One Step Past Failure (Sport Open Nationals 2017)

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Working through the first few moves of the Final problem. Photo: Tim Gillies

 

I step onto the wall, and grab the first hold. “Oh geez,” I think, “this feels terrible!” It’s slippery and small. I squeeze. I imagine the scenario of me falling here. Of course I would laugh at how ridiculous it would be to come all the way to Denver to blow it on my first move of Finals at Sport Open Nationals. But I want to do whatever I can to not let that happen. I pull with my arm, push with my foot, and grab the next small crimp. “Phew,” I think. One move down. One out of over 40!

I’ve been in competitions before where I’ll make a small mistake in the beginning, and that’ll be it. That mistake will consume me and affect every move after it. Instead of thinking of the next actual move, part of my mind will be thinking of the mistakes I’ve already made. “I could have been more efficient – I already blew it.”

Sure enough, I’m a little hesitant for the next few moves. There’s nowhere to rest and recover, I just have to keep pulling away, one insecure-feeling move after the next. I change my thinking.

I shift my attention from the last move that I might not have been efficient on, to the move in front of me, and that’s the key.

I think that failure is often thought of as essential to climbing. We talk about how we made a mistake, we learned from it, and won’t do it again. We’re put in the same situation over and over again – a situation that we’ve often failed at before – and we’re given another opportunity to prove what we’ve learned. But we can go too far with that approach.

At last year’s Open Nationals, I remember my final problem; the holds were bad, every move felt difficult for me. I squeezed very hard on the first few moves and I didn’t try to learn from these challenges – I let them consume me for the whole climb. I continued to think about my mistakes rather than my potential successes.

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Coming into this year’s competition, last year’s mistaken approach was in the back of my brain. I knew I couldn’t allow my feelings about how I’m climbing, if this or that move felt good, affect my overall performance. Instead, I have to focus on all of the positive experiences happening – like the fun I’m having, the excitement of climbing on some of the best set routes out there, and having a supportive community cheering me on. These aspects of competing are why I enjoy it so much, and they’re the reason why I did so well at Sport Open Nationals this year. I was focusing on the positive rather than any troubles I was having with my climb.

This year I wanted to work harder at prioritizing what I really wanted out of this competition. It wasn’t a medal. It was to perform at my best on the National stage. That was it.

I’ve devoted the majority of my life to climbing, every time I perform I want that love of this sport to show through. When I step onto the wall, that passion consumes me, and makes me the climber that I am.

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Getting ready to climb in Finals – Photo by Tim Gillies

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Half way up the final route. Photo by Greg Mionske

 

Before I know it, I’m at the second to last clip, and looking up I can see the last few moves and the finish looming over me. The next holds are large, black, and sloping. I remember them from a collegiate championship last year. I hadn’t been able to hold onto them at all. This time would be different. I had a bone to pick with them. There were four and I wanted to get through each and every one of them. I turned on “try-hard mode.” I didn’t want to have anything left when I came back to the ground. I grabbed the first one, then the next one, I could feel my arms starting to give way. “Fight!” I thought. I grabbed the third one. I don’t think I can reach the last one. I just want to jump for it, but no – I know that’s the easy way out. I look down, maneuvering my feet in a new position. I get both hands on that third large black hold. I throw for the next one, and to my surprise, I’m still on the wall! One more hold!

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Getting near the finish. Photo by Tom Condie

 

Now, I glare at the finish, just in time for my hands to give way, and for my body to explode off the wall. I’m breathing hard. But I had just given it my all. I had gotten through the section that I most wanted to. I smiled as I touched the ground, rejoining the cheering crowd.

To come in second place at this competition means so much to me. It makes me think that I really succeeded at my goal of prioritizing what’s important to me: staying focused on what’s in front of me and controlling my feelings about what’s behind.

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The podium at Nationals this year. Photo by Kerry Scott

 

I’d like to give a huge thank you to everyone that supported and encouraged me to do my best at this competition. To those who gave me an extra belay after their workouts even though they were exhausted. To Mad Rock for supporting me to follow my passions. And of course, to my coach Randi, my parents, sister and friends for always being there for me. Thanks you all!!

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