Sunday, 3 November 2013

An amazing end, a new beginning by Rachel Carr

End of a great first year for GB Youth Bouldering (photo Céline Bellanger)

Out of the 6 and a half years I’ve been climbing, 5 of which I’ve been on the GB Youth team and 4 of which I’ve been competing internationally, I have never taken part in a competition that was as good as Laval. It was the best by far. The blocks were good, my performance improved despite my injury, and I got to witness my own team captain come first in his final ever junior comp. Emotions were on high in every aspect.

Going into the comp my mind was filled with doubt. I couldn’t help but worry about how well I would perform with my recovering ankle, or if I’d even manage to compete fully. I’d been climbing again for 4 weeks but I’d only been training properly for 2. To top it my entire ankle was still sore and I couldn’t get full movement from it at all. All of these aspects had the power to get in my head and strike fear through my heart. The days we spent in France prior to the comp settled me slightly as I was used to it and I felt like I could get back into comp routine enough to focus. I was wrong. Morning of the comp I sat in the car at 7:15 panicking. I hadn’t slept much the night before because I lay awake worrying. It was Ironic that the lack of sleep would have made it worse. We arrived at the wall and I felt unbelievably stressed, so much so I couldn’t think straight. We read through the problems and everyone went to get warmed up. 

As I was about to put on my shoes when Tom grabbed me and told me not to jump straight in. He asked me to play catch, which at first I didn’t understand, but he later explained that using my weak hand to catch the tennis ball woke up the left side of my brain too. I don’t know what the left side does, but in that moment I woke up and everything suddenly became very real. I would be competing in 45 minutes. I was far from prepared, physically and mentally. I sat down to put my shoes on for real and Tom came over to speak to me. I can’t remember what he said, but it was along the lines of believing in me, and the fact that he knew, even If I didn’t, that I was good enough to do well. That should have given me confidence and strength but the doubt in my mind blocked it out; all I could feel was worry and dread; I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, especially not someone with that much belief in me after everything that had happened in the past couple months. I kept getting more and more stressed, so much so that almost immediately after Tom said that I felt like bursting into tears. I didn’t know what to do so I climbed. I felt strong but not enough; I needed to clear my head before I could compete. After I warmed up and loosened off I sat and tried to listen to music, something that, for me, had never worked before. This time was different, I found a song that not only calmed me down, but psyched me up. 

It was time to go; we all grabbed our stuff and headed to the wall. I selected a problem that was hard but I thought I could do. I couldn’t, I dropped the first move, but then so did everyone else. I got on again and made a second attempt.  It didn’t get much easier, I managed to get the bonus but then found myself stuck. Moving on seemed like the best option at this point since the angle I’d fallen at had ever so slightly jarred my bad ankle.  Tom came to me with a massive smile on his face and told me that Jen had flashed the first problem she got on. Obviously my competitive nature kicked in and I knew I could tell whether I was strong enough based on whether I could flash it too. I went over and took a look – it was awkward and technical, like something that could spit the strongest climber off with a slight misjudgement of balance, hold angle, or even distance. A girl from Denmark came to ask if I’d tried it and what I thought. My only replied was ‘oh no’ with a slight shake in my voice. She obviously didn’t know me or how much pressure I thought was on me at this point. The rest of the team were preoccupied by Tara getting on one of the harder problems. It was the perfect time to try it, none of them would see if I fell and I wouldn’t feel as embarrassed. 

With only the judge and the Danish girl’s eyes on me I got on the problem. I made it half way with great discomfort, I was close to falling at least twice and it was at the hardest move on the problem that I looked up to see Michelle and Tom’s faces looking right at me. They thought I could do it, I could see in their eyes that they weren’t worried for me at all. I couldn’t fall now, I could do it, just needed to take my time, breathe and very slowly reach my foot across. The few feet between me and the hold seemed to take days to cross. The second my foot touched the hold relief rushed through every limb in my body. I reached the top hold and pumped my fist with success. I knew it wasn’t a hard problem but I had flashed it after all the doubting and disbelief. I could do it now, I didn’t need to worry. I was back.

I flashed the easiest problem and tried the hardest, didn’t get close, but neither did anyone else so I couldn’t be disappointed yet. I got on problem number 6. A block I knew nothing about, I didn’t know how any of my teammates had done, and I didn’t know how the other teams had done. I had only seen Irish team’s Eleanor Hopkins fall off. Eleanor is someone I have climbed with and competed against my whole climbing life.  We share many of the same strengths.  Usually this would throw me off, would make me think that since she fell I would too, and even when I should find a move easy I would drop it because she did. My head changed its mind this time; it chose to ignore how anyone else was doing and think about how it looked instead. 

When not on the wall we're helping those that are
When I pulled on I was shocked, the holds were distinctly less positive than I had anticipated. I had to use twice the strength to just stay on the wall. Every move was hard and I was extremely close to dropping every one of them. I looked at the second last hold and the voice in my head came back to say, ‘this is where you’ll fall, you were lucky to make it this far but let’s be honest you’re done.’ But it was wrong, I reached the hold and refused to let go, I felt strong and knew I was good when I controlled the swing and slammed my foot on the hold. I looked up knowing I only had one move, a grin reaching from ear to ear. With a look that said ‘I got this’. Topped; problem done; happy now. I went straight to Tom who said ‘was that second go?’ Come on now Tom, don’t be silly, of course I flashed it. I told you I’m back. 

I only topped 3, but I reached the last hold of problem 2 twice until I had to stop because of the pressure it was putting on my ankle. My comp ended when I tried the hardest problem which involved putting almost my entire weight on my bad heel. No surprise it hurt and forced me to stop. It was the last problem I could try so it didn’t effect much and I wasn’t too bothered other than the fact I had to limp for a while waiting for my ankle to loosen off again. I was very happy with my result but that wasn’t the best part of the weekend. That was watching Nathan. 

Nathan Philips - Team Captain and an inspriation
I had followed Nathan throughout the comp, trying to provide the support he had for the rest of us all year, a way of giving back what was given. I’d seen him in the qualifiers and ruined my voice cheering him on in the finals. Normally we can tell where he’s finished after he finishes his 3rd block. He’d climbed incredibly topping all three Finals problems and had already made every member of the team proud. He was sitting in second nut there were 4 more climbers. We watched all the others finish, none of them knocking him down to third, pretty good result, only one more to go. This Italian guy had won every comp of the year easily so we watched expecting he would easily top it and win as per usual. We had never been so wrong. He came off the problem twice and 4 seconds before the end of his time he got in for his 3rd and final attempt.  Everyone expected one of those last minute tops we so often see in comps. When his feet hit the mat, when he fell off, when he didn’t top, I stopped breathing. Every single member of the team jumped and screamed ‘Yes!’ as we all realised Nathan had come first. Okay, we felt bad cheering another climber falling off, but as I turned to Gracie, overjoyed for Nathan, and saw a tear come to her eye I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and burst into tears of joy. I had never been so proud and happy for anyone before. In my eyes that was our team's biggest achievement of the year. I can only hope that on my last comp, in my last year, in my last chance, I can bring it out and impress my team enough to make them proud like Nathan did. He has inspired me for next year and I am more than ready to come back as a junior and dominate my category. It’s my turn

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