By Rachel Stone
Lewis & Clark student Claire Gordon ’19 is gearing up to compete at the 2018 USA Climbing Collegiate National Championships in Houston, TX, during the weekend of April 20 and 21. She will be representing LC in both the sport climbing and speed climbing competitions.
This weekend’s competition will be Gordon’s first since she suffered a significant injury two years ago. Gordon was bouldering at a competition when she fell, resulting in a fracture to her tibial plateau as well as tears to all four knee ligaments and her meniscus. The injury put her out of climbing for eight months.
“Internally, it’s been a struggle to go from being nationally ranked to barely being able to get up the wall,” Gordon said.
Gordon plans to go into the competition without any expectations.
“I think this competition is going to be a big mental struggle way more than physical,” Gordon said. “If I can go and compete, and my knee doesn’t blow out, and I don’t panic, that’s a win for me.”
During her recovery, Gordon found creative ways to stay involved in the climbing scene. She began coaching youth climbers at Planet Granite Portland, the gym she frequently trains at. As a coach, Gordon has been able to share her many years of competitive experience with young climbers.
“It’s super important for these kids to have a role model who knows what they’ve been through,” Gordon said.
Gordon especially likes working with children because before they hit puberty, their strength-to-weight ratios are quite low. This means that for prepubescents strength comes not from weight lifting or strength-training, but rather from climbing itself. Consequently, young climbers develop exceptional strength and motor ability at a faster rate.
“It’s awesome to see a 10-year-old just completely crush it,” Gordon said.
Gordon has been a competitive rock climber since childhood. She was first introduced to climbing through gymnastics.
“I did gymnastics, but I was really bad at it,” Gordon said. “There’s a little climbing gym in the basement (of the gymnastics facility that I trained at), and one day I somehow wandered down there. As soon as I tried it, I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Gordon joined a competitive climbing team at the age of seven. For her, climbing extends well beyond a sport because the environment fosters community and lasting friendships.
“I’ve made friends from all over the world through traveling for competitions,” Gordon said. “Pretty quickly into climbing I knew that this was going to be a really important part of my life, and it has been.”
Gordon is excited to reconnect with fellow competitors from her childhood who will also be attending the championships in Houston.
Gordon’s greatest memories in her 13 years of competitive climbing experience have not necessarily involved the sport of climbing, but instead the personal interactions that come with national and international competitions.
“It’s definitely about the people,” Gordon said. “Some of my best memories are from competitions where I didn’t do well and watching my teammates, strangers or coaches all be extremely supportive.”
Among Gordon’s favorite times at climbing competitions are when Gordon and her peers gather together in “isolation.” Isolation is when competitors wait in a room together behind-the-scenes before individually climbing.
“At competitions you come out one at a time to climb, so you don’t get to watch everyone climb,” Gordon said. “Some of my favorite memories are in this isolation. The competitors do silly dances or other things to stay warm and keep the nerves to a minimum.”
While Gordon will be competing at the collegiate level in Houston, she hopes to transition to the division of professional climbers in future competitions.
“I definitely hesitated about going, but I think it is important for me to get back into competitions and see how I measure up against collegiate athletes, to hopefully make that next step to compete in (the professional division),” Gordon said.
According to Gordon, the competition finals for speed, sport and bouldering events will be live streamed. Anyone interested in watching Gordon compete can find the live stream by typing in “USA Climbing” on YouTube during the day of the finals.