Rachel Schroeder sat on the safety mat with her legs crossed, staring up at the 4.5-metre tall bouldering wall as she clapped the excess chalk off her hands.
Her first attempt at the last route in the final round had failed. Rachel was only two holds away from reaching the top, but a wrong hand placement had forced her to let go. The timer buzzed again, which meant Rachel had only one minute left to conquer the wall.
Still, while the crowd standing outside the competition area were anxiously waiting for Rachel to make her second attempt, the climber herself looked surprisingly calm.
With a determined look in her eyes, Rachel got up and started climbing again. This time, she was more dynamic but still just as meticulous.
Her steadiness paid off – she made it to the top quickly and turned around with a big smile, because not only did she manage to set her hands on the top rock, she also clinched the Under-15 Girls’ champion trophy at the Hong Kong Interschool Bouldering Competition.
Speaking to Young Post at the competition last Saturday, the 13-year-old said that although she may have appeared calm, she had butterflies in her stomach throughout the final round, especially after she failed her first try.
When asked why she did not make another attempt immediately like other young climbers did, Rachel said it is important she give herself time to rest and rethink her strategy.
“I felt very nervous as the clock was ticking. But if you keep pushing without taking a short break or changing your approach, you’re just wasting time,” she said.
The King George V School student said it is helpful to speak to fellow contestants about their strategies, but she prefers to come up with her own tactics, even if they seem weird to others.
“One of the reasons I love bouldering is because I make my own decisions. You can choose your own strategy, as long as it works,” she said.
While Rachel enjoys the fact bouldering is an individual sport, she said she doesn’t mind the support she gets from the crowds during competitions. During the preliminary round, the audience can also shout tips aloud to competitors, which adds a bit of a teamwork element to the sport.
Since bouldering is quite a young sport in the city, organisers often hold competitions at shopping malls to gain more publicity for the sport. Rachel, who has been climbing for almost eight years, has grown accustomed to competing in bustling malls.
Even so, she admits the pressure from the crowd watching can still get to her. “It stresses me out to think about what people expect me to do. Seeing my competitors reach the top also makes me want to get there too,” said Rachel. “All I can do is make sure I calm myself down before I climb.”
To calm her nerves, Rachel does a lot of stretching exercises and paints a mental picture of how the competition will go down. She normally does this during the isolation period, where athletes gather in an area while organisers set up new routes.
The Year Nine student is already a member of the national training team, and has represented the city at multiple overseas tournaments. But rather than setting sights on becoming the next Asian champion or world champion, Rachel said she just wants to improve gradually out of her genuine love for the sport.
“I like climbing because I really enjoy doing the sport, not so I can win any titles,” she said. “I won’t turn the sport into my career, but perhaps coach the sport occasionally in the future.”