The conclusion of this year’s international season gives time to pause and reflect on Team Canada and their athletes. This last year saw some exceptional feats of strength from many of the country’s best competitors. They each stepped outside in the absence of competition.
Ontario’s Lucas Uchida is not new to outdoor climbing, but this last year saw a tear unlike most any other. Last year, the competitor entered in on the Niagara Glen. In a session, Uchida completed The Punt, Bruce Lee, Young Thugs, and Phoenix from the Ashes. Each of these problems secured a grade of V12, excluding Alex Megos’s Phoenix from the Ashes which goes at V13.
These problems fell alongside Kaito Watanabe’s Karasu V12, Ethan Salvo’s Rite of Passage V12, and Rite of Passage Low V13/14. Upon reflection Uchida laughed. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. Gyms were closed, and I needed something to keep me motivated.”
With the pandemic concluding the World Cup season, as well as the stopping of all competitions across Canada, Uchida lost motivation. At the beginning of the pandemic, he took a break from climbing.
Looking back on that time, Uchida mentioned it was the right call. “At the start, there was a lot of information thrown around. It was hard to figure out if I could climb and what I could do. I took time off because of that, but also it has been a lot of years of competing. I undervalued the importance of taking time off.”
In a sport that supports obsession, taking time off is often not talked about; however, climbing in Canada during the pandemic became difficult. While a lucky few built home walls, others bolted hangboards to doorsils and strove to find stoke in heinous grips. Although hangboarding has value, so does relaxing.
The World Cup season is exhausting. Athletes spend half the year running around the world climbing competitions against the best in the world. Pair that with a local season the fills the rest of the year, and a training cycle that necessarily occurs when the World Cups conclude, and athletes have little time for respite. Uchida found his pause and took it.
With his body rested, he came back to the sport with a renewed psych. “It was good, a nice refresh. I worried it would take to get back into climbing. Taking that time off helped remove that concern. Within a few weeks, maybe a month or so, I felt pretty good and back in shape.”
Still, without comps he needed a direction. “The Glen provided that surely enough and I was able to climb with Ethan and we could keep each other motivated. The more I climbed in the Glen the more I found things I could improve on.”
Quickly, Uchida found himself at the top of every established hard line in Niagara. He would spend the fall working the Personal Vendetta Direct Project before lockdown fell once again. As Uchida lived in the centre of Toronto, what commenced came out to be a 200+ day streak of lockdown. Uchida felt it was time to move. Taking the initiative, he decided to go on a trip out west. He would continue his quick, hard ascents during a short trip to Kelowna. Ticking Slippery When Wet V13 and Asclepius V12/13 among numerous lower-end problems, he turned his sights toward Squamish.
Returning to Vancouver, Uchida trained with Ivan Luo and other members of Team Canada before hitting the Grand Wall. Despite a heat wave, humidity, and running a lap on the chief the previous day, Uchida queued up on Shelter and decided to give it a flash go.
“I knew it was possible. I knew I could climb on holds and this is holds. Still, it was really hot and I was super tired. I think that was part of the motivator,” Uchida laughed. “I didn’t want to try it twice. The reason why I did the campus was because I heard it was possible and the foot is so bad. I felt the holds, and it felt right.”
By reducing the crux to a question of strength, Uchida took aim at the infamous horizontal and fired his way through the top of the climb. He became the third person to flash Shelter V13.
After BC, Uchida returned east, pausing in Alberta along the way. “On my way back from BC, I stopped in Calgary and spent some time at Bolder. They offered a job and I decided to take it.”
Uchida mentioned he had wanted to move out of Toronto for a while. “Initially, my decision to move west was because I felt stagnant in Ontario. I have spent a lot of time in Toronto, and I was starting to get tired of the same place. I felt the need to take some sort of initiative to explore and find something new.”
Now living in Alberta, Uchida has greater access to his coaches and the climbing that comes out of BC. This detail becomes significant when taking in the scope of these next seasons. With Speed as its own medal category for the Paris 2024 Olympics, the Games opens up to athletes that had no interest in competing in all three disciplines. As Uchida is as proficient on a rope as he is above a pad, this format suits him well.
In preparation, he and the rest of Team Canada had their first National Team Training Camp in over a year. Upon reflection, Uchida found the event interesting. “It’s a pretty rare opportunity to see all of these people from across the country who are all very driven to improve and perform.”
Due to Canada’s size, it is challenging to connect the country’s strongest athletes. To that effect, Uchida enjoyed seeing his friends. “It was good to see everyone again and reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in the last two years. It was motivating to have everyone pushing each other again.”
Camp done, Uchida descended upon a secret training plan with his coaches to better prepare him for the upcoming World Cups and Games. The largest problem with World Cups comes down to cost, but this detail may receive some negotiation should the HPP program receive an installment of cash.
Uchida has, for the moment, set his sights on improving technical performance within the competitive setting. His strength already sets him apart in Canada, but he feels as though more experience in competition will lend him better results in this World Cup season. With a victory at the Richmond Oval’s North American Cup Series Lead event Uchida looks stronger than ever.
Featured image of Lucas Uchida flashing Shelter. Photo by Jake Scharfman.