Getting a Grip
Ahead of climbing’s Olympic debut this summer, American Kyra Condie explains her love of the wall.
The photos Kyra Condie posted on Instagram on November 30 last year perfectly capture an athlete’s elation at qualifying for the Olympic Games.
The three snapshots of a tearful Condie hugging her parents are accompanied by a simple message: “I have no words. I worked so hard for this. TOKYO 2020!!”
Another image, taken nearly a decade before, makes the 23-year-old American’s achievement at that sport climbing qualifier in Toulouse, France, even more remarkable.
It’s an X-ray of Condie’s torso that shows a spine shaped like a meandering river. Its serpentine appearance is due to idiopathic scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that often develops during puberty. When Condie’s condition was diagnosed in 2009, the curve was 55 degrees, severe enough to require a spinal fusion.
But the first doctor she visited was less concerned about a teenager’s hobby.
“The doctor told me that it would be nine months until I could climb again and that climbing wasn’t very important, that one day I would have a family and I shouldn’t worry about sports,” Condie recalls.
The next orthopedic surgeon she saw in her hometown of Saint Paul, Minnesota, said he would fuse fewer vertebrae (10) and have her back straining every sinew on the overhanging bouldering wall at her local gym in four months.
“He instilled a ton of confidence and told me to send him a picture of me on top of the podium,” Condie says.
Two years after the 2010 surgery to correct the then 72-degree curve, Condie did just that. The photo was from her triumph at the national youth bouldering championships.
“I definitely wanted to prove that first guy wrong,” she says. “And I think that’s still true.”
Despite having two metal rods along her spine, Condie has continued to defy the odds.
The last two years have seen the University of Minnesota grad grow as a climber. She racked up wins on the national bouldering circuit, made it to the finals of two bouldering world cups and finished first in the combined final event at 2018’s Pan-American Championships.
“More recently, as I have competed at a higher level and tried to do more climbs outside, I find more moves that I have a little more trouble with, but there is almost always a way around it, which you can look at as a challenge,” she says of her restricted mobility.
Now based in Salt Lake City, home to USA Climbing’s brand-new training center, Condie is preparing for Tokyo and the sport’s Olympic debut.
While a specialist in bouldering, where athletes climb as many fixed routes on a 4-meter-high wall as they can in four minutes, she will also compete in the other two mandatory disciplines of speed climbing, in which two climbers race one another up a 12-meter wall, and lead climbing, which requires athletes to climb as high as they can in six minutes.
“Obviously, medals are the thing you go for at the Olympics,” Condie says of this summer’s test, “and I’ll definitely try as hard as I can to advance to the finals and then hopefully get a medal.”
That would be a moment worthy of a photograph for a Minnesota doctor.
The Club will serve as USA House, the hospitality house for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, for the duration of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Words: Nick Jones
Image: Daniel Gajda