*Editors Note* Since this article was written, Kyra and climbing as a sport have made their way to the 2021 Summer Olympics. Please check out USA Climbing’s website to learn how Kyra and the rest of Team USA performed at the Olympics.
Kyra Condie has always been a good student. She always found enjoyment in balancing her school work with competitive rock climbing, beginning at age 11, then through college while climbing for Team USA on the World Cup circuit. But she did get one particular assignment slightly wrong. For a high school project detailing future plans, Kyra noted her Olympic debut for 2024, having no idea if her sport would ever even make it into the Olympics. As it turns out, her calculation was slightly off, though. Sport climbing will debut at the 2021Olympics, and Kyra will be there representing Team USA.
If you ask Kyra what it feels like to be one of the first two females ever to represent the United States in sport climbing, she’ll tell you it feels kinda normal. Her success in climbing has compounded over the years, to the point where it doesn’t feel unusual at all. The path to get here though, to become one of the first two female rock climbers to represent the country, well, that was more complicated. It came with a few snags, one major surgery, and learning how to love problem solving.
It’s not typical for a 12-year-old to complain of constant back pain. By then, Kyra was well situated on her local gym’s climbing team and a hindering pain deserved attention. When she went to the doctor to find the cause, X-rays showed a 70-degree curve in her spine, indicating severe idiopathic scoliosis. The doctor recommended surgery and told her climbing would never be part of her life again.
Less than pleased with the idea of giving up climbing, Kyra went for a second opinion. Again, surgery would be necessary, including the fusing of 10 of her vertebrae, but this doctor felt that once healed, Kyra could definitely continue climbing.
The climbing gym happened to be about five minutes away from the hospital where Kyra underwent surgery, making it convenient for coaches and teammates to come visit during her recovery. Kyra was discharged from the hospital on a Tuesday night – team practice night at the gym.So, she did what any dedicated team member would do; she went directly to practice, still in her robe. She didn’t climb that night, of course, but the anticipation of getting back on the wall was enough to immediately lure her back.
In her four months of recovery, Kyra took a break from her regular schedule of school, climbing practice, homework, dinner, and repeat. “I took the opportunity to do stuff that I wouldn’t have normally done like sit by a pool every day with my friends, normal teenage girl stuff,” she said. “I kind of got it out of my system. As soon as I was able to climb again, I realized I wanted to focus on that rather than normal teenage girl stuff.”
Climbing with fused vertebrae means Kyra’s back doesn’t bend in the way a non-fused back does. But this is where Kyra has become an expert on problem solving, adapting to climb in ways that allow her to send, regardless of the metal in her spine.
“Sometimes it’s really disheartening because I feel like I can’t find my beta fast enough,” Kyra said. “There’s almost always a way that I can do it, it’s just not always extremely obvious. It’s a little bit more frustrating and I don’t enjoy problem solving my back aspect as much. It’s definitely a unique challenge, and I feel good about how much I’ve been working on it”
Kyra’s problem solving training spans her life on and off the wall. On rest days it comes in the form of jigsaw puzzles, mastering Mario Kart or solving logic puzzles. On the wall, it’s working out the best strategy using her body, individual climbing style, strengths and weaknesses to send, which is something Kyra finds especially appealing about the sport.
“There’s no other sport where you have to do something, evaluate it and then retry it,” Kyra pointed out. “In other sports you can reevaluate after the game but you’re never in the thick of things having to evaluate. Climbing is definitely a different sport in that way.”
Kyra’s training days have been significantly altered since qualifying for the Olympics in December, 2019. She moved to Salt Lake City, Utah in the beginning of 2020 to be near the freshly opened Team USA training center. Not only does she now train regularly with teammates on comp-style problems, she has consistent coaching from head coach Josh Larson, something she’d never experienced before.
“We work together well and it’s been so helpful,” Kyra said. “It’s also super nice to have somebody who’s in my corner, knowing he wants the best for me. I’ve really never had coaches at events before so there was never somebody who was wanting me to do my best, other than my parents, of course.”
Punching her ticket to the 2020 Olympics was ideal timing in Kyra’s life. She graduated from college in 2018 and spent 2019 training hard and dominating the World Cup circuit, rounding out the year with Olympic qualification. “My thought was, ‘Oh this lines up quite nicely with my life,’” Kyra said. “I’m gonna graduate college and then still have a whole year focused on training. This actually worked out really well for me!”
Her scheduled timeline was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until summer 2021. Like all hurdles in the way of Kyra’s success, she took the new timeline in stride, focusing on the positive aspects of gaining an extra year of training with her teammates and coaches. Her perspective is that it’s quite the honor to be preparing for the Olympics for so long. So few athletes get this opportunity, and she’s not wasting time dwelling on things she can’t change, but rather relishing in the anticipation and preparation for her most exciting competition yet.
Back in high school, Kyra got the date of her Olympic debut wrong, but her prediction wasn’t far off. While we may not all be able to support Kyra in-person during her Tokyo Olympics performance, we’ll sure be cheering her on. With sweaty hands sitting on the edge of our makeshift crash-pad couches, we’ll be rooting for our problem solver.