Kyra's Olympic goal

Kyra Condie | 27 November, 2019

Kyra Condie’s introduction to climbing was through a birthday party held at a climbing wall, aged 11. However, not long after this in 2010 she underwent spinal fusion surgery to correct a 70° ’S’ curve in her back.

Fast forward to January 2019 and Kyra emerges victorious after competing in the USA Climbing’s Combined Invitational event in Salt Lake. She continued this run of good form with her best ever results in the Lead World Cups, finishing 14th in Kranj and Inzai. Finishing 15th in the Combined World Cup ranking she guaranteed her invite to the Toulouse Olympic qualifying event taking place 28th Nov–1st Dec.

Below, she recounts overcoming idiopathic scoliosis and the journey that led to this important milestone in her climbing career.

“Sitting at my computer I opened up my browser and logged onto Facebook. I started scrolling through my feed and did a double take. Did I read that right? I scrolled a little further and saw the same post again. And again. And again.

'Climbing is to be included in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo'

In 2013, competitive climbers finally thought climbing was going to make the cut as a 2020 Olympic sport, only to be rejected by the International Olympic Committee. At that point, many of us gave up hope, thinking the next chance would be in 2024. Skip ahead to 2016, and me speechless, staring at my computer screen and realising a dream I never really knew I had was becoming a very real possibility.

At that point, I hadn’t yet performed well on the international level, as an adult or as a youth climber. When I started climbing I was definitely naturally gifted, but I wasn’t the best. I wasn’t sending V11 off the couch or instantly winning national competitions, but I grew up in a competitive family that loved board games, card games, and jigsaw puzzles—you name it and we made it into a competition (yes, you can win at a jigsaw puzzle). So as soon as I joined the local climbing team and started going to competitions, I was hooked.

In my first year competing I made it to the Youth Bouldering National Championships and placed last in the finals round—like I said, I was not naturally the best. After watching the other amazing climbers in the country and watching the Open National Championships finals, I set my goals: I wanted to win the Youth Nationals.

I spent a lot of my time in middle school doodling podiums and finals routes in my school calendar and notebooks, imagining what it would be like to finish a climb in front of a huge crowd. My first national competition was in 2009 when I was 12-years-old, but at the end of that year I was diagnosed with severe, idiopathic scoliosis that subsequently required a 10-vertebrae fusion.

Before spinal fusion surgery with the obvious  's' curve.
Before spinal fusion surgery with the obvious 's' curve.
And after spinal fusion surgery.
And after spinal fusion surgery.

My first doctor told me I’d need to take nearly a year off climbing and when I burst into tears, he consoled me by telling me, “climbing isn’t that important” and that one day I’d have a family and “this will seem like nothing.” At that point, I knew I needed to find another doctor, and eventually found one who told me that I’d only need to take four months off climbing and that I should send him a photo when I was standing on top of the podium.

Five years later, at the 2014 Youth National Championships, I climbed a perfect round in the final, flashing all three boulders, and found myself standing on top of the podium, just as my surgeon told me I could. I’ll always remember sealing the envelope with the podium photo enclosed and mailing it to him.

To most people, competing in the Olympics may seem like an obvious dream for a young athlete, but to be honest it never really crossed my mind, simply because climbing wasn’t included in the Games and I never thought it would be. My goals were always centred on national competitions, Youth World Championships, and then, once I aged out of youth competitions, the adult World Cup circuit.

The inclusion of climbing in the 2020 Olympics changed everything for me. The timing of the Games couldn’t be more perfect: if things went to plan I would be graduating from university in 2018, leaving me two years to focus completely on climbing and training. However, the culture of climbing where I grew up in Minnesota threatened to hold me back. It was very much a “try hard, but don’t let anyone know you care” type of culture. I didn’t want to own the fact I was insanely excited about the news of climbing being included in the Games or that it was my goal to qualify. But still, I changed my training plan, tried to eat better, included strength training and stretching into my daily routine, put my head down and went to work.

© Alexander Zoltai
© Alexander Zoltai

Now it’s 2019, the Olympic qualifying year. 2018 was my most successful year on the World Cup circuit. I made two Bouldering World Cup finals and ended the year ranked 16th in the world for women’s bouldering. Heading into 2019 I knew what my goals were, but still hadn’t really owned the fact that I was going to try my hardest to qualify for the Olympics. Not because of fear of failure, but because I was worried that it wasn’t ‘cool’ to want something that badly. Since then, I’ve realised that’s wrong. It’s really freaking cool to give something your all, especially alongside a group of inspiring athletes from around the world who are doing the same thing.

Training to compete in all three disciplines, sport, speed, and bouldering, is definitely no small task. I’ve found myself panicking a few times about whether I’m training the right things or whether I’m getting too focused on one discipline to the detriment of another.

Bouldering is definitely my main focus, but I’ve luckily always enjoyed speed climbing, which is the discipline that differs most significantly from the other two. One of the biggest challenges I face in the 2019 season is that my training space in Minnesota, though amazing for training bouldering and sport climbing, doesn’t have a speed wall. In fact, there’s not an official speed wall within six hours drive of where I live. My plan is to continue training bouldering and sport climbing for as long as I can in Minnesota and hope that any power and power endurance I build from bouldering will also help my speed climbing [Ed: Kyra has recently relocated to Salt Lake].

There are three chances for American climbers to secure one of the 20 female and 20 male spots in the Games. The first method of qualification is through the World Championships. If you don’t qualify at World Champs, you can be invited to the Toulouse event in November, based on your performance at the 2019 World Cups. Then, if there are still quota spots for the U.S.A. up for grabs (there will be a maximum of two female and two male Olympians competing for any one country), the last method of qualification will be to win the Pan-American Olympic qualifying event in Los Angeles in early 2020.

The qualification pathway definitely isn’t easy. I’ve pushed back grad school, outdoor climbing trips and a social life in order to train as hard as I can, but it’s beyond exciting to experience first-hand this new chapter in competitive climbing and giving it everything."