Winning 2 silver medals in lead and bouldering at the 2016 World Youth Championship (WYC) was an incredible experience for me! It wasn't my success at the event that fueled my emotions, but the journey that lead me to standing on the podium- twice. My road back to podium at a WYC event has been a pretty rocky one, and so many things went through my mind as I stood there glancing out at cheering friends from all around the world and my US Team family. Here is a little background information:
In early 2015, an unexpected emergency completely changed my world, and priorities. Taking care of my mom came 1st, myself 2nd, school 3rd, and climbing/training slipped to 4th (after sharing the 1st place position for most of my life). Surprisingly, I was OK with that. I felt very little stress when I climbed throughout the year, regardless of the event. I think I was just appreciative to have all of the things that I loved most still in my life. I ended 2015 eager to start back training hard and focusing on my climbing goals.
Three months into 2016, it became painfully obvious that something was seriously wrong with my back. I was forced to stop climbing. After weeks of doctor appointments, medical exams, and misdiagnoses, I was told that it was highly unlikely that I would ever be able to return to competition climbing. That was one of the worst days of my life....... For several weeks we searched for definitive answers and finally uncovered the root cause of my pain- 2 fractures in my spine in hard to find locations. The verdict, no upper body activity for 3 months. As horrible as this news may have sounded, I was told that if I was extremely cautious, there was a good chance that I would make a full recovery.
I had a team of trainers and medical personnel at home and in Victoria BC (Pacific Institute of Sports Excellence, Parkway Physiotherapy and Performance Centre, and The Boulders climbing gym) who worked with me to develop a plan to slowly re-introduce climbing and training into my regime over a 3-month period. The plan was for me to resume my full training program at the beginning of October. Climbing in small doses with so many constraints was tough; nonetheless, it was through that 6-month ordeal, that I rediscovered my love for climbing and learned the power of maintaining a positive attitude. I started doing more traveling to work with kids at youth organizations, working with different nonprofit groups, training some of my friends, ...... things that allowed me to stay connected with the climbing community in a positive way. I had to accept the hand that I was dealt and find the best way to move forward with it.
Once I resumed my normal training program in early October, I was a little scared to put myself out there in major competitions after taking such a long hiatus. However, I knew that I couldn't let fear of failure stop me from moving forward. I competed in two Open Bouldering competitions during the first two weekends in October, winning one and placed 5th in the other. Then, I boarded a plane headed to Victoria BC, then to Xiamen China to compete in a Lead World Cup the following weekend. I landed in Xiamen one day, and competed the next. I climbed horribly, but surprisingly I wasn’t upset at all. I was just glad to be back competing and getting used to China prior to the Youth World Championships.
For two weeks I traveled with my Chinese and adidas outdoor family, Yongbang Liu, Xiao Ting, and Chuang Liu. We visited different gyms throughout China and I had the opportunity to meet a lot of nice and motivated climbers. I also thoroughly enjoyed indulging in my 2nd favorite passion- food! I got to eat lots of really different (but cool) foods, including my favorite dish, Xiaolongbao! I ate these meat dumplings almost every dayJ My two-week trek across China helped me relax, settle in, and physically/mentally prepare for my next competition.
I was excited when I finally arrived in Guangzhou and started meeting up with my US Teammates. I was eager to start the competition and I really wanted to do well and prove to myself that I was tough enough to endure a few setbacks, and still push through. Lead was my first scheduled event. The first two qualification rounds were rocky and I had to make several adjustments to push through some of the sequences that were odd for me. Flash format is never my favorite. Since my height is an outlier, I am rarely able to use the beta provided by other climbers and the forerunner. I was really glad to push through to the semifinal and final rounds, when the onsight format began.
My finals route was long and looked awesome; however, the sequencing of the final section of the route was a little odd and had all of the climbers confused about the best path to take. The first half of the problem was pretty straight forward and the crux section began as I entered the roof segment. Since all of the holds were new to me, I had to commit to each move, hoping that I was making the best decision. Toward the end of my climb I started to get tired, and I was a little hesitant to go dynamic for a crimp on the roof; luckily my flexibility helped me climb smoothly through that section. When I arrived at the point in the route where there were two different paths that you could take, one move into my chosen sequence, I quickly realized that I was stuck and did not have the energy to push through. I was happy with my performance and I could tell from the reaction of the crowd that I had reached a high point on the route. After four more climbers, my 2nd place position was secured!
My next event was bouldering. I was pretty relaxed entering this round of competition and ready to have fun on some creative boulder problems. I flashed all of my problems in the first round, however, after numerous delays due to technical errors, the entire round had to be cancelled when it started raining late afternoon. They decided to allow the semifinal round to decide the final competitors for all male categories. For us, that meant cutting the field from 65 to 6 in a single round! The semifinal round was as brutal as the drastic cut, with varied styles and low (to no) percentage moves. The final 6 was decided by the number of attempts on two tops (out of 4 problems), and I was able to secure my finals spot with two tops in three attempts!
After six days of competition, I was exhausted, but anxious to compete in the finals round for bouldering. I entered isolation surprisingly relaxed and excited to tackle some new problems. I flashed my first problem and moved on to the second with high confidence. However, the second problem proved to be too hard for our category. I also lost a little focus and was called off twice for starting the boulder incorrectly. No one ended up topping the 2nd problem. On the 3rd boulder, I topped it on my second attempt, entering my final climb in first place. On the 4th problem, I did my best and kept fighting to reach the top, however, I neglected to use the arête for assistance and failed to top the problem. When the competition ended, I had secured a silver medal in bouldering! Once my climbing was over, I was invited to co-commentate the bouldering finals round for Juniors. That was fun!!
I was excited about medaling in two disciplines at the championships. I was even more excited that the US had won the most medals in championship history: 6 gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze! Each of the female categories were dominated by a single competitor: Margo Hayes (USA) won bouldering, lead and overall gold for FJR category, Janja Garnbret (SLO) won bouldering and lead for FYA, and Ashima Shiraishi (USA) won gold in bouldering and lead for FYB. Brooke Raboutou (USA) won bronze in bouldering, silver in lead, and gold for overall. Also, a special mention to my USA teammate Maya Madere for earning a bronze medal at her first world championship!
The male categories were way more scattered for each discipline. Each division had 1-2 climbers maximum that made finals in multiple disciplines. Surprisingly, I was the only one to medal in both disciplines!
Overall, I was very pleased with my performance and proud to have pushed through some pretty tough times. There was no better way to end my 2016 youth climbing season than to be surrounded by all of my climbing friends from around the world. I am always grateful to the coaches, routesetters, volunteers, and IFSC/USAC officials that make these experiences possible for me. I also want to thank my sponsors (Evolv, Adidas Outdoor, Clif Bar, and BlueWater Ropes) for supporting my goals and sticking with me through tough times, while always providing encouragement for me to continue pushing forward.
Looking ahead, I hope to return to a consistent period of being able to move forward with my climbing goals. At the same time, it's great to know that I am capable of overcoming any obstacle that life gives me and turning lemons into lemonade! Next stop for me, one week at home, then back to Europe for a month!