Former professional boulderer Juliane Wurm talks about trusting oneself and the career after her career.
Juliane Wurm must have overcome the power of gravity. There is no other way to explain how she could walk around a wall that nimbly. No step seems too small for her, no leap too far. Juliane is one of the best bouldering women in the world as all her victories at World, European and German championships would suggest. She talked with us about why nevertheless she decided against her professional career.
Juliane’s coordination and balance led her to be the youngest German climbing champion back in 2006 when she was only 16 years old. But at the age of 18, she decided to commit herself exclusively to the challenging sport of bouldering from then on. In bouldering, the routes are more complicated and the challenges more intense. Juliane knew that bouldering suited her better than classic rope climbing, where strength is much more important. So in 2009, Juliane won her first German championship in bouldering and subordinated school and studies to concentrate on the sport. In 2014, she reached her goal by winning the world title. Even today, as she recounts the moment on a roof terrace in Cologne (her newly adopted home), she gets goose bumps.
After her win, she felt that she wanted to see more of the world outside the climbing halls. Not a woman to do things by half-measures, she decided to say farewell to professional sports. It was not easy for her to resign, Juliane now recalls, but she has never regretted it. She listened to her gut feeling and did not allow herself to be misled in her decision to swap competition for studies. We accompanied her in Cologne for one day to learn what motivated her to take this step.
You have just been to the World Cup in Paris, the first one for you as an audience member and not a participant. How was that for you?
It was very different from the usual and very weird at first. I didn’t have to ask myself whether I had been training enough or had eaten the right food, or when I should start my warm-up. It was exciting nevertheless: I am coaching the national youth squad and get to share my experience with the young climbers.
What is the most important advice you give to them?
That you’ll only go places with something if you enjoy doing it. I’m really passionate about this sport. I never had to force myself to train and I can think about climbing for hours without getting bored. That is priceless.
You started climbing at an early age. When did you realise that you wanted to do it professionally?
At eighteen I changed from rope climbing to bouldering because I realised it suited me better. I swapped schools to participate in competitions during the school year. In 2012, I started to study medicine. Besides that, I also kept on climbing but it wasn’t enough. I noticed that I could only get better if I fully concentrated on climbing. I had to put my studies on hold. But it was worth it: that year I won the World Cup.
What makes bouldering special for you?
Rope climbing depends on the strength in your forearms. Bouldering requires agility, coordination and balance as well as the right technique. In a competition, it all comes down to your head. You have four minutes to climb a boulder. So, you cannot afford to be irritated by others or by failing at the first attempt.
Did your head play a decisive role in winning the World Cup?
The World Cup series is decided over eight competitions. The World Cup takes place over the course of a single weekend. Everything has to be perfect. I had always put myself under pressure before at other world championships. You are so full of anticipation that it’s hard not to do that. But in Munich it was different: I had had a good season and wanted to have my home country’s World Cup. The competition went really well. After the semi-finals I was in the lead but I did not expect to win because the one who leads the scoring before the final has to start last. From a statistical perspective, they have a low chance of winning. You don’t know the boulder but you know how many attempts the others needed. That is tough on the nerves. However, in my case, it calmed me down. I wanted to go out and have fun. I had trust in myself. What happened then is indescribable. The scenery at the Olympic Park is incredibly beautiful. You climb under the famous glass roof, the audience cheers. It was a moment of pure happiness holding the last grip in my hands. I still get goose bumps today when I think about it.
Nevertheless, you finished your career very young, at the age of 25.
Not everyone can understand the decision but I feel strong about it. There is no point in constantly questioning the choice. After the World Cup, I dallied with the idea of stopping, but then went on to win the European Championship and took part in two more World Cups, but I really was far less motivated than before.
Despite your victories? Why?
It is great to prepare for a season. You climb, you travel, you meet great people. But it also wears you out. I spent my entire youth in climbing halls and at competitions; every summer was entirely scheduled. I wanted to have time for other things. I thought a lot about whether to stop. But the time for the break was simply right.
It is certainly not easy when suddenly your everyday life needs to be restructured because things like the preparation for the big competitions are gone. What is waiting for you now?
I can be a normal student and still travel and climb as much as I want. I am climbing more outside again, in Fontainebleau, the Eifel or the Franconian Jura. Moreover, I can concentrate fully on studying. Next year, I will go to the USA for a research stay. I’m in no hurry to finish my studies – I want to find something new that I enjoy. But I am sure it will work out.