Gnarly athlete Allison Vest went through a normal routine every morning before preschool. Get dressed, pack a backpack for the day with a lunch, water bottle, snack, maybe a raincoat. Ready to walk out the door, she had one last task to attend to – her parents needed to tape her hands. Finally, Allison was ready for another day of preschool and conquering her one passion: the monkey bars.
Coming home from preschool with bloody and blistered hands from the playground jungle gym is how Allison began her lifelong enthusiasm for rock climbing. At age 5, Allison’s dad took her to a climbing gym. By 9, Allison had moved to Canada and joined her local gym’s climbing team. Today, Allison is a member of the Climbing Escalade Canada (CEC) National Team. In 2018 and again in 2020, she was the Canadian National Bouldering Champ. In 2019, she was Canada’s Lead Climbing champion.
Competition is part of Allison’s DNA; she thrives on testing her abilities. Climbing for Team Canada at international competitions stokes this competitiveness. “I’ll be the first one to admit it, whether it’s board games or a sport, I’ve always been really competitive,” she said. “I think comp climbing is a way for me to channel that and feel like it’s okay to be competitive.
But Allison’s closest friends are now fellow climbers, her competition. Her greatest rivals are also her best friends. Of course Allison wants to win. But she also hopes her fellow competitors and friends succeed. While it would be natural to see this as a dilemma, Allison doesn’t mind.
“Almost my entire friend group now is based around climbing and people who are technically supposed to be my rivals when I’m competing,” she said. “Obviously the goal, as an athlete, is to win. But whenever I’m competing against people, it always feels like I want to win because I’ve performed the best, not because anybody I’m competing against performed badly. Everybody is always hoping for the best for each other.”
Allison finds that this camaraderie in competition is unique to sport climbing. As climbing enters a new level of global recognition in its debut at the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo, Allison hopes the world takes notice of how supportive and friendly competitors are with each other, not just on their respective teams but across the entire climbing roster. “I hope that the camaraderie is never lost in the sport because I do think it’s something that is special and unique, and something that has shaped me into the person I am today are the relationships I’ve made during competitions.”
At times, talking to Allison about her experience and successes in comp climbing feels like she’s talking about a backpacking trip with friends. Her smiles and laughter shape her stories of traveling the globe and competing in climbing at the highest level with rivals who are also her best friends. Her trips to China, Japan and Qatar are not only team building, they’re a chance to grow as a person. “It’s all about learning to be comfortable with discomfort because you really feel like you’re out of your element,” she said of competing abroad.
Allison has found a delicate balance between fierce competition and the desire to give it her all. But off the wall she’s a loyal supporter of everyone standing between her and the podium. Just like climbing is a combination of precise aggression and grace, Allison is a combination of true grit and genuinely wishing the best for everyone she’s competing against.
August of 2019 was Allison’s first chance to qualify for the Olympics at the World Championships in Hachioji, Japan. “For bouldering in particular, I was feeling stronger and more prepared than I think I ever have been for competition,” she said. “I thought it was going to be one of the best comps I was ever going to have because I felt so strong. Then I had one of the worst results. It was a hard pill to swallow.”
Stepping off the plane from Japan, Allison went to Squamish, British Columbia to work on a climbing problem she had left unfinished in the spring as her focus shifted to qualifying for the Olympics. With the disappointing finish in Hachioji, Allison was determined to climb The Terminator, a V13 boulder problem.
She worked on piecing together The Terminator for just five days. Still dealing with jetlag, Allison sent it, becoming the first Canadian female on record to climb a V13. “When the motivation strikes, you gotta go with it,” said Allison.
Months of training for the World Championship did pay off, just not in the way Allison has initially envisioned. She is stoked on the send, though she plays it off a bit. Perhaps, Allison is more excited about what she’s seeing in her fellow Canadian female climbers:
“Especially for the girls in Canada right now, there’s a lot of momentum picking up and camaraderie there. They are supporting each other and getting really strong. I think we’re only going to see more and more hard sends coming from the girls in Canada in the next few years.”
With The Terminator in her pocket, she’s centered on continuing this momentum with an eye on the 2024 Olympics. The format of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2021 includes Speed, Bouldering, and Lead—a trifecta that Allison isn’t crazy about. The 2024 Olympics will pull speed into its own discipline, leaving Allison to focus on her preferences of bouldering and lead climbing.
Off the wall, Allison has become known for her lighthearted and hilarious Instagram content. But on the wall, she can instantly switch into powerful focus, strength and precision. As she continues to train, she’s following her motto of “have fun, try hard, be kind,” a statement we stand behind here at Gnarly, as we stand with Allison in all her future climbs.