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.”
Raboutou had taken spring semester off from her studies at the University of San Diego to ready for this summer, and says she was frustrated with Tokyo being pushed back by a year, though says what keeps her “sane and focused” is that “everyone is going through this.”
Antsy one evening in late March, Raboutou had the idea to make an obstacle course at home and post a video to her social media, hoping it would inspire others to try it, too. “It got a great reaction,” Raboutou said. To date, she’s posted three such videos, garnering nearly a million views on her Instagram, not to mention the “Ellen” fame, too.
“I’ve climbed around my house all my life, especially when I was little,” she said. “I always take the harder path up, instead of using the stairs. … I have so many favorite things about climbing. It’s a lifelong sport, it’s a lifestyle. I plan on climbing until I’m 100.”
While (during normal times) Raboutou would make trips to Salt Lake City to work with USA Climbing coaches Josh Larson and Meg Coyne and Colorado Springs, Colorado, to utilize the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee facilities and staff, Raboutou has built-in coaches in her parents at home. She recently brought on brother Shawn as a coach, too.
Robyn, her mom, started ABC Kids Climbing as the first kids-only gym in the Boulder area (or the world, says the gym’s website), and it’s where Brooke learned to climb. In her rise up the junior and international ranks, she represented Team ABC Boulder.
Colin Duffy, who has also qualified to climb at the Tokyo Games, is from the same team. Raboutou and Duffy are joined by Nathaniel Coleman and Kyra Condie as the four Americans due to climb at the inaugural Olympic Games for their sport. The U.S. is one of three countries to qualify the maximum four athletes.
While climbing has been a family affair, so has the making of her popular at-home climbing videos, which have involved her parents in the planning and filming. “’You have to light the fire!’ my dad said about the one over the fireplace,” Brooke laughed. “They’re helping me with ideas, too.”
“In my career, they have been so impactful… beyond words,” she said. “I was born into climbing. I don’t know what I would do without them.”
And now the internet doesn’t know what it would do without Raboutou’s genius climbing videos. While she can’t wait to show a broader audience at home what she can do in Tokyo, she has one piece of advice if you, indeed, would like to try her climbing videos at home: “If you do it be careful,” she said. “Make sure you have padding. Don’t break anything! And make sure your parents are OK with it.”
Working Out At Home With Brooke Raboutou
Raboutou said she’s climbing two days on, then taking a rest day “off,” which is usually when she runs. A run for her is generally 20-30 minutes, she said, and outside in beautiful Boulder.
What else is she up to?
–Get outside and get active, Raboutou said. And make sure if you need to socially distance or where a mask, you should.
–“I’m stretching a lot, it’s a great past time.” Her advice is to leave your yoga mat out and stretch as many times a day as you can. “I do it while watching TV or if I’m on FaceTime with a friend. It helps me maintain my mobility.”
–Then it’s all about the core: “I do a lot of core. I like to switch it up.” Raboutou said she’ll look up a short ab routine online, something around 10 minutes. For something quick and intense, she does: 20 V-Ups, 30 bicycle crunches, 45 seconds of hollow body hold. Repeat that three times.
–And climbing—a lot of climbing. But remember: “If you do it be careful. Make sure you have padding.”