ice axe, Cian had his sights set on Everest. Denali was his first serious climb. Since then he went on to summit Cho Oyu in somewhat difficult conditions, became exposed to death on the mountains and became further committed to his larger goal than summiting.
Living in Dublin, he takes advantage of any climb to build his fitness and is off to Kilimanjaro before Everest with Jagged Globe in a few months.
Please meet Cian.
Q: Ireland to Everest is more than Everest, what is your primary goal?
Ireland to Everest is about the journey from Ireland, traveling through the world to climb some of the highest mountains in preparation for Everest. I’m doing this for two reasons. The first is to raise money to establish a lung transplant support fund for Ireland in partnership with the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland and create awareness about the disease. The other reason is, since I can remember from hillwalking and climbing with my family as a very young boy, I always dreamed of climbing Everest. Why not do it for a good cause in the process. Ireland is in deep recession and I thought this would also give a bit hope and good news for people to get behind, get involved and support.
Q: You recently summited Cho Oyu, how was the climb and the view of Everest?
The climb on Cho Oyu was pretty amazing. I was a bit anxious before I left. I didn’t think I had enough experience climbing, I was worried about the training I had done through the year which had been hampered by a serious shoulder injury (from tennis). I thought if I didn’t give it a go I would regret it. I knew if I could climb Cho Oyu, it would be a huge boost in preparation for Everest. I had the time off from work and knew If I climbed it or not it would be a great experience to climb in Tibet.
When I arrived and met the team, I felt a bit out of place, some very experienced climbers. I knew my fitness was good and hoped that it would stand to me on the mountain, and that I would learn from my fellow climbers and sherpas as we go.
Everything went really well on Cho Oyu. There were times that I thought I shouldn’t be there, and felt pretty rough. A big storm came in and a few people died which wasn’t nice to hear. It looked as though weren’t going to get a summit shot as the weather was awful and the risk of avalanche was very high. On our first summit push from Base camp we had to turn back before we got to camp 2 as the weather turned bad. I was getting worried that I wouldn’t get a chance at the summit. It was only my 2nd expedition. My first one was Denali and we didn’t get a summit shot due to weather.
Towards the end of Sept there was a weather window. We started out as 8 climbers and when we went for the summit there were 4. I nearly pulled out of on the move from camp 1 to camp 2 for a few reasons. I didn’t have a great sleep the night before, I had to climb past a frozen body (who had died two days earlier) and I lost my sun hat. I didn’t have a spare as it was in camp 2. I was drained and felt awful form a mix of lack of sleep, not eating great the night before, the sun, and worry of what lay ahead knowing people have died.
I pushed though, got to camp 2, vomited, and rested for a day and was fine. We left for the summit on the morning of the 1st Oct from camp 2 (about 2.00am) using oxygen. Using oxygen was strange at first but I felt pretty strong and moved fast. I made the summit at 8.30am (Nepal time) The weather was great and the view of Everest was amazing. I took some photos and great video footage. It was an amazing feeling and was great to look over at my dream (Everest)
Q: What lessons from competitive tennis do you apply to your climbing?
I have used the skills that I have learnt from playing competitive tennis both in Ireland and internationally. When you play singles, you are on your own, fighting for every point, trying not to make a mistake and outplay your opponent. You want to win and perform well, and learn from every match. Tennis is both a physical and mental game. If you don’t have it mentally you wont win matches, If you don’t have the physical game you wont win matches.
You are very much on your own on the court, thinking, working out points, working on your body, working out how to win. Its very similar to climbing mountains. You are on your own, thinking about your body, thinking about how you can climb sections, learning about how I can improve my next climb or the next day of a climb.
I prefer singles but have played doubles all my life and captained school, university and club teams. When your playing for a team, you have to work together as a team, focus on each others games, on the other teams, encourage each other on and off the court, help each other in terms of technique, or how to improve your mental state during a match. Once again this is similar to mountain climbing. You are working within a team, learning from each other, talking about different experiences on the mountains, encouraging each other and helping each other as much as you can.
In tennis we have the same goal, you want to win, improve, and enjoy, and get some great experiences. Like the mountains you want to reach the summit, learn, enjoy, and get some great experiences.
