Born and raised in Calgary, Jelisa Dunbar has been climbing since she could walk. She began getting serious and competing when she was nine years old and never looked back. She says “There is always something to learn from the rock… and in its own way, it’s kind of like an art piece! I really appreciate this uniqueness about climbing.” She began on Cam McNab’s team at Calgary Climbing Centre, and the love of the sport and good friends kept her coming back.
From tying with Vikki Weldon in a “super super super final” at a Youth National competition back in the day, to her more recent 4th place finish at Canadian Nationals in 2014, Jelisa has earned many great accomplishments over the years, and is not planning on stopping any time soon.
At 18 years of age, Jelisa started coaching. And now, as the head coach at the Calgary Climbing Centre, she’s passing her knowledge, skills and passion on to the next generation.
“I think I look up to the kids that I coach the most. They have incredibly positive attitudes and they all believe wholeheartedly that they can improve and get better in almost any area of the sport. They also teach me the most about the sport and the areas I need to grow in as a climber, setter, and coach.”
We caught up with Jelisa recently to discover more about her climbing, coaching, and routesetting. Here’s what she had to say to the questions we had:
What do you enjoy about coaching?
For me coaching is everything. First of all, I get to know a great group of kids and help them improve at something they love. They are all incredibly positive and motivated athletes, and every day I coach, one of my athletes will have a victory. It can be something as small as placing a heel hook and actually having it stick, or something as big as crushing a project, or winning a competition. These little victories always make me smile, and it’s moments like these where students realize that improvement never stops in our sport.
How many hours a week do you spend training, climbing, and coaching?
I coach about 16 – 20 hours a week, train 6-8 hours a week, climb 8-10 hours a week, and route set once or twice a week.
What advice would you give to people starting out, and to people competing who are hoping to take their climbing to the next level?
For people who are starting out, learn to place your toes and trust your legs first. After that…just explore movement and climb on a variety of routes & boulders. Never be satisfied by getting to the top of something, be satisfied when you do a movement WELL. If you’re not sure what this means, get to know some climbers! Everyone is super friendly in our sport and will offer some tips!
For competitors who want to take their climbing to the next level… It took me a while to figure this one out for myself so here is my 2 cents. Competitions are not about who the strongest climber is, they are about who the best competitor is. Focus your training on how to be a better competitor and what that means.
Okay… so you have to understand I do everything a little backwards and out of order in my life. 3 weeks before my wedding my husband decided to take me to Fontainebleau for two weeks as a bit of a ‘honeymoon’. It ended up being my favorite bouldering area of all time, plus, my man proposed to me in front of the Eiffel tower that trip! (yes, we set a date before he proposed). I’m not sure it is possible for life to get any better than it was at that moment in time.
What’s next for you?
I have a lot of goals for the future.
I hope my kids feel good about their performances at boulder provincials and nationals. It’s my goal to teach them how to perform on or close to their limit, while under the pressure of a competition. I’m trying really hard but it’s actually quite a hard skill to teach! I don’t have all the answers yet.
As for my own competitive goals, I’d like to make finals at open Nationals again this year. But more importantly, it’s been my goal to win a Tour de Bloc before I die. I’m already training for that goal for next season.
Also, I want to get my name out there as a route setter. I recently was the head setter of my first ever Tour de Bloc and it left me with so much inspiration to grow and improve. I’m excited to do it all over again if I can just get my foot in the door!