My brother Trevor and I have always been competitive. As little children, we’d place somewhere in the middle of the pack in schoolyard races from this fence to that one, but we’d come back after school and try to push the time down. If he shaved off two seconds, I’d shave off three.
Two years ago, I was the better climber. I was stronger, more natural, and willing to commit to moves he wasn’t. We’d just gotten serious about this new sport and I was in the lead; the way things were moving, it didn’t seem like he would catch up. Then, in an accident that shook the climbing world to its core, I took a bad fall while buildering and broke my right arm and wrist in a few places. I spent three months during my freshman year in college anchored to the ground with a cast, unable to climb anything other than the ladder to my bed. Trevor took this injury to his advantage— he worked his ass off for three months and built up his strength and technique, and lost all his fear. I’ve been trying to catch up ever since.
A week and a half ago, we hosted the first ever Erskine College climbing competition, for which Trevor, our friend Rob, and I set the routes. The night before the comp, as we finished forerunning and tweaking, we decided we needed something hard. Something impossible, for people to look at and maybe waste a little bit of time on, but definitely not climb. T and I set it with Teknik screw-ons and a handful of old pinches and crimps, up the negative, then shook our heads and walked away.
After the comp, the battle was on. T and I worked the route together, crafting alternate beta and belaying each other for thirty minute stretches as we screamed our way up half an inch before collapsing back on the rope. I cracked a sequence that had been troubling us, and could do these new moves much more consistently than Trevor could. For the first time in a long time, it looked as though I would get the first ascent before he did.
This evening, we went down to the wall for club. I worked the moves for a while, trying to link the more difficult sections after the tough sit-start. I was getting closer, and thought I could maybe send the route before the end of the week, if I didn’t obliterate my fingers tonight.
Then Trevor tied in. He did the start, hopped up to the good foot, readjusted his hand on the crimp, lunged out for the pinch, and then— as he was bringing his foot up— slid off the wall. I lowered him, he chalked up, and sat down to try it again. This time he readjusted his grip on the pinch before lifting his foot. After that, he continued to the top and got the FA.
It’s funny how much we’re affected by our competition with those around us. Sometimes T and I are never working the same route at the same time; other times, like these past few weeks, we’re grappling to the last. As I lowered him from his successful climb, I wondered whether I’d still want the route as bad as I did before. Thirty minutes later, I’d set a boulder route that mirrored the moves of the upper section.
We, in the gym and in our everyday lives, sometimes need competition to fuel us. It’s how we perform at our best. With someone to push us, we’re so much more willing to go the extra mile, do the extra push up, write that extra paragraph instead of putting our feet up and pulling up Netflix.
The important part is keeping the psyche after the competition has run its course. If we only define ourselves through the achievements of others, we’ll never live to our fullest. No one respects the climber who only repeats other people’s routes; eventually you have to go find your own. T may have gotten the FA, but I’ll still try to send ‘La Mariposa Chica’ by the end of the week. And if I don’t get it by then, I guess I’ll just keep trying.