Thursday, September 18, 2014

Day 7: Farewell Gijon, Hello Madrid

Left Gijon today. The shuttle to Oviedo was shared with many other countries’ climbing teams and it made me feel a little strange. I think these kinds of competitions will be things I dabble in; I am never going to get paid to do this stuff, nor promote myself in a way to get funding to spend 35+ hrs/week training, like some paraclimbers.

We arrived in Madrid and went straight to our hotel, which is an 8 minute walk to the Museo del Prado. Doing something completely different reminds me that there is much more to me and my interests than climbing. I finally got to see Goya’s Black Paintings and El Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, which pleased me greatly. The Museo del Prado’s collection of Spanish and Flemish art is outstanding. I didn’t have any expectations, really, but the density and curation of artwork surprised me. Unfortunately, no photography was permitted.

We ended up enjoying a cool Madrid evening with the setting sun over tapas in Plaza Santa Ana.

I could not sleep, due to various physical pains, but also because I was still processing this whole experience. I feel like I had let the pressures of (self) competition interfere with what climbing at this competition should have been about, which is a celebration of how far I have come since my accident. Instead, I let it be some kind of judgment of myself.

I do not like how I let these para-climbing competitions elicit ungracious thoughts in my head, like, comparing levels of disability, or number of competitors/finalists in a given category. I just have to accept that it won’t be a level playing field and it is what it is. I can choose to participate, or not.  I’m thinking I might enter competitions against able-bodied folks, get my ass kicked, but feel good about it.

A friend wrote to me, and I think his words hold some merit:

Wendy, I have been thinking about your happenings and, in a nut shell, my feeling is that you might realize the most satisfaction getting along as a "normal" person rather than defining your life as a champion disabled person. It seems silly that the state of competition is such that people end up arguing how disabled someone is. It also saddens me to see that you would risk permanent injury to your all-important fingers…Most people have problems that impact their day to day lives.  The nature of the problems of course varies..  The challenge seems to me is to adapt to living notwithstanding the problem, not to have the problem defining who you are as a person.”

It is true; I don’t want to be some kind of “champion disabled person”. I feel like the way I inspire people is to put my head down and quietly do my own thing. I have received so many touching messages from friends who have reminded me that my harsh judgment of myself, for finishing 4th in a really strong field at my first international competition reflects that I have the spirit and heart of a champion, regardless of whether I finished 1st or 4th. Every one uniformly agrees that I am being too hard on myself, duh. I thought my accident had made me much more easy-going and kinder to myself; but, as this experience reveals, this is not always the case. I sometimes wonder if my accident has made me more empathic, but perhaps less sympathetic to other people.

Sometimes I think my introspection is a tremendous curse. It makes me ponder and wonder about many things, that I should perhaps just let go of and just let be. On the other hand, I like to think there is tremendous value to all additional memory that goes towards all this processing.

I hope the injuries acquired are lesser than the strength and insight gained.

Thank you for following this brief episode in my life. I am looking forward to the next piece of news to share.

Gijon: Day 7 - Restaurant Auga

After the disappointment of not medalling on Saturday, I felt like I was not worthy of a Michelin star meal, but Scott insisted that we should have at least one really amazing meal on this trip and celebrate a rather lovely week in a rather lovely place. I agreed and we managed to get a lunchtime reservation at Restaurant Auga, located near the marina in Gijon.

Now, I really enjoy good food but I am in no way a food-blogger. But, I’ll go ahead and post pictures from our meal. The pictures are in order of service. I managed to eat every thing; you can fit a lot into a small package.  The food and service were excellent, and the atmosphere was refined but unpretentious. I think this restaurant is bordering/in the 2-star realm.

I certainly can’t eat like this all the time and will need to de-blerch when I get back to the States. I think I have consumed more queso in the last week than I have in the last year. I especially like the slightly dry and crumbly Asturian blue cheese with membrillo.

Gijon - Day 6: Finals Day

I apologize for the delay in posting. I am writing this a few days after the fact and am still processing this whole experience. As always, these things make me (re)evaluate the choices I make, why I choose to prioritize certain things over others, and why things make me feel the way I do.

There was a natural break between the top-4 women in my category and the remaining women; so I’m glad us top four made it to the Finals. I really did not know what to expect in terms of route-setting. I imagined it might be something long and steep, but with fairly large holds. We entered isolation around 3pm, and were not allowed to view the route till 6.45pm. My heart sank as I viewed the route they had given my category. It was probably the most boring route; it went straight up and was simply a how-small-a-hold can you hold on to kind of route. My broken fingers were silently weeping. It also meant I had to pogo up the route a lot, with holds stacked on top of another, as opposed to moving side to side with both legs, possibly. 

