Why comp climb?

My win at the 2015 Paraclimbing Nationals was surprisingly anticlimactic. Not winning would have felt worse, but I was still surprised by how much of a post-win comedown I felt. My partner says this is natural and that his approach is to move onto the next milestone. I argued this makes life seem like one endless stretch of toil; he replied that his strategy was not necessarily the healthiest one.

I have expressed my ambivalence before about these competitions; I definitely struggle with why I choose to compete in the comps. Is it because I am “good enough” to place well and therefore feel like I should do it? Does competing bring my story to more people’s attention and therefore increase the potential impact my story/journey might have on other people? I struggle with the term “adaptive” and the negative connotations it holds for me, because I while I climb differently to “normal” folks, I don’t climb in an inferior way. I don’t climb well for a disabled person; I climb well period.

Part of it stems from my slightly negative opinion of competition climbing in general, but these are my personal biases. While I feel like sport climbing indoors is a great way to train and get strong, I think there is/can be narcissism involved when one decides to be a competitor. But there is ego involved in both sides, even choosing not to compete. Of course, some people use these competitions as a reason to train. I think I am “guilty” of both reasons. The relatively small field of competitors means that the number of categories and discretization of disability/ability is very coarse. At last year’s World Championships, the “Physical Disability” category I was in was split into two groups, and even then, the line was very blurry between the two. I was right on the border and ended up in the more “able” category, even though arguably, there were competitors in the second category that had more (climbing) function than me. At Nationals, it was just one category.

Climbing is also a deeply personal thing for me. I love sharing the company of a close friend/climbing partner but also being high up on a route, alone and being the master of my thoughts and experience. I don’t like cragging and large groups of people so much  because I think that being all social can lead to unsafe situations and inattention, and also because I am quite introverted. Competition climbing is the exact opposite of long-route climbing outside. You are suddenly thrust into the spotlight, all eyes on you as you “perform”.

Some people do these competitions because they feel a camaraderie and kinship with the community. While I have met a few people I respect and like a lot, I do not have that kind of relationship with most folks. I think it is because my heart lies outside and spend more time there, whereas the vast majority of folks in the adaptive climbing community do not lead and climb indoors exclusively, out of necessity, accessibility issues or because they just don’t want to – which is totally fine! But yet another reason why I don’t connect with many people there.

I have a good while to decide whether to take part in 2016 Paraclimbing Nationals, which will serve as a qualifier for the 2016 World Championship which will be held in Paris – a rather nice place to visit in the Fall. I think it will come down to how much I feel competition climbing deviates from my true self and my reasons for climbing. And maybe competing might allow me to develop new skills, such as performing under pressure with all eyes on me.

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