Here I am. 29 years-old, 36,000 feet above the ground and sitting on an airplane. My three-year-old is back in Portland with my husband. They plan to go to the Children’s Museum today, hike around Forest Park and maybe browse some books at the famous Powell’s Bookstore on Burnside. I’m on my way to a climbing competition in Las Vegas. I worked the last two days… long thirteen-hour shifts where my attention was completely given to the premature babies in the NICU and their families. I typically get off work around 7:30PM. Zak and Ellie arrive at the front doors of the hospital to pick me up and we head straight over to the Bend Rock Gym. At this hour of the night I’m usually exhausted but nevertheless, I knock down an hour or two of climbing before going home and crawling into my bed. The next morning, my alarm goes off at 5AM, I sleepily stumble down the hall to the shower and before I know it, I’m throwing my scrubs on again.
This week has been even more structured than usual. I got off my shift last night, drove three hours from Bend to Portland, got about five hours of sleep at our hotel and was on the shuttle to the airport at 6AM. I had packed for the trip by texting my husband a list of things to throw in my duffle bag while snarfing down lunch at the hospital. A small dusting of stress was released once I confirmed that my flight was on-time. With my boarding pass in hand, I joined the single-file herd of humans, got on the plane and finally sat down. I sunk into my laptop to write.
I compete at 5:30PM tonight. There will be a two-hour qualifying round and with any luck, I’ll also be competing in finals at 8PM. Tomorrow, I fly back to Portland, drive back to Bend, catch a few hours of sleep and return to work the next day …the day after that, I compete for a second time where I will be yet again going through another qualifying round in hopes of making it to the final round. If all goes well that’s basically four competitions in 48 hours. My muscles will be sore, I will silently wish for a few more hours of sleep and I will miss being away from my family …but you know what? Despite the few negatives, I love it. Especially the sore muscles.
People often ask me why I keep competing. I find myself quickly searching for some thoughtful deep answer but in the end, “because I love it” are the only words that come out of my mouth. I certainly can’t say “because I’m incredible and I keep winning”. Somedays I get my ass kicked but those days motivate me to train harder, reassess my weaknesses and adjust my priorities. Being defeated makes me more humble, it reminds me that I’m not a “special snowflake” and it grounds any wayward thoughts of always expecting the best outcome in life. It amplifies mental fortitude and reminds me that you have to work hard if you want great results. On the days that I win, I am grateful. I smile inwardly and find satisfaction with being an athlete. With every win I accumulate memorable moments. Moments that I can look back on for the rest of my life. These memories give me a feeling of fulfillment and they remind me that I worked hard to achieve those positive outcomes.
I will be the first to admit that the trophies on my wall are a piece of who I am. I was dedicated to my speed training in 2007 prior to winning Gold at the Teva Mountain Games. I remember the other competitors being strong and intimidating but I also reflected on how much energy I had put into preparing for that competition …and there, standing on top of the podium, the commitment and preparation paid off.
Let’s take a little flashback to 2004. If you know me well, you’ve probably heard this story a few hundred times. Perhaps you were even in the crowd or competing alongside me. It was the once famous Phoenix Boulder Blast down in Queen Creek, Arizona. Essentially a massive outdoor climbing competition that really had more to do with getting smashed and socializing than actually climbing. That night, I stood on the podium along side my coach (now husband) as we were both awarded first place for the men’s and women’s dyno competition. It was my first competition in front of 700 plus raging drunk spectators and it was the first time that I surpassed some famous names in the climbing community. It was most definitely one of the top twenty moments of my life. I was young and carving out the nature of who I was becoming; very impressionable. I can still feel the roar of that crowd to this day. I remember looking up at the stars as they sparkled above my head in the night sky. I was behind the stage in isolation with the other competitors and in the process of finding my inner calm as I prepared to attempt the next stage of the competition. Chris, the king of rock climbing, was standing next to me. I was a nervous wreck and bouncing up and down with my jacket tightly zipped up to my neck. It was a cool desert night and I was fighting to stay warm. Moreover, I was bouncing out all of the excessive adrenaline that my body was so generously pumping out. Chris asked me if I was nervous. I couldn’t believe he was talking to me. As a young athlete that was trying to spread some wings in the world of climbing, this was a dream come true. Little did I know at the time, he’s one of the nicest people on planet earth. I responded, “Yeah, but I just don’t know how conservative I should compete tonight.” The format was brutal and if I attempted a difficult dyno and fell I’d be in deep water with my scorecard. It almost made more sense to do comfortable dynos and let the mediocre points add up rather than risking a fall. In the nicest and most motivating way possible, he smiled and said, “Go big or go home, right?” …and that was it. That was all I needed to go for “the big one”. As I proceeded to the starting hold, the announcer yelled out to the crowd “Give it up for debauchery!” Everyone in the crowd erupted with excitement and began dancing all around as they slammed margaritas and beer from their Nalgenes. I was still in high-school at the time, most likely the youngest competitor and I remember thinking to myself “I’m so thankful my dad’s not here right now. It’s such a beautiful hot mess of excitement and he would completely disapprove of all these rebels …rebels that I so deeply aspire to be like one day. Free and beautiful in a powerful community of climbers.” I grabbed the starting holds, launched to “the big one” and snagged it for the win.