On the Finals route - I had trouble controlling the large flesh coloured lie-back hold

Finals Route - smallest holds and probably the most boring

In the end, one hold separated me from 3rd place, and 3 holds separated 4th place (me) and 1st place.  My first instinct/reaction is to apologize for not being able to get the job done and come back with a medal. I guess having the separation between us be so small is a good thing, because I know I am just as strong, if not stronger than these women, and can place/win if I am uninjured. But being so close also makes me think if I only I had it in me to gut out one more hold, or if I had read the large lie-backy hold that I ended up falling on better, I could have placed. In the end, it’s kind of stupid to replay these things in my head. I know this is a learning experience and a stepping-stone towards a medal, if I choose to compete in these indoor comps. I am a bit more familiar with the kinds of holds they use in Europe, which prior to this competition, were completely alien to me. They tend to be smaller, but more positive; deceptive, and harder to pick out what kind of hold it will be from the ground, but perhaps that will come with more experience.

A friend wrote to me, saying that I was still early in my development of my new climbing style; I guess there is some truth to that. I do know there is a ton of room for improvement, which motivates me.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Gijon: Day 5 - Rest day

Friday was a rest day before Finals on Saturday. It was a rather lazy, uneventful day, involving walking to Cimavilla, eating (no exaggeration) about a pound of bonito (tuna) and pan, followed by more sweets from the nearby pasteleria (carbo-loading, right?); I was glad to have some slightly fatty tuna in me as I waded into the slightly chilly water at Playa de San Lorenzo. It was pretty nice to be able to sun-bathe and walk around topless without anyone giving you a second look. I do appreciate what seems to be a greater comfort with one's body here, than in the U.S., say.

The format for tomorrow is (all times GMT +2):

1500: Isolation opens
1545: Isolation closes. All competitors must be in isolation before this time otherwise they will be disqualified.
1645: Route viewing
1700: Climbing begins for the Paraclimbing Masters categories (categories which had four or less competitors)
1900: My category climbs a bit after this (although there will probably be delays)
2100: Award ceremony

Trying not to throw up. I wish I were better at effectively translating nerves into stoke. It's weird, because that is a skill that comes with practice and I've had lots of practice with other competitive sports prior to my accident. But, for some reason, I don't have this confidence in myself right now. I know I should see this as a celebration of how far I have come since my accident, and a pretty big achievement given the magnitude of the accident and how I have only been indoor-climbing less than a year. But I still feel tremendous pressure (from myself) to medal because I know I am pretty strong and capable of doing so. I think the biggest let-down will be if I did not climb to the best of my abilities.

The IFSC Paraclimbing Finals can be viewed live here:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Gijon: Day 4 - Qualifying Day

Writing this one day later, so I might not capture all the emotions and events of yesterday.

I was scheduled to be in the first group to climb at 9am, and also the second climber, so after a fitful night of sleep, chugging many espressos, and forcing down a bit of food, we made our way over to the Palacio des Desportes early in the morning to give me time to warm-up. As I was walking over, I wondered to myself why do I even do these things when they just make me feel so nervous and, frankly, not very good.

The warm-up wall was good and I was able to work up a little sweat before cooling down again. The format of qualifiers was a flash-format, so we were able to watch an official climb the route on video in the warm-up area beforehand. Still, the setting style and holds are quite different here so I did not know what to expect.

There are a lot of very strong women in my category (Neurological and Physical Disability A - Category A is more "able-bodied" than Category B, but there is a lot of debate over how the paraclimbers are assessed, how disabilities in different parts of the body are weighted, etc. I would argue that it isn't quite fair. I saw women in my category who has less function than women in Category B, myself included. But, whatever, it's not like it is the Olympics or a professional event). It was a bit intimidating but also really cool to see strong women similar to myself. One Italian climber in particular, has muscular dystrophy and a very weak left leg as a result, so it was neat to see someone climb like me and pogo up routes, flag her left leg a lot etc.

I climbed nervously and hurriedly for my first qualifying route. No tricky holds; the route was probably a 5.10+ just for length and steepness. It was enough to top out and put me along four women for a four-way tie for first place going into the second qualifying route:!comp=1501&cat=121&route=0

Blast-off. They had two ropes attached to us so that we wouldn't take too big a swing out if we fell.
Mid-route, Qualifying Route 1
Very strong and tall Italian climber in my category

My second qualifying route was scheduled to be climbed starting at noon, but the entire schedule was shifted by 5 hrs. I had just finished warming up for the second time when the announcement was made, so it was a bit untimely. The team got a lazy lunch but I was still anxious because I was in the first category to climb again. Walking to and from the venue, warming up again...felt like ground-hog day.

The second route made me nervous because I knew it was a lot harder (5.12) and I just didn't have a good idea about what the holds would be like because the holds they use here are really quite different to anything I have seen in the U.S. I saw other women in my category fall off anywhere from 25-75% of the way up the route, but what worried me were these sections where a left foot would be key/useful. Again, I did not climb as well as I could have. I think the biggest thing was nerves and tunnel vision. I did not use my rests to scope out the moves ahead, like I usually do. So, need to remember to breathe, relax and climb smart.

