(Photo above by Rafal Andronowski)

When you come up with a plan of action, whether in your head or maybe on paper, seeing it, reading it, thinking about it is one thing…but doing it…now there’s where the future of your actions are decided.  Executing “the” game plan no matter the level of importance–from a to do list on your day off or to the extreme of how your going to win in a competition; execution is execution.  If you have a hard time “finishing” at the little things, executing a manageable plan, than how are you going to execute, or finish, something of a bigger nature.  Good question. Think about that for a minute.

I’ve been on this 6 month training plan that started in July.  Part of the plan was to compete in several competitions before the world cups so that i could sort through my plan of attack.  The idea was to practice certain tools that I had learned/been given, so that when it came down to game time…I’d be an unstoppable force.  Enter Korea.  After 4 months of dedicated training I found myself in Korea, preparing for the Korean National competition. A good friend of mine made sure that i would be entered into the comp (logistically those were some big strings to pull as i’m not korean and it was a Korean national comp–good thing he’s the world champ…and korean).  4 months of practice, training mentally and physically, this was a great opportunity to climb against talented athletes on a world cup-like structure.

20131117_161717_resizedAfter several days of training I found myself in isolation.  I was scared, nervous, feeling unprepared and out of place.  I felt rushed, vulnerable…it was as if i didn’t even want to be there.  This mindset, it was all wrong.  Enter the high stress and panic.  There were two qualifier routes and after both–my climbing was sub-standard.  It felt like my first time competing 4 or 5 years ago.  I was filled with disappointment from all the energy, hard work and time i had put into this season.  Needless to say it was not a good start.  Before the finals had begun, the judges asked me if i wanted to still climb in the finals.  They said because i had traveled so far, that it would be good to climb again.  Although it felt like a pitty offer, i accepted as it was an opportunity to climb on a finals route. In the end, if my score had of counted, i would have placed 7th.  I climbed pretty good in the finals, but likely because the pressure was far less than if it would have actually counted.


The result in korea was not good.  I had failed to put into action the tools that i had learned, leaving me in question of what i was doing.  Boom…the moment that could make or break you.  Enter a phone call from home: “Your brother has broken his back”.  Instantly my mind set was filled with emotion.  I had just finished a disappointing competition and now bad news from home.  My head was spinning.

Going home to Ontario did so much more for me than what i could have expected.  Seeing my younger brother battle through a broken back, witnessing his courageous efforts to not let that injury beat him…it was inspiring to say the least.  But being at home, it offered me a lot of quiet time too, peace of mind to be with my family, my parents and brothers, my grandma, and even seeing some old friends.  It calmed me…allowing me to think more clearly, removing the emotion to stare at the simple facts: I was born for competition…and the previous results in korea…they didn’t matter, in fact…that trip…there was actually a lot of good that came from it.  No, things didn’t go as planned, but that entire trip was to sort out the “plan”, to see what worked and what didn’t work.  That trip was to “create the plan” and from it…I realized a ton…from it…I realized “the plan”.

When i got home from Korea/Ontario I needed to practice all the mental toughness I had learned.  It’s so easy to get down on yourself when things don’t go to plan.  I get nervous, question things, lose focus, and fill my head with doubt.  But you know what’s rad? I now believe in so much more than “results” or any other negative thought that tries to weasel its way in.  Last year, Gadd (Will) looked at me clear in the eyes and told me that i was meant for this (competition).  FOr the last year I’ve been working with a sports psychologist to unlock those very words.  For years I had struggled mentally.  But now…now something seems to be different.

Enter Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival: The North American Championships.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but when faced with moments of choice, simply bend around the obstacle and stay the course.  Change is inevitable. It’s going to happen.  So when you “go for it”, don’t be surprised by said change, but merely go with it, or alter to remain focused on the end result.  And when i say “stay the course”, what i mean by that is keep focused on the goal.  And what’s the goal? As my sports psychologist said: Just fuckin’ do it.

If you create a plan and you accomplish the plan–well than there’s nothing to be upset about.  Obviously my goal is to be on the podium.  But, that’s not necessarily the plan.  My plan has begun to change.  I’m starting to see that my plan or goal is more so about being in the moment, climbing my best…flow state: moving without any mind; not perfection…but aspiring to perfection.  The “result” that comes with that…doesn’t really matter so much.  But the feeling of knowing that you performed at your best in that moment…to me…that’s like winning.

The Bozeman ice festival is such a rad time.  There’s so many amazing people, whether athletes from around the world, sponsors, organizers, volunteers…everyone there makes up an experience that keeps you wanting to come back.  Everyone is psyched, everyone is encouraging, and everyone tries hard.  You couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere.  And the competition…”The North American Championships”, talk about electric.  The talent meter was through the roof and the buzz of the crowd with every competitor trying their best reflected that “electric storm”.

