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The Violet Crown

On December 15th, 2017, I took part in my first ever National Cup Series Comp at the Crux Climbing Centre in Austin, TX!  This was a huge challenge for me, both mentally and physically, but in the end it was a great experience and I’m so glad I pushed myself to give it a go!

In the months leading up to the four NCS comps, I’d been told multiple times that I should sign up, but I kept brushing off the suggestion. I definitely didn’t feel as if I belonged at that caliber of competition, and could not imagine putting myself in the same arena as our nation’s best climbers!  Fate seemed to have other plans, however.  As it happened, the second NCS comp was being hosted by a Touchstone Climbing gym, of which I am a member.  I had already been planning to attend the recreational portion of that comp, the Battle of The Bay, up at Dogpatch boulders in San Francisco, but unbeknownst to me at the time, it would also give me my first taste of the national level. 

Cranking hard on one of the women's NCS qualifier problems during the recreational portion of the Battle of the Bay.

Due to the space and setting limitations of having two competitions in one location, the NCS qualifier problems were left up as part of the recreational comp.  Though, in holding with my doubts, I had pretty low expectations about my ability to do these problems, I also couldn’t help but feel intrigued.  Would I be capable of climbing them?  Though a part of me obviously wanted to believe I was strong enough, I’ll admit, that a large part of me also hoped to fail.  If I couldn’t get off the ground, then I would be right!  I wasn’t good enough and I would have no reason to step out of my safe little space in the recreational comps.

Due to the large crowds at the gym,  I only had time to jump on four of the eight qualifier problems, but to my surprise, I onsighted one, red pointed another second attempt, and reached the 15 point mark on the remaining two.  It was more than I had hoped for…or imagined…or even really wanted!  Haha.  This, combined with my first ever podium finish, put the little whispering thought in my mind that maybe I had been wrong after all…maybe I could try an NCS comp…maybe I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of all my climbing idols as I feared.

There was another month or so before the third comp and it turned out to be one of my best climbing months to date!  I sent my first ever V9s in the gym, followed quickly by my first v9s outside!  I spent an amazing weekend stomping around Bishop, sending every problem I touched, and overall was feeling stronger than ever before.  The whispers in my head grew louder. Sign up! Sign up! They said.  Unfortunately, my doubt was louder still. What if I couldn’t get off the ground? What if I fell flat on my face? What if people laughed at how pathetic I was?! What if they told me I had no business being there? What if I actually had no business being there? I was so worried about all the negative things that might happen and what everybody else would think, that despite how well I was climbing, I could not convince myself that I was adequate or ready. 

But perhaps we never feel ready for the next step.  Perhaps, sometimes, we need a good friend to shove us off the side of the pool and into the deep end before we can really learn to swim.  

Sending my first V9, Soul Slinger, with the help of some amazing spotters!

Luckily, I had several such friends!  As I was wavering back and forth about attending the third NCS comp, I received three gentle shoves towards the deep end; two friends offered to  attend the comp as my coaches, while a third offered me a free place to stay in Austin. Knowing I wouldn’t be alone made such a difference!  At least if I fell flat on my face, I’d have someone there to pick me up! 

And so the decision was made.  I registered for the comp, purchased last minute plane tickets, and was off to the land of cowboys, violet colored sunsets, and keeping it weird.  Even before my good friend, Aaron, and I stepped on Texas soil, my nerves were running high.  I still couldn’t believe I was about to do this! I began to dread the next afternoon, when I would set foot in Austin’s Crux Climbing Center and come face to face with some of the greatest climbers in the world and some of the most difficult climbs I had ever attempted.   

Big thanks to Julie for giving me a home in Austin!!
Thanks to Aaron and Chris for acting as my coaches and support squad!
Thanks to Aaron and Chris for acting as my coaches and support squad!

My nerves continued to escalate overnight and into the next afternoon. By the time we made it to Crux for the competition, I felt like I had had ten cups of coffee. Every cell in my body seemed to be vibrating!  I picked up my scorecard and made my way to the warm up area, and then…there they were…all those climbers most of us know by first name alone.  

It was, frankly, terrifying! I stood off to the side, watching, clutching my chalk bag to my chest, feeling absolutely and 100% out of place! Aaron and another friend, Chris, urged me to get on the wall and warm up, but to no avail.  I remained frozen until the comp organizers called all the athletes over for a quick rules meeting.  After the meeting, while all the other climbers took to the floor to start the comp, I scampered back to the warm up area and tried to get my nerves under control.  Though it helped to finally get on the wall and feel somewhat back in my element, as soon as I finished warming up and returned to the competition floor, the nerves came raging back. I could not bring myself to climb!  All I could think about was how many people were there and how I would never stack up to the competition.  I walked around, staring at impossible looking problems, watching everybody else climb, feeling completely inadequate.  In fact, I’m not sure I would have attempted a single climb if it wasn’t for one of the other competitors. We recognised each other from Instagram and wandered over to say hello, both wringing our hands and smiling nervously.  After introducing ourselves, we both admitted that we’d been too scared to climb anything yet!  And suddenly, that made it all okay.  It brought me out of my head and made me realize that all around were really just girls like me, who were fighting their own nerves and simply wanting to climb their best. There was no competition here, except with my own insecurities.    

This realization gave me just the shot of confidence I needed to get on the wall.  And amazingly, once I did, my confidence spiked even more.  I forgot about the comp and any self-imposed pressure, and truly began to enjoy the experience of climbing.

Women's #10, the first problem I attempted, which I later ended up topping!

There were 10 problems in total for the women, and I found all of them to be challenging, creative, and well set!  At the end of the day, I had topped four of those problems and achieved partial points on all the others! I was so happy with how I climbed, and very proud of overcoming such a huge mental hurdle to do so. It was also a really pleasant surprise to find out that I finished with a ranking of 14th, just a few places shy of qualifying for finals, and high enough to qualify for open nationals. That was so much more than I expected!  

In fact, everything about the day was more than I had expected! There was no negativity or judgement to be found, as originally feared, but rather such a great sense of camaraderie and respect between all the climbers.  I felt nothing but welcomed and supported the entire day, and left the gym feeling completely giddy and already wondering when my next comp would be!

I’m so thankful to my friends for shoving me into the deep end this time around.  I think they knew me better than I knew myself, because  even though I fell in and floundered for a few minutes, I came up swimming smoothly, just like they all told me I could!  

Topping out!
Crimping hard on women's #3.
Slopers for days on women's #7.
Sometimes you have to stretch your limits!
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