categories: Cocktail Hour / Getting Outside
For some reason I find it easier to write about “failures” versus accomplishments, just as many tend toward serious life events versus day-to-day experience when they have to think of a topic to write on. If I were to have “succeeded” in the ranking sense, this would’ve been a completely different piece of work. I would’ve probably talked about how hard I trained, spoken to the years I had put into my quest and finally thanking those who had been there along the way. In the excitement of succeeding I would’ve forgotten how nervous I got, the mistakes I made, and the spontaneity of the ticket I had purchased just three weeks before. I would’ve written about this event a few weeks post competition, after the joy had worn off and the adrenaline had cooled down. I would’ve basked in the congratulations of friends, and knowing looks from strangers, not having to reflect on what I had accomplished, only being continually reminded of it by others. This is not how my trip turned out. Rather, I am coming home a day earlier, beaten, exhausted and humbled. But as I write this in the terminal of Denver International Airport less than 24 hours since I competed at Adult Sport Climbing Series Nationals in Boulder, Colorado I have never felt more motivated in my life.
I have been competing since I was 13 years old. It took me awhile to leave behind my tap dancing shoes and join the ranks of the few middle school girls who could manage a pull-up, but once I joined the gym I was committed. I think I was drawn to climbing because it didn’t come easy to me. Sure, I could pull harder and climb stronger than majority of the people in my local gym, but this only gave me a false sense of ranking that never aligned with the girls at the bigger competitions. I felt average, for each year throughout high school that I competed I was the bottom of the best. Which for many would be perfectly fine, but for me never seemed enough. I never was sponsored, I never went to world cups and I had no major ascents during my stint as a youth climber—but for this I am eternally grateful.
When I reached college I began to realize that competing at these major events in high school had given me a false sense of why I climbed. San Diego was new to me and I felt the need to stand my ground, as a strong climber who nobody yet knew was only average. Each rating became religion to me as I obsessed over each climb disregarding the subjectivity of the climbing rating system. It is so easy to lose track of why we do the things we do, and climbing had become another one of these mindless routines. During my freshman year at USD I lived in this limbo, growing disgusted with my performance alternately afraid to stop because I had an image to protect and a reputation as a “strong” competition climber to uphold. This limbo didn’t last for long. As most of you can attest to, pushing through unhappiness often culminates in a rock bottom experience that forces your out of routine and exposes you to some of your deepest insecurities.
I remember going to Smith Rock that summer after my first year away at college. I was determined and confident to show my friends how much stronger I had become and how much knowledge I had gained. Of course what I had gained was an incapacitating fear of falling—failing and the freshman 15. I could’ve lived in the delusion I was still as strong as I had been in high school in the gym where I could avoid the climbs that didn’t align with my vision of who I was. But I couldn’t do this outside. In Smith Rock all of the expectations, fear and exposure suddenly crushed onto my world and I had never felt weaker. After that trip I took three weeks off, the first break I had taken from climbing in a long time. That break didn’t change everything, but it did make me change some key ways in which I approached the sport.
The most important one being remembering climbing is my passion and I climb to push myself further mentally and physically. I climb so I can remind myself that feeling vulnerable takes courage and makes you stronger. When I chose to sign up for SCS Nationals I was not ready, but something inside of me told me I had to do it. It was the exact same urge I get when I am drawn to climb certain walls or hone in on certain routes I want to send. I needed to expose myself, to make myself feel vulnerable because in that exposure I knew I would get stronger and I knew I had the capacity at this point to deal with a potential letdown.
Of course, this is all in retrospect. I can conceptualize why I compete and why I climb certain walls after the fact. I sure as hell felt ready before the competition yesterday, but this was in order to control my nerves as I warmed up next to Sasha Diguillian and Daniel Woods. I had to feel ready, I had to justify why I had paid for a ticket and even signed up in the first place. Nobody had chosen me to go, nobody had persuaded me to go, I just needed to go. I always get nervous before competitions, and this one was no different. I hadn’t competed in an Adult Nationals, ever. The competition format was flash—we got to look at the routes and even watch other climbers on the routes, but we only had one try. One try. Nico and I went together, and it is always inspiring to climb with her because we both have very different styles. She is someone I look up to—someone who works hard to get what she wants. So to give you an idea of how stiff the competition was Nico placed 23rd, and Nico is strong—amazingly strong, one of the best women climbers at Mesa Rim, and Southern California. The number doesn’t matter, what matters is why I climb and why I keep on coming back.
I could reflect back on the competition and I give you multiple justifications for why I placed the way I placed—34th for those of you curious. I had altitude sickness, I didn’t climb smart, I hadn’t trained hard enough, I didn’t eat enough, drink enough, climb well enough…and the list goes on (see I snuck them in there, it’s so hard to be human and not justify when we feel just the number won’t suffice). But I am trying hard to tell myself this was as well as I was going to do under the circumstances and nothing I do can change that—but let’s be honest, we can tell ourselves all night long we are stronger than the justifications, and we aren’t, at least for a little. What we are stronger than is letting them hold us back from trying again letting them bring us down into the delusion that we just will never be strong enough. I have felt like I have been at the bottom of the best my whole career in climbing, but I don’t feel like I am delusional for continuing to try anymore. The game is getting harder and the climbers are getting stronger. When I was training during the mere weeks after I decided to go before I competed I felt stronger than I have ever felt in my life. Not only physically but mentally. I was upset with how I placed. I felt that I had more to show than what I had given. But what does it matter really? These girls had worked hard and climbed well. For most, this wasn’t their first Adult Nationals and I need to remember that. This competition showed me that I am not that far from the best and I don’t plan on giving up any time soon.
Rosie Bates is about to be graduated from the University of San Diego, where she was on the climbing team. She’s a Mesa Rim Youth Team Coach and Route Setter. She has a really nice tattoo on her back. Her mother is Bill’s sister Carol Roorbach, which makes her an official Bill and Dave’s niece!