As with anything you set out to do, you start at the bottom, whether you’re learning to speak or play a sport. At one point or another, you were terrible at it. You had no conception of how to go about the task in front of you. You were by all definitions a beginner.
In the learning process, you often look to those who are more advanced than you or even those who have mastered the skill. You can learn just by watching them, or with their guidance. They’re an invaluable resource for you, and along with that comes a degree of respect and sometimes, especially when you’re at the absolute bottom of the totem pole, idolization.
I can vividly remember how it felt to be at the bottom of Canadian competitive climbing. Local events were so exciting. There was a refreshing air of the unknown. A blank slate ready to get marked up. Competition weekend was something to look forward to. I pushed myself with no agenda except to see how far I could go.
A moment that stands out to me from my first season was at a lead competition. I was studying the route I was about to climb when I noticed spectators crowding the opposite end of the gym, where an athlete had just gotten on the wall. My coach came up to me and said, “Come here, Maddie. Come watch the professional rock climber.”
I had never seen a professional athlete before. I walked over to the wall and caught a glimpse of her climbing just as she was ascending above the crowd. My coach told me that she was sponsored by a climbing shoe company, and that she competes in World Cups. I could hear people in the audience talking about her, reminiscing about her accomplishments, eager for her to break new ground on the route.