The drone of my alarm clock claws its way into my dreams, dragging me out of bed to face a cold, dark wintery morning in Calgary. I see the glowing red clock beam out the time, 5:00am, mocking me as it rests on my bed side table. I stumble out of bed and into the hall, bumping into my younger brother Michael, as he rubs his eyes and mumbles incoherently. A few minutes later, we’re both sitting by the front door, watching the snowflakes drift sleepily to the ground. A set of headlights soon appear down the street, our signal to grab our coats and head out into the cold. The man seated at the wheel turns to us with a grin as we tumble into the car, “Hello Weldon’s, and how are we this morning?” Muffled responses emerge from our sleep rumpled faces as we curl up for a quick nap. Unperturbed, Knut Rokne takes a sip from his steaming mug, a waft of coffee drifting throughout the car, as he peels onto the street.
We head to the Calgary Climbing Centre, where Rokne is head coach for a dedicated team of young climbers. For a number of years, the CCC youth team has trained twice a week in the wee morning hours, and while this may not be the most ideal time to handle twenty or so hormone infused teenagers, Rokne has stepped up to the challenge year after year.
Knut began as a climbing coach almost ten years ago, combining his previous experience as a coach of skiing, badminton and swimming with his passion for climbing. Throughout these years, he has mentored and guided many young climbers, tirelessly pushing his athletes to pursue their goals. With over twenty years of climbing experience and unfailing passion, Knut Rokne is definitely a major driving force behind competitive youth climbing in Canada.
Rokne began climbing in August 1988 after a friend encouraged him to try it out. Honestly admitting that the experience scared him to no end, he nonetheless embraced the sport. Not long afterwards, Knut recounts a memory of his first trad lead, “It was a rolling disaster, and I swore I would never climb again. It was silly, stupid and dangerous.” For many people, these experiences would speak for themselves, and they would soon turn to more tame activities, such as curling or ballroom dancing. But as Rokne himself has been known to say, “If it was easy, it would be called golf”.
A seasoned competitor himself, Knut first stepped up to compete in 1991, at a King and Queen of the Concrete Contest held in the dusty dungeons of the University of Calgary. The wiry Norwegian also made the drive to Salt Lake City numerous times to compete in past PCA competitions. “I used to measure my success in those comps with math: the number of hours driving divided by the number of holds touched. The best I ever did was two hours of driving per each hold. Including start holds. But not including feet.”
Although Rokne has never considered himself to be a particularly exceptional competitor, he nevertheless eagerly passes on his acquired knowledge and experiences to his athletes with a passion rarely matched by any other climbing coach in Canada. His decision to begin coaching stemmed from his experiences with his former competitive swimming coach in high school, Stephan Jarche, whose guidance and wise words have stuck with Knut to this day, “I think that set the ball in motion, and I seemed to gravitate towards the coaching role many years later when I was mature enough to take on the challenge.”
Rokne’s coaching endeavors have reached both national and international levels. Not only does he commit to travelling all over the country to coach at dozens of junior level competitions, but Knut has travelled internationally three time to act as an assistant coach to the Canadian Youth National Team. Each and every year, many of his athletes achieve a place on the national team, a true indication of the amazing coaching abilities of Knut Rokne. The passionate coach radiates positivity as he works tirelessly to motivate and provide his athletes with drills, encouragement, a smile or a shoulder to lean on. “I find that if you treat the kids as equals, and respect them as individuals, they will respond with respect back at you. Once you have a framework of respect, you can move forwards with whatever the challenge is. Coaching or otherwise.”
Rokne consistently goes above and beyond his requirements as a coach to make a positive impact on Canadian climbing. He works alongside David Dornian, the North American representative for the IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing), with issues pertaining to anti-doping in climbing competitions, assisting in answering questions and arranging for testing. Youth climbing competitions always require a lot of manpower and many long hours to be successful. If gyms are short handed for setting or organizing, you can bet your baseball card collection that Knut will be one of the last to leave the gym in the wee hours of the morning, only to return shortly after to spend the entire day with his athletes.
Rokne’s unyielding commitment to the sport of climbing is evident in everything he does, whether it’s stepping up for a good ol’ fashioned climbing competition, running a lap on 5.13 sport and 5.12 trad, or opening up young climbers’ eyes to the potential and beauty of rock climbing. Next time you see the man, no doubt dressed in a button up Hawaiian shirt with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand, and a mischievous grin spread across his face, give his hand a shake. For surely you are shaking the hand of one of the finest and most dedicated coaches in Canadian climbing.