With much of the nation staying at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic the past couple of months, it wouldn’t be unusual to hear a friend tell you over a Zoom or FaceTime call, “I’m climbing the walls over here by being inside all day.”
Yet, if that friend was Brooke Raboutou, the first rock climber in the U.S. to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, she would mean quite literally climbing the walls. In fact, the 19-year-old Boulder, Colorado, resident has taken to climbing around her entire house.
Anything she can get her hands—and feet—on, really.
“I’ve never been so grateful (to) have a little climbing wall in my basement,” Raboutou told TeamUSA.org in a phone interview. “I’ve been making the most of time at home by using that wall, and other resources in the house. It’s a very different style of training than I would be doing at the gym.”
In the midst of her at-home training, Raboutou has posted a series of videos on her Instagram showing her climbing around the house, from the kitchen counter to cupboards, along the wall and up and down the stairs. Even over a fireplace, which—for dramatic effect—was lit, of course.
The videos have made her an internet sensation, and also landed her on a recent episode of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
When daredevil star Johnny Knoxville posted Raboutou’s climbing on his Instagram, her phone started filling up with alerts. She saw that actress Jennifer Aniston had watched (and liked) the video. “Which was kind of the highlight of my life,” she said, laughing.
The announcement that climbing would be added to the Olympic program starting in Tokyo came in 2016, when Raboutou was only 15. “My reaction was like, ‘Whoa, this is so crazy, so cool.’ (But) I wasn’t really thinking about myself. I was only thinking about how great it was to grow the sport. Maybe I was thinking about 2024 or later?”
But it was at the IFSC Climbing World Championships last August where Brooke would turn a dream for 2024 into more immediate reality. She placed high enough there to secure her Tokyo spot, making her the first American climber ever to qualify for the Games.
“It was a roller coaster,” Raboutou said. “I went into shock when I found out (at worlds). It’s taken until now for it to really sink in.”
Climbing is in Raboutou’s blood, with both of her parents, Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou and Didier Raboutou, being internationally acclaimed climbers in their day, and her older brother Shawn, 22, accomplished in outdoor bouldering himself.
Brooke began climbing at age 7, and before she was a teenager, she was already the holder of world records and headlines blaring her to be “the next big thing” for the sport. But also in that span was a Christmas gift that is paying dividends a decade later: The basement wall her dad surprised Brooke and Shawn with in 2010.
“I’m so lucky to have my wall so I’m able to train, even if it’s different. Sometimes different is good,” said Raboutou. “All the gyms are closed in Colorado. The last time I was on a gym wall was in the U.K., in (the middle of March). Most of the climbers, we’ve had a month away from the wall, and that is crazy for me. I’ve never spent more than three days (away) in my life.”
Armed with her at-home wall and the nooks, crannies and cervices of her parents’ Boulder digs, Raboutou is keeping things fresh for her training during this time. She’s mixed in runs (“I haven’t been much of a runner in the past”), core workouts, hangboard exercises (which builds her arm and shoulder muscles), and a lot of yoga and stretching.
“I don’t feel like I’m losing strength or anything,” she said. “I’ve been making the most of it. It’s a very different style of training than I would be doing if gyms were open, though.”Continue reading
Under normal circumstances, sport climber Colin Duffy practices with Team ABC in Boulder, Colo., three times per week after his 10th-grade classes let out. He returns to the facility on the weekends for more time in the gym, and he occasionally climbs outdoors.
But just a few weeks after the 16-year-old secured the final climbing spot on the U.S. Olympic team with his March 1 performance at the Pan American Championships, the novel coronavirus pandemic upended his usual training regiment, closing gyms.
So now he’s confined to his home, and the nine-foot wall surrounded by mats and a mattress in his family’s basement is the new incubator for his dreams of Tokyo, where sport climbing will make its debut.
“I think I’ll look back at March, and just the craziness of it all will really stick out,” said Duffy, whose schoolwork and upcoming Advanced Placement exams have migrated online.
Athletes such as Duffy who have qualified for the 2020 Games will keep their spots, so he sees this as an extra year to grow and improve. For now, he maintains his muscle memory and finger strength on the wall his family added to the basement about five years ago. The wall has a few small panels with changing angles, which makes it a bit awkward, but Duffy still gets in workouts about four or five times per week.
“I try to follow as close to a routine as I would if I was at my home gym,” he said.
Duffy starts by warming up his fingers and body, beginning with simple movements and holds. He then works through specific drills — hanging with one arm or one-arm pullups, again starting with large holds, called jugs, and then progressing to more difficult ones. On a small hold, he’ll just try to hang as long as he can to improve his strength.
Duffy creates sequences in his head and then performs them on the wall. He can change and reset the holds, so even the small wall presents endless possibilities. Duffy works on his endurance by doing circuits, climbing up and down to simulate what it would feel like to hang for an extended period.
“The mental aspect of competitions is a lot different than just climbing outdoors or just a session at the gym, so keeping the mind strong during this time is also really important,” Duffy said. “Competitions have that extra level of pressure and stress that can’t really be replicated when just training.”
These days, with his favored Denver Nuggets sidelined and NCAA tournaments cancelled, climbing whiz kid Colin Duffy spends much of his free time testing his skill with Rubik’s cube algorithms.
As most of us know, finding the fastest ways to get to six solid colored sides in the 3D puzzle isn’t as easy as it looks. A clockwise turn here, a half-turn counter-clockwise there, a double rotation and — you’re often right back where you started.
Kind of like what sometimes happens when climbers try to conquer a bouldering wall with the fewest attempts, in the shortest time possible.
“It seems simple, but there are a lot of intricacies that really make climbing a super-unique sport,” Duffy said. “It’s part solving a puzzle in your mind, and part physical.”
The high school sophomore from Broomfield, Colorado, put all the pieces together at the 2020 IFSC Pan-American Championships last month in Los Angeles, winning a gold medal and a ticket to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where climbing will make its Olympic debut. Postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Games are now scheduled to begin July 23, 2021.
In a grueling, week-long contest of three climbing events — speed, bouldering and lead — Duffy conquered a bad cold, food poisoning at his hotel and a slow start in the unpredictable speed rounds to win his favorite event, lead, and with it the title. He joined three USA Climbing members already qualified for Tokyo: Nathaniel Coleman, Kyra Condie and Brooke Raboutou.
Those four all earned their quotas by name, meaning their status will not be affected by the Games’ postponement. The U.S. has earned the maximum four Olympic quotas for the sport.
At just 16, Duffy is the youngest member of the climbing squad. The Pan-Am Championships was his first international senior event.
“I’ve been youth climbing for the majority of my career, but the last year I really made my way slowly into competing at adult competitions,” Duffy said. “While this was really my first big international adult event, I’ve been doing U.S. events around the country this year, to prepare for competition with all of the older people.”
Older people? You mean all those senior citizens in their early 20s?
“Well, older compared to me,” he laughed. “It’s definitely a shock to me. I’ve pretty much gone from my name being big in the youth world, to all of a sudden now being in the Olympics.”
There’s little doubt climbing greatness was predicted for Duffy; he’s just ascending the peak a little early. As a 10-time youth national champion, as well as a two-time youth world champion in the lead event, his eye was on the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Now that he’s won his way on to the Tokyo team, he’s determined to make the most of the chance.
“I had not been on the adult circuit a long time, so I’d say the Olympics became a dream at the start of the year, when I was able to qualify for Pan-Am,” he said. “But it wasn’t until recently I understood I would be able to be a part of the Olympics. … Qualifying and having the chance to represent Team USA means more than I can ever put into words.”