Capturing all categories of the Paraclimbing Championship was both incredible and inspirational. I watched athletes get out of their wheelchairs and set down braces to climb harder routes than I’ve ascended. Athletes dynoed to holds with their one hand, and toed in with their one leg. But despite being inspired and challenged by all the athletes' performances there was one portion of the competition that stood out through the silence of the crowd.
You can expect silence during a prayer at a place of worship, or during exams, or the few moments after a conductor taps their baton on a music stand to call the orchestra to attention before their opening notes. But silence during the championship of a sporting event? Imagine the vast noise during a hail-mary during the closing moments of the Super Bowl, or the eruption of sound on a walk-off hit in the World Series, or the cheers of fans during an ice hockey brawl. Yet, at the Paraclimbing Championships, silence is exactly what you encounter during the finals.
The viewers hear the sounds of clinking quickdraws and rope brushing the wall, while visually-impaired climbers listen intently through an in-ear radio to receive beta for their every move upward. Below them, their “callers” speak quickly and clearly, instructing their partners of the direction of the next hold, how it might feel, and how to prepare for that movement.
Those familiar with competition style climbing know that preceding finals, competitors have the opportunity to come and view the wall. The climbers stand below their routes or problems, mimicking movements, walking to the base of the wall to better view the holds and imagine how best to control each movement. The visually-impaired category has the same opportunity.
The athletes come in before their turn to climb and each team prepares for the route in semi-similar fashions. Callers lead athletes through the route in detail, some describing the route using only words, others guiding their partner’s hands through the air in motions similar to the movements the route will require of the athletes.
Before beginning, the MC of the event asks for all those in attendance to remain silent while there are athletes on the wall, which is a lot to ask of a thousand or so fans who are psyched to watch climbing finals. The occasional yelp or cheer escapes, but is quickly swallowed by silence once again.
In the silence, every movement seems to be exaggerated. Facial expressions appear to show even more evidence of effort put forth. Fingers and toes miss holds by inches, as the climbers come closer, and sometimes further, from the hold they’re attempting to reach. And when the final climber finishes, falling at the highest point thus far, securing first place, he waves at the crowd enthusiastically, and the crowd surges with a roar that surpasses all of the silence.
Ever-learning husband, climber, and photographer, from alabama to colorado to scotland