Paraclimber Martin Heald - The Interview
With the IFSC paraclimbing cup final round in Briançon over and the British nationals around the corner, there isn’t a whole lot of time to settle in and get to work training, especially if you are Martin Heald. A dedicated athlete with a cheeky sense of humour and the drive to not only crush the walls of the Depot, Manchester regularly, he also represents team GB in climbing and is an avid Footballer playing for Everton amputee as well as being called up for the England squad. Martin recently got together with sponsor, Psychi, a climbing company based in Greater Manchester to talk about climbing, football and his goals for the future.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Martin, 27 and I’m part of the GB paraclimbing team and I also play amputee football for England! If you haven’t already guessed, I’m an amputee, lost my leg when I was 15 and haven’t been able to find it since! Beat cancer twice and now live a pretty care free life doing what makes me happy!
Had you climbed before you lost your leg? If so, was it hard to adapt to the change.
I didn’t climb at all before I lost my leg apart from the odd tree!
Starting out, climbing must have had its fair share of challenges. Was there anything you needed to overcome in particular?
Like any climber it was probably working out the correct technique and how to do moves, because I had never climbed before, everything was new to me so I just had to experiment until I found the right way. Then I met other one-legged climbers, like Phil Mitchell, who helped me massively.
How did you get involved with the Amputee football team?
I saw the tiniest ever picture and article about the Manchester amputee team meeting a few of the United players, and I fancied giving it a go! My dad got in touch and it’s been history since then, they’re stuck with me now.
Have you had any clashes in schedule between Football and Climbing? Has there ever been a hard choice to make?
Luckily so far there has never been a clash of two major tournaments and hopefully fingers crossed that will never happen!
When you’re preparing for competition, do you follow any specific training plan?
There’s nothing super specific I follow, but I try to up the hours I spend climbing and the amount of endurance sessions I do, out of comp season I predominantly boulder and eat pizza, so always need to gain back a bit of endurance!
Everyone has seen athletes perform pre-game rituals during competitions. Do you have your own psyche up routine?
I suffer quite badly with comp nerves, it’s something that is getting better with the help from our team psychologist Emma! I now try and stay calm and concentrate on what I’m doing and try to not put any pressure on myself, it seems to be working!
Do you find your approach to football differs to climbing? Participating in both a team sport and what can be a solitary sport must have its differences.
I try and train with people when climbing so usually my mindset for both sports is the same, it’s when I get down to competitions where my mindset changes! I’ve been playing football for just under 10 years now, so majority of the time I’m fairly relaxed and know how to deal with most situations, whereas climbing is still relatively new and I still have loads to learn
What type of training do you Enjoy and dislike the most?
I don’t really dislike any training, but! If I had to pick it would be endurance, it hurts.
I also want to boulder 7c or above outside somewhere.
Most people have those days where they just don’t feel like training. How do you motivate yourself if you have those days?
I’m not often unmotivated for training, I usually try to climb with friends so that we can make the sessions fun and push each other.
What things you find most effective when you’re training to progress?
Having a good laugh always makes things seem less daunting and helps you enjoy horrendous training sessions a lot more! I’m lucky enough to have a great group of friends that help me make sessions fun!
Where do you see things going in the next couple of years with climbing?
My goals for the next couple of years are to carry on the training through to the World Championships next year and hopefully do well there. I also want to boulder 7c or above outside somewhere.
How about more long-standing goals in sport?
Apart from being at the ripe old age of 30! I’d like to think further down the line I’ll have been World Champion or pushing to become World Champion for sure! Hopefully I’ll still be pushing the grades too and maybe even found one or two first ascents somewhere. I want to be climbing full time and have a crag dog called Kevin, maybe? That could all happen, right? I’d like to have won the world cup, too; maybe even twice! A euros wouldn’t be bad either.
The general day-to-day is part of your future goals tick list too, right?
In general life, I want to eventually buy a house, build a moon board or a woody and definitely get my crag Dog!
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Being able to keep up two Sports at international level is a pretty good achievement I guess? I’m one for never really taking the time to look back at what I’ve achieved, I should though, it’s been pretty mega! But if you’ve just read where I want to be in the future, I’m not where I want to be yet!
Climbing and football have taken you all over the world. What is the most unusual situation you have found yourself in and where did this take place?
I think the strangest so far has to be the World cup in Argentina in 2011 when we all had to stay in a church outhouse which had 24 beds and a ping pong table in it in the middle of nowhere. That was an experience!
Where else in the world do you want to climb that you haven't already been to?
Magic wood! I can’t wait to go there. Rocklands and America would also be amazing!
Do you have any support from sponsors in climbing and football?
Psychi! They are such wonderful people with amazing products! Pyschi have supported me a lot over the last six to eight months and it is a pleasure to wear their brand!
Did you find it difficult to secure sponsorship's?
Sponsorships a funny one! When I stopped trying to find sponsors that’s when things started coming together more! I think it’s something that just happens when you don’t expect it! Obviously, sponsorship is what helps us do what we do without as much worry and I am always grateful for the support I have received over time, Thanks guys!
Who inspires you to keep moving forward in climbing?
People like Steve McClure, Chris Sharma, Alex Megos, Adam Ondra and Jimmy Webb, people who are just constantly looking to push themselves and surprise everyone with what they can do! There is no limit.
Do you think that there is enough awareness and support out there for people with disabilities to get involved in different sports?
There is a lot more than there used to be, I think since the London 2012 Olympics, was when the paralympics really came into its own event, people started to become more aware of disabilities, on the back of this the awareness of disability sport started growing.
I didn’t have a nickname at the time I used to eat quite a lot of biscuits. So, that became my nickname!
What do you do when you’re not climbing, playing football or training?
Go to the zoo, obviously! and spend time with my girlfriend and family, there’s not actually that much time for zoos at the moment, though!
So, Martin, ‘Biscuits’ happens to be your nickname. Care to elaborate?
At my first football tournament in Turkey, 2008, I didn’t have a nickname at the time I used to eat quite a lot of biscuits. So, that became my nickname! Biscuit sponsorship anyone?
In a previous interview you admitted that your proudest moment was eating a whole cheesecake. Is this something you would attempt again?
Quick-fire round. Favourite football team?
Blackburn Rovers… kind of.
Bouldering or Route climbing?
Campus Board or Finger board?
Training or competing?
Ermmm… Both? Can I pick both?
Reading or Netflix?
Perfect night out?
If it involved a climbing wall, a few beers and friends, that would be a pretty good night!
Summer is drawing to a close now but the year isn’t over with yet! With four rounds of the British nationals ahead, three rounds of the IFSC paraclimbing Cup and no doubt plenty of Football to play; Martin is a walking, talking, crushing example of turning what people would consider a limitation into a huge strength that shows what dedication, grit and a positive outlook can achieve. We could all take something from his experiences and maybe learn to appreciate what we have and what we can do with it; from a young man who is at the top of his game in two sporting pursuits, there is no better demonstrator of what potential we can reach for ourselves.
Written by Gerard West