Feature | Sport Climbing

Kyra Condie, the U.S. sport climbing star making an impact on and off the wall

Top climber is using her platform to speak out and raise awareness

By ZK Goh ·

Kyra Condie had it all planned out.

The American sport climber would qualify for the Olympics – being one of the first athletes from her country to do so in her sport – and break down in tears, hug her parents, and post an "I worked so hard for this" photo to Instagram.

"That's basically exactly, to the tee, what happened," the 24-year-old laughs while recounting her experience on latest episode of the Olympic Channel's talk show The Corner.

Condie became the second American woman to book a spot to the sport's Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 when she did so at the Olympic Qualifying Event in France last December. That has given her a platform to talk about other things, like social justice and her work in the community.

But her career could have ended 10 years ago before it even really began.

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Back surgery as a teen

Condie began climbing from an early age, disturbing her mother during book-reading sessions.

"She'd be reading to me and my brother when we were little, and I'd be crawling up and around the couch, just be on top of things and upside down," the climber, who grew up in Minnesota, recalls. "I always loved climbing trees."

That early interest graduated into proper wall climbing for sport when she turned 11. But barely a year later everything came crashing down after the young athlete started suffering pain in her back.

"I started to get a lot of back pain and I just thought it was normal. I just thought, 'I can deal with this' and I didn't tell anybody until it got quite bad."

The diagnosis? Scoliosis – a curvature of the spine. Doctors initially told her family she would have no future in climbing; they eventually found a surgeon who was willing to let her resume her sporting career after surgery to fuse together vertebrae in her back.

Olympic qualification

Fast forward nine and a half years – Condie was now in Toulouse, France, hoping to join Brooke Raboutou on the American sport climbing Olympic team.

The story of that tournament was captured in the Olympic Channel series Road to Tokyo: Sport Climbing - The Qualifier Stories.

"Before that event, I was so nervous. I've never been so nervous in my entire life, I couldn't sleep the entire week," Condie reflects.

"All these situations – good, bad, and medium – had gone through my head as far as how I would react to each one."

She made it, and had her moment with her parents that found its way to Instagram. Condie acknowledges the larger picture of what her qualification means for young climbers, too.

"Having [climbing] in the Olympics will just introduce it to such a larger demographic, which I think is going to be really awesome and is something I've always dreamed of for climbing.

"This is something I would have looked up to … if I had had it as a kid. We had World Cup athletes to look up to, for sure, but never the Olympics."

Speaking out

The exposure as an Olympian-to-be in a new Olympic sport has had its effect away from the climbing wall, too, allowing her voice to be amplified.

Although Condie now lives in Utah, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent protests struck close to home for her as a native Minnesotan. She made the decision to speak out about social and racial inequalities on social media.

"As athletes, we are public figures, and the way we can really contribute to society other than hopefully inspiring others is by also speaking out against injustices and things that we are passionate about. It's our duty as people who have a big platform to try and do everything we can to help."

Condie also spent time with refugee women climbing natural formations in the wild as part of the Olympic Channel's Inspired by Sport series.

"That was a really great experience. I'm trying to stay involved with the organisation as much as possible, I made pretty good friends with the people who run that, and hopefully I will run some clinics with them eventually."

This young star has already made a big impact off the wall. Now Tokyo 2020 awaits.

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(Top photo: Jeffrey Swinger/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)