Northwest Boulderfest 2016

Yesterday was the NorthwestBoulderfest: a competition I’ve done every year since its origin. I’ve been doing nothing but ropes for months and haven’t even bouldered in the gym in at least two weeks, so expectations were not exactly for it to be my best comp ever. I would say that the fact that I had an easy excuse for failure took some of the pressure off, but I’m so damn competitive that it didn’t matter at all. It seemed like I was making so many mistakes– a foot slip blew my flash on one route, bad beta cost me too many tries on another. When every attempt might count, these things can add up fast and I thought I probably didn’t have a chance against the giants I was competing with. As time went on I started to have more success and sneaky peaks at other scorecards left me surprised at the idea that I might actually have a chance at finals if I played my cards right. I threw them all in on one route, hoping for a seventh top to give me the extra points I would need to sneak my way into the running. I was making progress, even though only one other person had done the boulder problem, and there was still an hour left. It couldn’t have been harder than V7, so in theory if I didn’t give up I should be able to do it– that’s plenty of time to put together five simple holds. Then there was only thirty minutes left, but I was getting close. I had to do the route, but somehow the line had gotten ridiculously long and I suddenly had to worry not about just putting in the time to figure it out, but making every chance that I got to get on the wall count. Almost twenty minutes went by and my yellow card (the color of the women’s) was still buried in a sea of orange (the men’s cards for the other route sharing a judge with mine), nowhere near the top of the stack to indicate it was my turn again. There were ten minutes left in my heat when I finally got to go again. I fell. It looked pretty bleak, but somehow I heard my name called for one last shot at redemption. It was all I needed, and I squeaked out the send with minutes left in the comp.

Fast forwards to finals, which I did qualify for thanks to my last minute send. Sitting in isolation the competitors talked about how the comp had gone. Almost all of them had topped more routes than me, but that was no surprise– these were world class athletes; internationally ranked veterans of the world comp circuit. I’d competed against almost all of them before, if you could even call it that. In the past it was actually more like I was competing near them. In years past I couldn’t even dream of being on their level, or even anywhere close. Another excuse for failure, but this time I wasn’t thinking about that kind of nerves for a change. Winning wasn’t really on my mind, as strange as that sounds from someone as competitive as me. I had already succeeded by simply making it here.

For me, being in finals is pure type 1 fun– you feel like a superhero. It’s interesting because it’s both a totally ego-feeding thing, yet it also manages to simultaneously be a deeply humbling experience. On one hand there’s the fame and glory, enough said. On the other hand though… I was completely overwhelmed by the support from everyone that came to watch me. Friends and strangers alike, sending me photos and videos afterward, telling me how psyched they were when I stuck a dyno or unlocked a sequence nobody else figured out, or even just being there. I said that winning wasn’t so much on my mind, but I wanted to climb well for a different reason. I knew that I’d already earned my spot under those bright lights for my ability, but what mattered now was earning all that support, making them proud. I desperately want to prove to everyone that I deserve to be there, standing next to those giants.

It’s a crazy feeing, having everyone in the crowd screaming for you, fighting your battles with you, and believing in you even when you are staring down a move that looks physically impossible. That energy enables me to try harder than I ever thought possible. By the end of the finals it felt like I could barely walk, after giving everything I had into those sixteen minutes of climbing (four minutes each on four problems). Of course there was frustration that I didn’t get one move farther or place a bit better, there will never not be that drive to constantly improve in my climbing. More than that though was the pride in having tried harder than I maybe ever have on plastic, and at having held my own against some of the strongest women in the world. There was definitely an element of physical pain adding to the potpourri of emotions as well, having gotten annihilated in different ways by each problem in turn. I didn’t leave the comp with any cash prizes, swag, or anything more than a few sample clif bars, but I still got what I came for: Five minutes of fame, and the chance to try really, really, really fucking hard.

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