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What it’s like to be a pro comp climber in Canada

October 25, 2019

Found in Activities, Community news, Stories

We’ve always wanted to know what it takes to compete in this sport, so we took a group of Canada’s strongest climbers through a rigorous Q&A session. Read on to get a taste of everything, from prepping for comps and the future of Canadian climbing to recovery tips and how to keep your climbing shoes from stinking.

Our crew of crushers included:

  • Sean McColl: World Champion climber, future Olympian
  • Tosh Sherkat: MEC Climbing Ambassador
  • Cat Carkner: Youth Olympics athlete and MEC Ambassador
  • Lucas Uchida: Canadian National Team Member and MEC Ambassador
  • Allison Vest: Canadian National Team Member
Climbing Escalade Canada

All these athletes are part ofClimbing Escalade Canada, the not-for-profit group that promotes Canada’s competition climbing community and oversees comps. Through MEC All Out (our community program), MEC is the CEC’sfounding partner, and we’re excited to support the development of young climbers in our country.

1. Climbing at the Olympics combines three disciplines: speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing. What do you think of this format?

I was heavily involved with the format of combined for Tokyo 2020. As the IOC only gave the IFSC one set of medals, the combined of all three disciplines made perfect sense. For the 2024 Games, speed has been proposed to be split apart. The goal of the IFSC was always to have at least three set of medals for our original three disciplines of speed, lead and boulder. – Sean McColl

Sean McColl at the 2019 IFSC Climbing World Championships in Japan

2. What’s your favourite discipline to compete in?

Bouldering. A big part of that is due to the atmosphere at the competitions. There’s an electric energy at a good bouldering comp that’s just so fun to climb in. It’s more fast-paced and less mentally taxing. – Cat Carkner

I have always been split between lead and bouldering. I like having to adapt to different scenarios and using my mind to problem solve and execute. I find the mental components of lead and bouldering really interesting. – Lucas Uchida

Cat Carkner at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games

3. What does a typical week of training look like?

It depends on what phase of training I’m in. For the most part, I train five to six days a week, for three to six hours per day. A day can have any combination of: warmup, hanging, campusing, bouldering skills, circuits, lead climbing, cardio, stretching, mobility, recovery exercises. On average, this means anywhere from 15 to 30 hours per week. – Sean McColl

I won’t give you all my secrets, but a typical week involves a lot of work on the components of climbing, rather than just climbing. I usually spend two to three days focusing on the strength components and two to three days focusing on technical skills. – Tosh Sherkat

Training varies depending on the season. If it’s lead season, I spend a lot of time going round and round on circuit walls. If it’s bouldering season, I get as much variety in styles of climbing as I possibly can. – Allison Vest

A typical week involves five days being in the gym climbing. Among those five days are two days of strength training. There’s a lot of climbing involved. – Lucas Uchida

4. How do you mentally prepare for a comp?

The same way I do before every competition: think of how much time I spent training to get there, and enjoying the process of being able to represent my country. – Sean McColl

I like to spend some time before imagining the sensations I might feel competing. Kind of a mental rehearsal of all the feelings I might have and how I would deal with them. – Lucas Uchida

Lucas Uchida getting ready for a competition

5. What’s it like to compete in front of a crowd?

It may sound weird to some people, but I love it. I have always loved it. Maybe it’s because I am a bit of a drama queen, but I have always fed on the energy of a large crowd and allowed it to build me up while I am competing. – Allison Vest

Fun, thrilling, and exciting. The bigger the crowd the better! – Sean McColl

I like it. I’m not totally sure why, but I know that when the clock is running down; I want to do the climb, and the crowd wants me to do the climb and it just feels very wholesome. – Tosh Sherkat

6. How important is it to you to be a mentor to the next generation of Canadian climbers?

To be a mentor, especially to Canadians, is one of my ultimate goals. I know that eventually I will stop competing, but if knowledge can be passed on repeatedly, then the program will continue to thrive. – Sean McColl

To me, it is one of the most important things. Obviously as an athlete I want to succeed and reach my goals, but the development of climbing in Canada in general is also extremely important. I was lucky enough to have role models and mentors growing up and if I can make a difference to even just one kid, that would be super cool. Across the boards, our youth team is psyched, kind, and passionate. The future looks bright. – Allison Vest

I have worked as a coach for a competitive youth team for the last two years. I spend a lot of time with them and find it important to be a part of the next generation. – Lucas Uchida

7. What’s your favourite part of the team Canada comp jerseys?

The white, the red, and the pride I feel while wearing it. – Sean McColl

The speckled “CANADA” side panels. So slick. – Allison Vest

This is the first time we have had a jersey made from scratch specifically for the team. For me it represents a big step in the right direction. – Lucas Uchida

Sean McColl Olympic jersey design with MEC Label designers

8. Who do you look to for inspiration?

I really admire climbers who have used their influence to advocate for positive change, like Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell. On a pure admiration basis, I’m a big fangirl for Janja Garnbret and Akiyo Noguchi. – Cat Carkner

Sonnie Trotter. He was my coach when I was 15, and he displays such an unbridled love for the sport and for his own stoke! The IFSC livestream is also a huge inspiration. I obsessively watch world cups, and try to replicate the movements in my own training. – Tosh Sherkat

9. Top tips to recover after an intense comp or training sesh?

Active recovery, and then rest. Many kids don’t know how to properly rest anymore, it’s weird. – Sean McColl

Epson salt baths are the waaaaaaay. – Tosh Sherkat

Tosh Sherkat training

10. As a competitive climber you travel a lot. What’s your favourite place you’ve competed?

Japan was one of the coolest places I’ve gotten to visit. I like the culture, the food, and the Japanese are very respectful like Canadians. – Sean McColl

Vail is always fun because you are competing in the mountains and are surrounded by an outdoor sport culture. Wujiang is a favourite of mine because of how different China is from home and how the competition venue and accommodation are right next to each other. Creates a bit of a community even if it’s just for the event. – Allison Vest

11. Best travel hack when you’re on the road?

Eye mask for sleeping. I am super light sensitive so when I am travelling (or when I am at home) I always make sure to bring my eye mask. I usually even pack an extra in case something happens to the first one. Crucial beta. – Allison Vest

12. What’s the best way to clean climbing shoes?

I sprinkle some baby powder in them everyday. During comps I lay out a foot towel under the boulder so I can wipe off excess chalk from the mat. – Cat Carkner

I shove chalk up my nose. There’s no cure for my stinky-shoes. – Tosh Sherkat

13. Last one: how do you stay motivated?

The next competition. – Sean McColl

Reflecting on my goals and on how far I’ve come keeps me motivated. As long as I’m psyched for more, I feel like I’m doing the right thing. – Allison Vest

Want to know more about comp climbing in Canada?

Check out the CEC – they’re doing a lot behind the scenes to amp up climbing as an organized sport.

“The CEC is working hard to grow climbing all over Canada,” says Joachim Stroink from the CEC Board. “We’re expanding our competition series by adding regionals. We’re also connecting more with gyms and coaches, investing in high-performance programs and working to build out long-term athlete and coach development guidelines.”

“Seeing climbing at Olympics will be huge,” he continues. “It builds awareness in the general population about climbing and makes it seem much more accessible. It’s great for attracting new athletes, building and even stronger base of next-generation climbers, and making everyone proud of our sport and the community we belong to.”

Top photo: Allison Vest at the 2019 Worlds in Japan.

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