In the 1940s, a young woman named Mireya Hernández earned masters’ degrees in both mathematics and chemistry from the University of Costa Rica. She married, continued to work in chemistry, co-published a prominent paper, and was offered a research position at Harvard.
The offer, an honor for anyone, was especially impressive, as her granddaughter notes, “for a Hispanic woman at that time.”
Mireya’s husband did not want her to leave home, however. She stayed and, once her children were born, bucked convention to work in a job she loved as a lab tech in a clinic. Eventually she got her daughter Nidia Rothe a job as the clinic receptionist.
One day a vacationing American brought in an ill friend, and, upon that tiny chance, met and married Nidia. She moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Lloyd Kordick worked as a trial attorney.
Strong abilities in science and math surfaced early in their second daughter, Alexandra Kordick, now 28. In 2000 Alex gained a full scholarship to Iowa State University to study engineering. Ironically, she began climbing in Iowa because, “I missed the mountains.”
So she joined the college climbing club. “We mostly took ice-climbing trips to Canada based around suffering and drinking,” she says, “but it was enough to get hooked.”
She transferred to CU Boulder, where she earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees. Kordick then worked as a civil engineer, designing water and wastewater-treatment facilities in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Last July the self-styled “enginerd” left to climb fulltime.
Whether it was quitting the job or a breakthrough from working on the hard, bouldery 5.13c Crowd Pleaser, she started a bout of sending. She did that route and then walked up and fired Dumpster Barbeque, often called the hardest 5.13c in Rifle, having only spent a couple of days on it the year before.
Kordick is now on the road, traveling with her boyfriend, Mark Avery, in the East. Calm in demeanor and somewhat shy, she describes herself as intensely focused, someone who “enjoys problem-solving and fixing things.” She prefaces a discussion of her climbing record by saying, “I hate route grades because they are so subjective.”
Under her belt are six consensus 5.13c’s in Rifle and Feeding Frenzy (5.13d), Stone Monkey (5.13b) and Charlie Don’t Surf (5.13b) in Rumney, New Hampshire, as well as 5.13s in the Red River Gorge, Kentucky, and the New River Gorge, West Virginia. She sent the boulder problem Even Lovely (V9) in the Shawangunks, New York, among a handful of other V9s that includes Playmate of the Year in Joe’s Valley, Utah. She has flashed various V7s including A Face in the Crowd at Tennessee’s Little Rock City.
“I am kind of a grazer. I like to do a large volume of climbs rather than focus on any harder climbs,” she says.
How is life on the road?
I am loving my life on the road. It’s great to have lots of free time and not be constrained by the pressure of only having the weekends to climb.
Is there a connection between your math background and climbing?
Yes, I am very calculated. A couple of years ago I realized I wanted to be a better sport climber and needed to build my base to push my limits, so I systematically went through Rifle Canyon and ticked off every 5.12-. It was excessive, but I think it really helped, since I forced myself to complete many routes that didn’t suit me.
How many sibs do you have?
One sister who is a doctoral student in history at Yale, and one half sister who just started her undergrad at CU Boulder.
What have you given up and what have you gained from going fulltime?
I gave up a good job in an uncertain economy, and gained the freedom to explore whatever life might throw at me next.
Any regrets or mistakes made in climbing?
I often take myself too seriously. All of my best climbing memories come from moments when I wasn’t too focused, just enjoying myself and those around me. When you do something a lot, it is easy to forget it’s all supposed to be fun.
What do you look for in a partner?
Psych—you exchange energy with your partner so when someone is psyched you can feed off that. I also climb full days and often into the night with a headlamp so I need someone who is in it for the long haul.
Strengths and weaknesses in climbing?
I have always been physically strong. I excel at big bouldery moves and power routes, but I have no technical climbing ability whatsoever. I can’t drop knee, and I grab all holds straight on, with my body square to the wall.
When I do something, whatever it is, it is the only thing that exists in the universe at that time. This is both my greatest strength and weakness. Also I am OCD about being clean, so living in a van with my boyfriend and dog is testy at times.
Is your grandmother still alive?
Yes. She was very happy when I chose to study engineering. I remember her pulling me aside in high school and telling me that I should not take for granted that I have the opportunity to pursue a career in science. [And that it is a] blessing being born in a supportive family in a time and place where I could pursue my dreams, whether those lead me back to science or out on the road to climb.
How long do you see this dedication to climbing lasting?
Till I blow all my money, and am forced to rejoin the taxpaying contingent of America.
Has it been worth it?