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“Climbers, at your marks!” shouted the Chilean official in his thick Spanish accent. The musty air filled my nostrils before I let out one last, shaky breath. I wasn’t really supposed to be here. Luck was the only thing that had gotten me to a second-place finish at the national championships, which by some strange technicality qualified me to be present. Now, at the 2012 Youth Pan-American Climbing Championships in Santiago, it was painfully obvious how incongruous my fate was. I approached the bottom of the speed wall, struggling to regain the confidence that had allowed me to squeak past the qualifier and semifinal stages. I positioned myself on the three starting holds, with thoughts of “I hope” and “maybe” flooding my brain.
I exploded off the ground, hoping desperately that my competitor would stumble and allow me to win. “Left hand to hold two. Right foot up. Two hands to hold three.” The recitations that usually ran like clockwork felt forced, and I could feel my body slowly separating from the wall. Almost instantly, it was over. Dangling near the bottom, I looked up to see my opponent complete the route, leaving me swinging, dejected.
I returned home overcome with feelings of failure, feeling like I had let down not only my team, but myself. I could have trained harder, but I lacked conviction, hoping that somehow the stars would align and an impressive performance would come with ease. Nevertheless, I determined, this year would be different. Motivated by my poor Pan-American performance, I trained harder than ever before. For months, I climbed five days a week, each session consisting of endless pull-ups, push-ups, squats, and running, all executed with a tenacity that was nearly unmatchable. Eager to compete again, I participated in a small local competition, keen to try out my newfound superiority.
A dead last place finish proved my “superiority” to be otherwise. Even after months of what I had thought was a flawless plan, I had made absolutely zero progress. Although I was visibly more fit, I retained the same nervous mindset I had possessed months ago. I needed a different solution, possibly something a little unorthodox. I ventured to Barnes & Noble in search of a mental training book. After much investigation, I found With Winning in Mind, written by Olympic Champion Lanny Bassham. I completely stopped speed climbing to read the book, and two months later, after reading, rereading, and then overwhelming the book with notes, I felt prepared to return. By studying all the variables the mind contributes to competitive performance, I had learned how to control them and use them to my advantage. I noticed my climbing finally beginning to improve, and I felt prepared to begin competing again.
“Climbers, at your marks!” the British Columbian official shouted in a crisp Canadian accent. The musty air filled my nostrils before I let out one last, sharp breath.
This time, I was supposed to be here. Luck had played no part in my first-place finish at the national championships, which qualified me. Now, at the 2013 Youth World Championships in Victoria, it was painfully obvious how right it all was. I approached the bottom of the speed wall, regaining the confidence that had allowed me to blow past the semifinal stages. I positioned myself on the three starting holds, with thoughts such as “I’m blowing this kid out of the water” and “I’m having the best run of my life” flooding my brain.
I exploded off the ground, not paying attention to anything but the task at hand, my brain doing nothing but moving my limbs with unmatchable force. Seven seconds later, it was over. Dangling at the top, I glanced at my time, then at my opponent finishing the route a full second later. I was left swinging, joyous, euphoric.
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