Kai Lightner: 2014 Youth World Championship
In 2013, I placed 4th at the Youth World Championships. After being in the lead for all preceding rounds, in finals I was positive movement from 2nd place, and one hold from winning the competition. Being so close to the podium, yet failing to seal the deal, led me to restructure my training for 2014. It was a bumpy ride, but I am very pleased with the end result this year. :-).
Flying to Noumea for the World Championships was something that I had been looking forward to all year. However, because there were no other climbing gyms on the island besides the competition venue, most of the US team chose to stay in Sydney, Australia for a week before the event to train. I decided to do the same. Although I had lots of fun in Sydney, the days leading up to the World championships were a little rougher than normal for me (from a training perspective). Not only was it the first time I had flown to the other side of the world (23 flight hours away), but it was also the first time I had to travel internationally alone AND the first time I had ever went to a competition without my mom or coach. My mom had never missed a competition climb and Coach Shane had been at every championship competition with me since age 9. This time I traveled alone and had to be responsible for independently maintaining my training (climbing/conditioning) routine prior to the event. I stayed with my teammate, Nicholas Milburn, and his family.
Sydney was beautiful! We had a lot of fun touring the city and visiting climbing gyms. I ended up actually climbing only 2 of the 7 days prior to the competition. That’s far from my normal routine of tapering off before major championships, and that made me a little nervous going into the competition.
The moments leading up to my first qualifier climb were very hectic. I was extremely unorganized and I was not sticking to my normal isolation routine. My Q1 route was pretty straightforward. It started off pretty easy and ended with a few bouldery moves. When I went out to climb, I did not climb my best and ended up having a foot slip near the top of the wall. As a result, I was in 6th place going into my next qualifier route. I was very unhappy with my climb because I knew I could climb much better than I did.
There was a four hour break between qualifier rounds. My mom finally arrived to Noumea- right before my second qualifier climb. Our Q2 route was easier than Q1. The beginning consisted of a series of crimps onto a weird roof section. Luckily the holds were good and I was able to pull through. Although I topped the route, my climbing was not up to par; I still didn’t feel back to normal. After seeing my Q2 climb, my mom pulled me aside and noted that I was clearly not on my A-game. That night we analyzed video of both of my climbs and reviewed my entire routine that day. Mom gave me a good pep talk and told me to focus on climbing my best moving forward, and not worry about the end result. She helped realign my isolation routine and mentally prepare for the next round. My combined qualification scores placed me in 3rd heading into semifinals the next day.
By the time semifinals came around, I was much more mentally prepared than in Qualifiers. While in ISO, I felt much stronger and confident as I warmed up. During the route preview, the route looked very consistent with a few balancey moves at the top. When I went out to climb, I felt really good through the beginning of the route. As I approached the final crux sequence of the route, I realized the holds were much worse than they appeared. I wasn’t able to figure out how to grip the holds and push through the sequence, causing me to fall. Although I did not top the route, my climbing was dramatically better; I finally felt back to normal. By the end of the round, 9 of the top 10 climbers got shut down during the same sequence at the top of the climb. Two of them (including my teammate Drew Ruana) got control of the next hold coming out of the sequence, placing them in 2nd and 3rd place. I was in the next group of climbers that only got positive movement towards the next hold. Since ties were broken by our ranking in the previous round, I ended the semifinal round in 5th place heading into finals. Although my ranking between rounds technically went down, I was very proud of my climb and felt I had climbed my best. I was very eager to move on to the final round.
While preparing for finals, I felt really calm and confident. I was determined to do my best and end the competition on a good note. I knew that I would have no control over the route, or how other climbers would perform, so I decided to focus entirely on doing my personal best and not worrying about factors that I could not control. For the last year I have competed in a lot of open competitions, with the primary goal of learning how to maintain extreme focus, while being physically (or mentally) pushed to my limit in preparation for moments like this.
Being the fourth one out, I did not have a lot of time to sit in isolation and think about the gravity of the events that were occurring. By the time they were ready for me to go, I felt really calm, and I was extremely psyched to climb. The beginning of the route was straightforward with a few balancey moves up to a really good rest at the beginning of the roof section. The final section of the route looked a little trickier so I became more aggressive with my movements. As I placed my foot to push for the last hold, I was excited to stick the move and clip the anchors! I was proud of myself. I knew I had done my best!!
As I came off of my route, they escorted me to a special section where the leading climbers in each category were being held. We had to sit there until the remaining competitors climbed, knowing that we would be replaced (in this section) when our competitor beat our current score. Since I was in 5th place coming into finals, I knew that another top in my category would lower my final competition ranking. For some reason, I was not very nervous watching my competitors climb, even though I knew that their climbs would determine my placement. However, as I saw Drew prepare to climb, I became very nervous since I wanted him to climb well also. I have known Drew since we were both 9 years old, and knowing how hard he works, I crossed my fingers that we could both secure a spot on the podium. After his climb, I realized that no matter how the last climber performed, we had secured two spots on the podium for Team USA!! This made me swell up with pride, knowing that we had represented our country very well.
After the last climber was done, it took a few moments for me to realize that I had accomplished one of my biggest goals… I was WORLD CHAMPION! Winning the youth world championships was a surreal experience that I will never forget. I still can’t describe all of the emotions that were going through me as I heard our national anthem play with me and Drew standing side by side on the podium.
Although the final week of my journey had been a bumpy ride, I learned a lot of valuable lessons. For starters, I now understand the importance of having (and following) structured routines, regardless of what obstacles are thrown my way. I also learned that climbing is much more enjoyable (and productive) when you focus entirely on doing your best, and let go of all other thoughts. Overall my competition experience was incredible! Thanks to the route setters, volunteers, competition organizers, IFSC and USA Climbing, I had the opportunity to travel to a beautiful country and interact with so many amazing kids from around the globe. THANK YOU!!
This time last year, I had a conversation about not being able to return to the world championships this year because of increased costs. Within a month of having that conversation, I began speaking with several potential sponsors about my plans for 2014. Shortly after, Tent & Trails, prAna, Maxim Ropes, Salewa, and Black Diamond allowed me to join their teams as an ambassador for their products. Together with Evolv, these amazing companies agreed to help me move forward and continue pursuing my dreams. I owe all of my successes this year to the unwavering support of my mom, coaches, and my sponsors. Words can’t express my gratitude. Thanks for believing in me!!
Next Stop… the PanAmerican Championships November 26-30 in Mexico City. Wish Me Luck!!
~Kai Lightner, prAna Ambassador