One reason we’re in Atlanta, other than reducing my parents’ house to a pile of rubble, is for Ella to compete at US Climbing Youth Nationals, which were held this past weekend.
Ella qualified for Nationals at the competition in Boulder last month, and she joined the best brightest young climbers in the country in Atlanta. She qualified for both Sport and Speed events. In Sport climbing, scores are based on how high you climb. The goal is to finish a route without falling, which is called flashing. Speed climbing is exactly what it sounds like – see who can get to the top the fastest.
The event started on Thursday, and all 31 girls in Ella’s division climbed – 21 of them, including Ella, flashed the route, so there was a huge tie. All 31 climbed again on Friday, and Ella didn’t climb as well as she had the day before. She rushed a move and fell much lower than she should have. Fortunately, she squeaked into semi-finals as part of a four-way tie for 16th place.
Ella started Saturday by climbing in the Sport semi-finals, and she did well enough that she made it to finals. She also climbed in the Speed finals Saturday night. She had had her heart set on placing in the top four and earning an invitation to join the US Climbing Team. Unfortunately, she had two bad climbs, mostly because the girl climbing next to her fell both times, ruining her concentration. Ella ended up in 7th place, meaning she is the 7th fastest 10 and under climber in the country, which I thought was quite cool. She didn’t. She viewed it as losing and was in a snit the whole way home. She perked up after being bribed with some ice cream and brownies, though.
I was very nervous about finals on Sunday, worried that her bad mood Saturday night would affect her climbing. I should have known better than to worry. When I woke her up to go to the gym, Ella announced that she had decided she was going to flash the route. I told her I’d love to see her do it. But, privately, I had my doubts. This was finals at Nationals – you don’t just flash routes at finals.
One of the many things I love about the climbing world is watching the climbers interacting with each other. When they brought Ella’s group out for route preview, the 10 girls worked together to draw a map of the route and its holds. Then they chattered away, discussing strategies for different parts of the climb.
All the climbers are kept in isolation before their climbs, so they don’t get extra time to study the route. And when they are brought out, one at a time, they have to sit in a chair facing away from the wall. I was fortunate to grab a seat right in front of Ella, so I could smile at, but not talk to, her.
I almost wished that I hadn’t sat so close. She looked so small and so nervous while she was waiting. I was sure that Ella was going to barf right there and then. But once the belayer got her started on tying in, Ella put on her game face.
And she climbed better than I have ever seen her climb. I had my hands over my mouth, willing her up the wall the entire time. She didn’t flash, but she came damn close, climbing higher on the wall than anyone else had at that point, by a long way.
When she was finished climbing, Ella came over to me for a congratulatory hug. I told her that no matter how she placed, she should be proud of how well she climbed. Ella didn’t say much – she just gave me her small, quiet, very happy smile. Then she bopped off to sit with the other girls in her division to watch the rest of the climbers.
And it was so stressful. Ella climbed third in her group, so we had to sit through seven more climbers. And as each climber fell off the wall far lower than Ella had, Betsy and I ticked off Ella’s possible place on our fingers. In the end, two girls touched exactly the same hold as Ella did, putting them in a three-way tie for first place. To break the tie, they added girls’ scores from their previous climbs.
Ella placed THIRD at Nationals. Holy cow! I got all teary-eye seeing her up on the podium with the other girls, giving them fist bumps and smiling for pictures.
But then there was even more exciting news – Ella received an invitation to be on the US Climbing National Team. Right now, it means that she gets a cool team jacket and automatically qualifies for Nationals next summer. But if she keeps placing on the team, once she’s 13, she’ll get to go to the World Cup, which is held all over the world. This year it’s in Austria. Three big kids from our team are headed to Worlds, the lucky ducks.
They brought out all the National Team members for pictures, and that’s when I really started crying from pride and joy and everything else. There’s my daughter, my baby girl, right there on the front row.