Near the start of the second qualifying route

Higher up. Making the transition to the left from that volume to the next one up and left of it was hard for me because I just didn't stay calm and read the route well and figure out where to put my right foot.

In any case, I ascended high enough on this route to make it to Finals (top 4) on Saturday. The finals will be broadcast via live-feed, so if you have nothing better to do this Saturday 1500 hr (GMT +2), you can watch it here:

Using my rest day to let the broken bits of me calm down a bit. Super nervous, still, but glad to be here.

My internet connection is horribly slow, but I will post pictures of the other paraclimbers at some point. I had never seen a lot of visually-impaired climbers climb and seeing their stamina as they hang out and reach around for holds was incredible. As was seeing some upper-body amputees missing entire arms (and even collarbones) use their incredible core-strength to stick to a wall. Quite a few of the lower-limb amputees choose to climb without their prosthetic and just pogo up the wall. Very impressive, and shows me just how much stronger I can get.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Gijon: Day 3

After waking up to find that my fingers were not able to bend, I decided that climbing today was not the best idea. So we slept in, had a lazy breakfast and then strolled over to watch some of the qualifiers for the Men's Lead competition. As always, it was very impressive to see the ease with which some of these climbers ascend these hard, long routes.

Seeing how tall and somewhat overhanging the routes are makes me very nervous about my strength and stamina. I am also a bit bummed I am one of the first climbers, meaning I won't have as much time to read the routes and see other climbers climb it before me many times.

Start list and running order:!comp=1501&cat=121

Not excited about climbing first (NPD 1 - Women) and having a 3 hour wait between climbs.
Anyway, it is all nerves and I'm just bitching I guess. I also don't know how they decided which routes each of the categories will climb. I am guessing Route A is the hardest and D is the easiest, but that is just a guess. I really hope to at least put in a good showing and make it up most of the way up the routes, but I am guessing that will not be the case for Route A :-(

We took a gentle stroll around another peninsula/headland, which offered rather lovely views of Cimavilla and San Lorenzo beach. The coastline and geography is very North Atlantic, which is quite foreign to me.


View of Playa de San Lorenzo

Also, Spanish public park equipment is pretty awesome:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gijon: Day 2

A rather eventful, but relaxing, day. We made our first trip to the training "facility" made available to competitors. The bus ride over reminded me of what civilized public transportation is and it was cool to travel the length of the town and check out a slightly different part of it. We passed the Playa de Poninete and after going to the wrong municipal gym (because there was a 2014 IFSC World Championships sign hanging in the front window), were directed to the correct venue, the Pabellon de Deportes Mata-Jove. It is a totally bare-bones facility; you need your own ropes and draws to put up routes. But it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and I warmed up on some easy leads and TR's. My main objective was to loosen things up without causing further injury to my fingers or foot.

We returned via the same bus line but got off near the Cimavilla, a promontory jutting out, fairly close to the older part of town where we had had our Sunday meal (Plaza Mayor). Up until now, I had thought Gijon was nice enough, but nothing to write home about (besides the food). The lovely weather, azure shade of blue of the water and rather lovely views of the main beach and headlands changed my mind.

Plaza del Marques near Cimavilla
Headlands in distance

Elogio del Horizonte

A rather lovely shade of blue

The main beach, Playa de San Lorenzo

Here is a picture of the training facility. Like I said, it is rather "rustic". But I actually enjoyed the little features on the surface, and was able to lead some easy routes despite the broken fingers, so that made me feel better about getting back on long, steep jug-hauls on lead when I return to my regular climbing gym.

We had a delicious lunch of seared bonito and some fried papas, followed by a stop at what seemed like a pretty famous/major Pasteleria. It is a good (or bad) thing I love all things almonds, because a lot of the sweets are made from almendra.

Hard-core training food
It also appears that the start-lists are up. I am in one of the most competitive categories (strongest climbers and most number of climbers). The IFSC decided to call categories that had fewer than 4 climbers "Paraclimbing Masters" :!type=starters&comp=1604

And categories with more than 4 climbers "Paraclimbing World Championship":!type=starters&comp=1501

There appear to be some really strong women in my category. If I weren't totally broken every where, I would be psyched to have such strong competition. Now I am just nervous and feeling bad about climbing poorly.

Competition wall. Not sure what part of the wall I'll be climbing, but I will be nervous.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Gijon: Day 1

Even though we arrived in Gijon yesterday afternoon, I am going to count today as Day 1.