Going into a competition you always want to attack with your ideal performance state.  Climb at your potential and the rest is noise.  That was the goal, to climb at my potential.  In fact, that’s always been the true goal.  Unfortunately I was sick (still sick) going into the comp…but I kept hearing, “don’t let that be an excuse”.  And those voices were right.  It didn’t matter if i had one hand tied behind my back (although that would have been a real challenge lol), my mindset was focused on one thing: Just fuckin’ do it.  Those words, they circled every thought coming into my head.  Like a flock of crows circling fresh road kill on the side of the highway, those words were there…and they weren’t leaving.

Ben Herndon Photo

Clip, clip, and clip.  The first round of qualifiers…I floated up the wall without hesitation, clipping the chains in a fast fashion.  The second round of qualifiers, again…clipping the chains in good form.  (there was a discrepancy of whether or not i “matched tools” in time on the final hold, but that didn’t matter, it was still a solid climb and well good enough for a spot in the finals).  And then came the third round.  The finals round.

4hrs in isolation.  It was long, tiring, loud and mentally straining.  But it was different than iso’s before.  This time my tools were in place, my distractions were organized.  My mental state was stronger than ever, my mind was relaxed…and i was ready.  The day before I spoke with adam (sports psychologist) and he kept saying, “Just fuckin’ do it”.  Those words rung through my head the entire time i sat in that chair in isolation…right up to tying in at the base of the competition wall.

As the crowd started cheering louder and louder, I could feel their energy jolting through my body.  Hanging upside down I found myself two moves away from the final hold.  I was pumped.  From the moment I left the ground, I climbed well, very well, to this point: The moment of truth–”Just fuckin’ do it”, those words again, right in front me.  The crowd screaming louder still.  I clipped the final draw, moved my axe to the second last hold but was stuck…hog tied in fact.  My crampon was wrapped around the rope…tightly. I couldn’t move.  That was it.

Not making that last hold was the difference of a potential podium spot.  4th place was where i stood.  And i gotta tell ya, i’m damn proud of that.  Not winning, or even being on the podium doesn’t upset me nor do i feel disappointed.  Yes sure, i would have loved to nab a higher spot…but the goals that i had set out, to climb to my potential, to climb without hesitation, to not think just do…i accomplished those.  So to me, that’s like winning.  Results don’t matter, they are what they are.  What matters is your personal performance.  I recently read that “FUN” can sometimes be described as executing a well thought out plan, things coming together if you will.  Again, job done.  Looking back at the video, of course there’s things i can still do better…there always will be, but when you have a moment like i did, surfing through the climb in the final round, going across that overhanging boom, the crowd cheering, your friends screaming encouragements, there’s nothing like it…podium or not.

Huge congrats to my friends Will Gadd and Will Mayo for such strong efforts.  Seeing them match tools on the final hold…wow…it was wicked.  And the young Janez Svoljšak, 20 of Slovenia, the winner of the Men’s Lead…he crushed.  No other words to describe that.  To Sarah Hueniken who stepped into “the ring” and crushed, coming in a very solid 3rd place.  For all my other competitor friends for being bold in their climbs, for doing their best and loving every moment of it.  It’s so fun to watch your friends climb well, Will Gadd, Will Mayo, Aaron Montgomery, Marc Beverly, Nate Kutcher, Malcolm Kent, Jen Olson, Steph Maureau, Kendra Stritch, Sam Elias, Whit…my man Whit Magro (love ya buddy), Angelika Reiner, Andres Marin, gosh, i could i guess just list the entire starting list.  But, “I’m running out of room here”, so…if i didn’t mention your name, know that i was there…cheering you on. And congrats.  OH, and let’s not forget about the man of the moment, Pavel Dobrinsky…the russian crusher who set the comp routes.  Thanks buddy for everything.  Joe Josephson…for your amazing event…good work my friend.  All the photographers…keep crushin’ the solid pics (Jason, Ben, Raf, Doc).

I’m grateful for this competition.  I’m grateful for all the learning I endure.  I’m grateful for the particular voices I could single out throughout the roar of the crowd, red lining upside down on the comp structure (you know who you are…and thank you…as your voices made all the difference).  I’m grateful for the amazing people I get to hang out with at festivals like the Bozeman Ice Festival.  I’m grateful for the constant support of my family, friends, and fellow competitors, for sponsors who continue to support me with what I need to train and climb at my best.  I’m grateful for Adam (sports psychologist) who’s unlocking my mental potential.  I’m grateful for my good friend Travis that stuck by my side throughout the entirety of the Bozeman Ice fest, cheering me on, supporting me–he was definitely a voice i could hear amongst the crowd.  I love what i do, where i get to go, and the challenges i face.  I love climbing and all the opportunities it offers me.

Bozeman was a great start to my competitive season.  I’ve worked hard towards this season…and to get a good result certainly gets me even more fired up about the next round…World cup competitions.  Stay tuned on that..as it’s going to be one heck of a ride.

(Photo above at top of page by Rafal Andronowski)