Tennis has been great to me. I love the sport and hopefully will play continue to play, compete and coach for a long time. I’ve traveled and met some great people though tennis and now I’m doing the same with climbing. My other dream was to win Wimbeldon. I started hill-walking and climbing with my dad till I was 10, Then I wanted to do something that I could do all the time without my parents. My mum is a tennis player so thats how I got into the two sports. Hopefully Everest will be easier than trying to win Wimbledon.
Q: What did you learn from not summiting Denali due to weather?
As Denali was my first Expedition, I was very disappointed not to get a summit shot. I was concerned about going due to the bad accidents during the season, my lack of experience, and my shoulder injury. I knew it would be a good test for me but I had put alot of work in the Ireland to Everest Expedition to get there. I was in the middle of the 32 step challenge (climbing the highest point in each of the 32 counties) around Ireland and needed a break, both from the challenge, and work. I had saved up all my holidays over the last year to go to Denali. Not having any days off for a year in work and being so busy with the Ireland to Everest Expedition, it was nice to get away and try to relax in the mountains.
I went to Denali to get some expedition experience, see how I dealt with extreme cold, and to test my shoulder. I really enjoyed the expedition. It was great to meet some climbers who had recently been on Everest and of course learn from yourself about all your experiences. I knew it would be a tough climb. I learnt on Denali to be both with the mountain and with fellow climbers. When your on these expeditions there are going to be all kinds of people on them and you all have the same goal. You have to work as a team and work with what you have. I learnt alot on the trip and met some great people. The mountain is always there. I will go back. As I don’t have much experience in the big mountains, I place alot of trust in the guides, their decisions and fellow team mates. I was pleased to get to High camp and my shoulder held up well. The main thing was I came back safe with all my fingers and toes.
Q: Tell us about CF and why it is meaningful to your team?
When I first thought about Everest and started working with Ian Taylor, two things went through my mind, go public with the expedition and raise money for charity, or just go climb the mountains myself. When I played tennis it was all about myself trying to win matches and tournaments. Every now and again you might do a charity match. (I played a few games against McEnroe for GOAL). But when your playing you are playing for yourself.
Through doing something big and achieving something like climbing Everest, I think it gives hope to people and will generate publicity and money for a charity. Many people climb or trek to raise money for charity nowadays and I thought why not. If some money is raised and publicity generated for a good cause its worth it.
I picked CF for a few reasons, When I was coaching tennis in my home club Charleville in Dublin, I came a across a young boy who had CF. This boy showed great determination on and off the court. He was very enthusiastic, positive and a very good competitor. It was great to see him play against the other kids and beat alot of them no problem even though he had trouble getting oxygen into his lungs. Another reason is when climbers go to altitude, we would feel similar affects to those who suffer form CF (lack oxygen into the lungs).
There is so much publicity about other charities in Ireland, and not as much about CF so I thought I would climb for CF and raise money and awareness for a very good cause. Through the 32 step challenge , we had CF suffers and people who had been affected by CF join us on the walks. It was a great way of raising money, creating awareness and learning about the disease. All the money raised went goes to the Lung Transplant support fund
Q: Ireland has a great history in climbing, are you getting good support from your community?
Yes, I am. My Dad and his hill walking club have been great. Also Ian Taylor has guided me on thought me alot about training, how to go about an Everest expedition, gear and lots of other things. Since 2010, I have come across many great Irish climbers who have been very helpful, with giving me advice, lending me gear, supporting me, and putting me in contact with other climbers or guides around the world. I don’t think I would be doing this without all their help and support. You think of it on the mountains. Its really not just you climbing, people back home are there supporting you and and thinking of you.
The mountains in Ireland are small but they are still challenging and you can learn and train on them for the bigger mountains.
Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
Spread the word about www.irelandtoeverest.com. The more support I have on Everest the better. Its great to get messages of support and hopefully more money will be raised for CF. Even if I dont make the summit, I have had a great experience and learnt alot with the Ireland to Everest journey and hope to continue climbing and mountaineering for a long time.
Am off to Kilimanjaro with my girlfriend the end of Jan so keep an eye on website and Facebook for updates of the trip and of course the main event, Everest in March – May 2012
May the luck of the Irish be with you Cian. We’ll all be following.