Claire Gordon, FA Team Coach for the summer and long-time competition climber, ruminates on competition climbing both as a competitor and as a coach, and how no matter the result, the relationships you build are what you take away from each competition.

Competition climbing has always played a huge role in my life. I spent every night after school at the gym training. Once the weekend came, I spent the majority of the time traveling to and from competitions or focusing harder on training.

When I fell last November and injured my knee, I thought that was the end of competition climbing for me. I wasn’t sure if I would make a full healthy recovery or when I was going to be able to climb again. I knew I wouldn’t be able to perform as well as I previously had. I was so hard on myself.

Getting back into competition would lead to many disappointments. There were moves I couldn’t do because of my limited range of motion and attempting to go harder than what my body could do post-injury. When I wanted to get a particular move down, I would push myself to the absolute limit because I refused to believe I was unable to climb again. I didn’t want to give my body the time it needed to heal. I would push and push.

I could never imagine leaving a huge part of my life behind. Over the course of recovery and post-recovery, I still entered in a few couple small local competitions, which was more a fun thing for me to do instead of the pressure of a major competition. Local meets didn’t fix the itch I had to get back to competing full time.

Back in June, I returned to competition climbing, but this time I wasn’t the one climbing. I would be seeing it all unfold up above me as I coached the First Ascent Climbing Team kids at Vertical Endeavors in Minnesota for USAC Divisional Championships.

And let me tell you: the team crushed it!  I was still able to feel the excitement and all other emotions I had felt previously during climbing competitions, but this time as coach. In fact, I think I felt more  than I had before. Before, it was just me and my climb, but now I felt every kid’s feelings on my shoulders, experiencing every emotion they went through.

After feeling so much during Divisionals, I traveled to Atlanta in July with 13 kids for USAC National Championships. This was the biggest competition that most of these kids have ever attended.  High pressure and lots of nerves were present that day. Everyone had different goals:  some kids were just trying to make it to semis, some to finals, and some wanted to make it on the US Team and go on to compete on the world stage.

While a couple of our kids excelled, a lot of them were unable to reach their goals. Every single kid handled their disappointments differently; some cried, some were angry, and  others pretended they didn’t care. Although they all reacted differently, everyone was mature and kept a positive attitude for the rest of their teammates that advanced.

No matter the outcome, each kid, understood how lucky they were to have the opportunity to compete at such an incredible competition and to be apart of the First Ascent Team. They all put on a smile for sushi dinner, enjoyed swimming in the hotel pool, and finished out the rest of the weekend with a smile. I, in turn, was really proud of their positive attitudes and the team spirit they all showed one another.

As I began to talk to all the kids after the competition, I realized that the best part of competition wasn’t, in fact, the “competition” part. It was all the memories surrounding that day. The memories of the road trips back and forth, exploring a new city, and visiting tourist places like the Mall of America. Coming together as a whole team bonding and creating memories. You may remember a crappy climb in the short-term, but long term, you’ll always remember what was said on a road trip, or the fun had being a tourist for the day.

Looking back on my own climbing career, the drive for competition had nothing to do with climbing; it was about the experiences I picked up along the way. When I fell, I thought that I would never get to continue doing what I loved. Now I realize that what drew me to competition climbing wasn’t topping out in front of everyone, but the vibe and the whole experience. Coaching has allowed me to be part of competition climbing once again. I thank Planet Granite Portland and First Ascent Chicago for giving me these wonderful opportunities. I cannot wait to keep traveling all over the country with my kids and watching them progress!

Message to my kids:  Don’t ask me to pick favorites between my teams! I love all of you equally! Thank you, kids, for letting me into your lives, both climbing and personal. I hope I can help you all grow the way you have helped me!

– xoxo Claire Gordon, aka Trash Gordon / Flash Gordon (depends on the day)