Upon arrival to Logan Airport, Boston, we found that Iberia Airline's baggage handling system was down. This resulted in a 2 hour delay while they manually checked in every ones bags. One bonus was receiving an upgrade to business class, which helped my leg and back immensely (my left leg and foot swells up a lot on long flights due to the poor circulation in it). Madrid's airport has some cool architectural features, but I found it to be poorly organized. We eventually got on our internal flight to Gijon, and saw many other climbers and climbing officials on the same flight.

We managed to check out the older part of town (Plaza Mayor area) and were blown away by the food. Even the most casual restaurants served up amazing Asturian fare. I am trying not to completely blerch out before the comp. We were caught in a torrential downpour yesterday (sans appropriate clothing) so waited out the weather with pulpo de gallegas and an amazing flan made with the local apple cider.

After a scrumptious buffet breakfast (I really dig having fresh tomatoes, garlic, cheeses and breads alongside other fare) we made our way over to the Palacio de Deportes for athlete registration and medical exams. The wait for both was long, especially the latter. I was examined by a medical official and I was surprised by how close to the Neuro A and B boundary I was. I was assigned a numeric score (1.37) - I have no idea how they arrived at this final number - and 1.40 is the cut-off between the categories. This means I will be competing in Neuro A (more able-bodied).

I am all official now.

Trying to keep off my broken foot. Opening ceremony tonight. More later.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Radio silence and departure for Spain, tomorrow!

Well, I am departing for the IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) World Championships in Gijon, Spain tomorrow. There probably should be a lot of exclamation marks and excitement, but injuries have really gotten me down. As usual, I've been questioning my involvement with Paraclimbing and intensive indoor-climbing training. I received a wonderful card from my best friend, Cathy, reminding me that while I might not think of this as being a big accomplishment, it is something that is pretty cool and something most people would not get to do, so I should document my experience, at least.

I'll start off my summarizing my shit-show of injuries. Turns out that BOTH middle fingers are broken, partial tear to the collateral ligament on my left finger. I was aware of one of the injured middle fingers prior to Nationals in Atlanta in July, but only found out about the other middle finger in August - says something about my tolerance for pain. So I was doing very little climbing, trying to keep up conditioning of the core and other parts of my body, but I had/have lost all my finger and hand/grip/contact strength.

Last weekend, I returned from a great weekend of trad climbing at North Conway, NH. I was teaching a friend the finer points of trad, and did all the leading because he was not confident in his gear placement abilities (it is funny, because he climbs 5.11's on sport routes). My right foot was achy after the weekend, but I didn't think too much of it until I tried to climb on it on Tuesday. Then, an explosion of pain erupted. I frantically sought medical advice the following day, which turned out to be pretty useless. The X-rays did not show any obvious broken bones, but it did not rule out a possible stress fracture. I need to wait till I get in and see the podiatrist and get an MRI to ascertain whether that is what I have or not. However, after internet self-diagnosis, I am almost certain I have a stress fracture in my fifth metatarsal. This is probably not a huge surprise given all the cranking and work my right foot does, and the odd positions it often assumes. I am taking massive doses of anti-inflammatories and comically taping myself.

All this has left me less than enthused and public about my training (or lack thereof) in the run-up to the World Paraclimbing Championships. I am even more bummed/worried that I will not be able to spend time in the Valley at the end of Sept-early October as planned, which reflects what is really important to me about climbing - trad (or aid) climbing with wonderful people outside.

So, yeah, I know I am being a total sour-puss about all this. I am trying to adopt the, go have fun and be inspired by others attitude, but as you have probably ascertained, not performing at my best (far far from it), really gets me down. The competitor in me wants to win or at least medal, but the realist in me knows that this is unlikely given my injuries. It is also hard to take this kind of competition too seriously when there is such huge variability in peoples' disabilities and the competition in each category. For example, my category (Women's Neuro) usually has the most number of competitors (and there is a huge variability in how limited we are, physically), whereas some categories, like Womens Lower Limb or Upper Limb may have only 3-4 competitors.

It would be interesting to learn more about training challenges faced by other paraclimbers. I only know about my experiences and limitations to train. For example, I know going forward, I really have to avoid too much volume and too much crimping because my fingers really work so much harder to compensate for my left-leg.

It is also interesting to observe the different paraclimbers' attitudes towards this competition. For some paraclimbers, this is a once in a lifetime event, possibly due to uncertainties about how their physical condition could degenerate (e.g. Muscular Dystrophy), or financial reasons. For me, I feel like I'll still be able to climb/be around for the next Paraclimbing World Cup in two years time (Paris!) One paraclimber went so far as to tattoo the logo of USA Climbing on his thigh!

I am trying to keep a long-term view of all this and remind myself that if I am careful about how I treat and rest these injuries, these could be but small pebbles in a long climbing career. But this whole experience highlights just how much of a gaping hole is in my life when I can't climb, and it makes me feel like a dumb, one-dimensional meat-head jock who has not evolved.