He recently faced his fears and pursued his dream by entering the Ice Climbing World Cup. Here he gives us an honest insight in to his two year journey that culminated in a gripping entry to the competition in Italy.
My long and often painful journey to the World Cup started two years ago when I was looking at pictures of some of the world's best ice climbers in a magazine with a very close friend. He turned to me and asked: Rhys, why can't we do that? I tried to find an answer and for days it turned my head. The honest and true answer came to me and that answer was we can do that! There is nothing to stop anyone reading this article doing what we did and reaching their goals in life. All you need to do is believe.
Extremely new to the competition scene, I never really had anyone to guide me along the way, no one to coach me, so the more I trained the more I learnt. I found solitude in reading books on mental training. Three nights a week I would drive the same mind numbing road to the climbing wall in Aviemore. September came, I felt myself developing and in two months came the Scottish Climbing Masters, I entered, not to win but to understand the mental demands required to perform in front of a crowd. I had learnt a lot those past months, I was changing, not just as a climber as a person. I had nothing to lose, I had extinguished my ego as best I could, I was not climbing for anyone else, I was climbing for myself, my satisfaction.
Some of the biggest names in Scotland entered the competition, I felt small, intimidated and lost in a sea of nothingness. I tried to use this as a disguise in becoming the 'grey man' and remembering I was doing this for me. The echoing sound of the air horn blasted, I would not hear this for four more hours, and in this time I had to push my body harder, dig deeper and burn every last piece of matter my body had to offer in order to even stand a chance of reaching the final. The end horn blasted, what seemed to be the worlds hardest workout was over. My body flopped, thankful for the opportunity to rest. No matter how much I ate or drank, it was not enough to fuel my exhausted body, I had worked hard and I knew it. It was an hour until the finals were announced (although it seemed like five minutes).
I made it! Speechless, I didn't think it possible. I was grateful for the opportunity to get to the final but I was also deflated at having to climb again. The finalists were sent into a quiet room, - 'isolation'. The word alone got my heart thumping. We were called one at a time to the final route, not knowing who was winning. The door opened and eyes fixed on me, it was my turn. A smile from one of the organisers and a quick point upward quickly diverted my eyes to the roof. 15 meters of climbing may seem easy but turn it upside down and that's a different route all together. The hardest thing I had ever attempted was a route called Fast and Furious. Graded D11 it is one of Scotland's finest test pieces. I have had six sessions on that route and completed it with one rest. I only had one shot on this. I set off; hanging 70kg from one arm at a time, swinging bat-like, helpless and upside down. The result? I missed out on becoming Scotland's mixed master by one move. At first this was devastating, but then I realized coming second was a goal and achievement I never thought I would get to see.
My focus turned to Italy, I spent time looking over pictures from the previous world cups so I could prepare my self for what was in store. With a team of six of the UK's most talented mixed climbers, I felt a pressure to perform and not to let anyone down. My ego was hard to control, I remained modest as in the grand scale of things I knew I was nothing. It's human nature to want to be in the lime light, I too wanted this, but I had to constantly punish myself to remain in control and focus on what mattered. It was the final few days to departure when the news struck; three of the major athletes had pulled out. I had looked to them for encouragement and guidance. I was alone now. Being in a country where I knew nothing about the language, nothing about the culture and nothing about the climbing. It was one of the most nerving yet exciting things I have ever done, and slowly I began to find my feet.
Competition day arrived, those same terrifying emotions that I felt in the Scottish Masters flooded back, I felt sick with the prospect of climbing in front of 2000 sets of eyes, yet elated because I had come so far in my short climbing career. The sense of being lost returned to me as I watched the cool faces of the world's best athletes chatting, warming up and most of all remaining in control of their personal mental situation. With the routes over 25 meters high I was in for what would prove to be the hardest 12 minutes of my life. The loud speakers echoed through the valley in Italian, the sound rang through my ears like church bells and amongst it all I heard my name.
I left isolation and paused, trying to compose myself and look in control, but a brave face couldn't hide the fear and knots in my stomach. The sound of cracking ice vibrated through my boots as I made my way to the bottom of the first climb. I looked at the route from below, it was 45 degrees overhanging from the start and it didn't get easier. I placed my axe at the start of the route, the most delicate placement seemed like the biggest thud, my body felt everything and the smallest twitch seemed like the greatest spasm. Thirty seconds in and I was suffering, my arms were pumped, the moves were big, too big for me. I fell, and fell again. I felt angry with myself, an idiot in front of all these people. I smashed my axe against my helmet and told myself to get a grip, I was unaware that in doing this I was slowly killing any chances of nailing the route. I had to relax. I walked to the wall started again. I had come so far, I was determined to have my six minutes.
This was the first of two climbs. With a minute rest, my arms were screaming, crying almost. I could feel the acid destroying everything I had tried to preserve for the next climb. I had warmed up sufficiently, the next climb proved harder but more comfortable. I felt fluid, the moves presented themselves kindly, almost handed on a plate, Then it got harder, I had to work and my axe popped off the hold. The amount of body tension required to climb these kind of routes is immense. You can't afford to move the axe as soon as it is placed. You do – you fall. My arms were numb, I had to hold on. I dug deep and remained static, my body weight held close to the wall. This was a mind game now, I was not going to lose. The pump was too much to ignore and I shrieked as loud as I could and finally - Time Up!
The competition for me was over, I was trashed. I smiled with joy not just because it was over, but because I had just competed in the Ice Climbing World Cup! I had over come injury and set backs, and I had travelled to Italy and given everything I had. The result for me was not coming 49 in the world, but learning about myself along the way. Everyone needs a goal or aspiration to live for, and I have set my focus on the Scottish Masters. I stand true to a quote one of my friends sent to me on competition day:
'You can if you believe'
Rhys is sponsored by www.e-climb.com and trains at the Aviemore indoor climbing wall (www.extreme-dream.com)