I have a handful of memorable stories like this one. I could probably write a short novel on my life as a mediocre competition climber. Hundreds of people could probably write a novel on their life as a mediocre competition climber but you know what has fed my story? Passion. I have always had a strong desire to compete, improve and get to a more desirable place in the realm of athleticism. There came a point in my life where I needed to make a choice. I could continue life as a climber and have that be the sole focus of my day… or I could get a degree and follow a “more civil path” as some would say. I was pulled the direction of getting my degree. I don’t honestly know if it was the right choice… I think it was but I still wonder where I could be if I had put more effort into my climbing. Sometimes, I try to sell it to myself by pondering things like the fact that I’m not starving or that I have enough money to travel but you know what? None of my super awesome “no college degree” climbing buddies are starving either. In fact, I think they’re happier than I am because life is more simplistic and they literally live in nature every single day. They live for themselves, not for this idea of “what you’re suppose to be” in order to avoid failure. They’re incredible athletes too. They have time to go on a morning jog and greet the sun as it rises, come home, decompress into some tea and morning yoga, eventually wander out to the boulders and basically eat, climb and be content until the sunsets. I’m not saying that they don’t deal with their own hardships but they followed their hearts at an early age and never looked back. Kudos to that life choice in many ways.
As I hit the books throughout nursing school, the new path slowly siphoned me away from climbing. I fought hard to continue my training. I continued to compete but I was never at a level that I found satisfactory. I knew I had the potential to be stronger and that reality ate me alive. Nevertheless, I pushed it out, graduated and I’m now in a great profession as a Neonatal ICU nurse. There are many positive outcomes from that life choice but competition climbing had naturally taken a backseat. I graduated in 2011. It’s now 2017 and I’m still spinning my wheels on where my place is in climbing. I have Ellie now, Zak and the responsibility of a full-time job …but my desires keep telling me “I’m not done competing.” Ellie is no longer a baby, she’s a well adjusted toddler that has grown into being beautifully independent. I’m also grateful that Zak can be a stay-at-home dad and balance out the chores around the house. He supports my training and competitions and he understands how much that aspect of my life means to me. I’m ready to make 2017 a year filled with competitions and outdoor projects. Not to be the best, not to win big but to get stronger on a personal level… and maybe pull off a win once in awhile. Specifically, I want to satisfy my hunger of tapping into that realm of athleticism that I know my body is capable of. I have not tapped out at my max yet and I’m curious to see how close I can get to that level.
January 26, 2017
Well, here I am about 24 hours later, on the plane and flying back “home” to Oregon. I walked into qualifiers feeling fairly sleepy form all the travel. They say to never change your routine on the day of your competition. I know this, I usually honor this but for this competition, I ignored it. I stopped at Whole Foods and grabbed a caffeinated B12 energy shot and chugged it down in hopes that it would stimulate me out of the sleepy state that I had found myself in. It worked. It worked so well that it made me jittery. Damn it (insert regret). While I was warming-up for the competition, my left shoulder (which has been giving me some acute trouble due to a recent project) was aching. I hardly take ibuprofen but not wanting to risk the discomfort throughout the competition, I swallowed it down. I personally don’t think it’s a great idea to compete on ibuprofen… I think it could have decreased the pain just enough to where my brain would have potentially ignored any warning signs of an impending injury. I took it anyways and for this one instance, I actually don’t regret it.
Once the competition started, I was feeling both jittery (duh) and sluggish. It had been awhile since my last competition and experience makes a difference. This is why my goal is to compete in a handful of competitions this year; to maximize my exposure. I didn’t let the slow start get to me. I knew this was the first comp of the year with many more to come and I simply wanted to enjoy myself. When the results were posted from qualifiers I found myself in third place with the top six going to finals.
Finals included three routes. I nearly flashed the first one but ended up falling as I tried to establish my second hand on the horrifically slick finish. In hindsight, I should have pressed my hand under the hold and hoped for more purchase on the untouched texture. The second route shut everyone down. In simple terms, it was hard. I got frustrated because I was floating the first few moves but my core failed me as I tried to release my heel and swing over to the foot on the other side of the wall. At this point I felt like I had potential to slip into second place. There was one route left and I recalled from our preview that it was not going to be overly difficult. This was my chance to step it up… and I blew it. I was climbing on volumes (which I’m still trying to master) and completely overlooked the undercling which was a total jug. I got shut down on the beta and the mistake dropped my score down into fifth place. Those are the kinds of mistakes I never want to make ever again but they make for great learning moments. After the judges called “time” I got back on the route to prove to myself that I could navigate that section of the climb. I did it easily. The internal and bitter frustration was strong (as I knew it was a hefty mistake) but I recovered myself quickly and congratulated the other climbers. It was rad that so many women showed up to compete.
I mingled with a few people after the competition and then ended up at a late-night dinner with seven other climbers. We passionately nerded out on fantastic topics including the highlights from the old-school climbing film Rampage. The winners of the men’s and women’s category generously paid for the food and beer.
As I drove from my hotel to the airport this morning I turned on some of my favorite rap, pumped up the base and attempted to drown out the consistent feeling of wishing that I had done better on that last route in finals. I listen to a wide variety of music but I have been neglecting the thumpin’ beats lately and today, it was the perfect remedy.
I’m glad that I skipped Nationals this year. I would not have been ready for it. My goal is to solidify a training routine and wring out my weaknesses right now. Next year I’m confident that I’ll be back to a stronger state of climbing.
It’s currently Thursday and I compete again on Saturday. I’m taking two days of rest and looking forward to competing in a completely different part of the country with a new variety of competitors. This year is going to be all about exposure, training and keeping it fun. I recently read the quote:
“IT’S NOT PRACTICE THAT MAKES PERFECT; IT’S DELIBERATE, PURPOSEFUL PRACTICE EVERY DAY.”
…and I intend for this to be my mantra of the year.