2016 Best Female V.I. Climber in the U.S.A.

In July 2016 Nicole Sauder flew to Atlanta, Georgia from her home in Illinois. There she competed in the USA Climbing Adaptive Nationals competition for the first time. Her training paid off, and took home the gold medal for the female visual impairment category. With so much success, we HAD to pick her brain on training, competition and why she's not able to represent the USA this year at the International Federation of Sport Climbing Paraclimbing World Championship.

How long have you been climbing? "I've been climbing about 3 years. Leading for a little over a year. And bouldering much more seriously for not quite a year."

Why is the adaptive form of this sport important in this community? "I think adaptive climbing is so important because it makes a really cool sport accessible and available to people who might never thought of trying it. I love seeing kids come it and try climbing who have never tried it before and feel the joy of succeeding. Many sports are hard to adapt for visually impaired people because the rules or way the sport is done needs to change. For most adaptive climbers climbing is one sport that they can do just the same as non disabled climbers, climbing the same routes and bouldering the same problems.

Having adaptive climbing is important to me personally because it helps build community among climbers. It great to go somewhere and not be the only person in the gym who needs to find an adaptation to participate in a sport."

What are 3 things that need to be adherent for this sport to grow and cultivate People With Disabilities successfully?

"Getting the word out about climbing can be hard but it's the only way for it to grow. A lot of people aren't going to just want to readily try a new sport, especially for those of us who haven't always had the best of luck participating in sports. Flyers and emails are great, but word of mouth arms to be the best way to get more people involved.

The wonderful work of volunteer is 200% necessary to keep adaptive climbing available. From belaying and side climbing, to event organization and social media wonderful climbing friends who volunteer their time week after week to help keep accessible climbing programs running and fun!

Also fundraising is vital! Gear isn't cheap!! Especially when it comes to adaptive gear. Without proper gear like the harnesses that we use for seated climbers it can make it hard for adaptive climbers to have the best experience possible."

What are 2 things you have learned this year through your participation in competition? "This was my first year ever competing in climbing comps and with 5 comps under my belt now I've a lot of things I've learned. In my first top top comp I was so nervous I had Elvis leg on my warm up route while in my last comp I was barely nervous at all. This is because I've learned a lot about planning before I climb and also about focusing while I''m climbing. Breathing and not panicking at the crux have been huge for me.

Also I've learned to train for a comp you have to stay focused on training. Not just climbing whatever seems fun. Its important to have endurance days, project days, and definitely not to forget the cross training days yoga, core, campus board, wrist maintenance are all stop important to getting stronger to compete harder. Through all of these things I've gone from projecting 11a less than a year ago to flashing them in comps now."

How does competition grow sport? "I've never been big on competition but in climbing I love going to competitions and meeting new people and cheering on my friends it's so neat to see the different ways everyone may get the same route done as i watch other climbers while waiting in line. Also as an adaptive climber who enjoys competing in local citizens comps, it can help bring more awareness to adaptive climbing among non disabled climbers. "

What are obstacles you faced when competing in this sport? The biggest obstacle for me this year has been the lack of female VI climbers. Winning nationals for female VI women I was very excited to go to worlds in Paris and compete against a larger group of athletes. I was very disappointed to hear my category was cancelled because there were not enough athletes in my category! It makes winning somehow not seem to matter as much since the competition for me ends short of worlds. At the world level disability categories are broken down into smaller groups that here in the states. Unfortunately in a lot of counties women with disabilities are getting out for sports even less than men so its hard to know when the sport will grow big enough so that every eligible person who qualifies to compete at worlds will have the opportunity to do so.

Who inspires you in climbing? I don't really follow the pro climbers to much. But I love meeting new friends at the gym, especially the ones who can climb just a little but harder stuff than I can, and learning as much as I can from them! My friend Ian is my biggest motivator. He's 17 and a recent amputee. When we don't even give it a second thought that I'm twice his age. He's always finding things that will be hard for and then telling me "your going to go climb ______". I know when I hear that I have no choice left but to try what he's asking.

What are your next climbing goals? "I'm a pretty nervous lead climber so I want to get more comfortable leading but it's hard when it's so fun to just go boulder instead. I'm also working on getting better at overhangs...they sure can get pumpy! Finally I really want grow a few more inches because the not short people make a lot problems look way easier than I do."

You can see Nicole week to week training and climbing weekly in the ACG Chicago sessions.