Walk into most climbing gyms and you’ll likely see a gaggle of kids in team shirts, doing laps on routes, darting across slanting volumes and catching improbable holds with one hand. They travel in packs, from one problem to another, climbing with seemingly reckless abandon.
When I started climbing at Boulderz, in Toronto, the kids’ team was like one mass of shrieks and giggles, and arriving at the gym after a long day of work with a full training plan scheduled ahead of me, I really had no interest in what they were doing. Eyes down, I quickly made my way up the stairs in the back to get my workout underway.
Resting between my sets and looking out over the gym, I glanced to my right at the upturned face of a small girl with soft brown eyes, an open smile and a little feather sewn into some strands of her hair. She asked me what I was doing and why, and as we chatted, I was struck by her easy, open demeanor and inquisitiveness. I enjoyed our little exchange but quickly dismissed it as I went back to my workout. Over the next few years my head forward, eyes down way of walking into the gym after work couldn’t keep me from noticing Bea Evans’ growing maturity and skill beyond jumping around on triangles.
She would ask what I was working on outside, enthusiastically encourage her teammates and friends to push themselves, while also pushing herself to overcome weight fluctuations, injuries and self-doubt. Evans’s quiet determination and ability to see failure as an opportunity to learn culminated this past February, when she won the Canadian Youth Bouldering Nationals with a near flawless performance.
Like a lot of people, Evans’s first dose of climbing was in 2006 at a friend’s birthday party at a local climbing gym. In an attempt to jump the line and get an extra turn on the rope, She jumped up and down to show the belayer she was the most excited for climbing. A couple of years later at the age of eight, Evans joined the Boulderz competitive team. For the next few years, Evans’s competition goals were modest and well within her limit, which she gradually found unfulfilling.
Although she placed well during 2015/2016 Youth Nationals, with the help of her coach Andrew Smythe, Evans came to realize that in order to fully tap into her potential she’d have to set bigger goals and risk failure. To hold herself accountable to these goals, she wrote out a list of benchmarks she wanted to meet, and fully committed herself to working toward them.
During this time, Evans’s body was slowly changing into that of a young adult, and with it a growing confusion of how to manage nutrition, weight gain and performance. Like many athletes, she fell into the trap of wanting to control every aspect of what could influence her performance by experimenting with portion control and scrutinizing ingredient lists. This distorted relationship with food was exacerbated by a series of injuries between 2016 and 2018 which kept Evans from being physically active.
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Well… Nationals is a wrap and I didn’t climb nearly as well as I wish I had. 😖 It is always frustrating to have subpar performances, especially considering that the comp season leading up to OBN had been very successful. Feeling motivated to bounce back into the rest of the season. 🇨🇦This is a great opportunity to reflect on my training approach and GET BETTER. 🤠 After all it is just another comp and I am so psyched to see where climbing continues to take me. 🤪 . . On the other hand it was so exciting to see the amazing performances of my friends! 😇 @nathanclimbs @mn1516 @brandonbarraclough @lucasuchida @paigeboklaschuk . . Big thank you to @boulderzclimbingcentre and @casmythe for the continued support and love! ❤️ 📸: Peter Kwan
After some weight gain and then loss (the latter causing severe energy deficit which kept her from training), Evans connected with a dietitian and sports psychologist at the urging of concerned family and friends. With the help of these professionals, Evans was able to relearn how to eat intuitively and intelligently to meet the needs of her body and athletic performance.
Evans’s injuries, however, were plentiful. 2016 brought a ruptured finger pulley just as she was healing her relationship with food and diet. In 2017, she partially dislocated her knee which required surgery at the end of that year. In the summer of 2018, one week prior to leaving for Moscow for Youth Worlds, a lateral meniscus tear, an E. Coli scare and a second knee surgery.
This succession of injuries would be enough to frustrate any climber with goals and aspirations for themselves, and potentially lead them to quit the sport altogether. Evans astutely dealt with her setbacks by listening to her body. She took breaks from training and did not force herself to go to the gym if she didn’t want to. Consequently, Evans avoided beating her head against a wall of frustration, and stored up her psych and motivation for when she was ready to get back to climbing and training.
Although the term training often brings to mind banging out sets on a hangboard or endless weighted pullups, Evans adapted her methods to align with the evolution of competition setting. Coordination and parkour like skills can only be developed by doing them, so she spent more time on the wall practicing. In addition, adding a proper strength and conditioning routine to do in a separate, fitness gym was a way to keep her muscles balanced while giving her a refreshing change of scene.
Beyond physical elements, there is of course a mental aspect to competition climbing which Evans addressed. Based on her early years of competing, Evans recognized her tendency to self-judge, over analyze and fall into a negative mindset during her rounds. In her journal before a comp, she now writes down her goals and positive affirmations, and reads these over to herself while listening to her favourite songs. Exchanging a smile or thumbs up with a friendly face in the crowd further encourages her to want to perform well.
All of these small rituals allow her to get lost in a bubble of confidence and psych which she carries with her when it’s her turn to climb. And if a round doesn’t go her way, she channels her anger or aggression into jumping jacks and moving around to shake it out of her system. Combining her many hours of training leading to a competition with the mental fortitude required to stay focused are an integral aspect of competing for Evans.
The day of CEC Youth Nationals Finals began a little disjointed for Evans; the stress of having to change her usual one hour warm up to just fifteen minutes before preview threatened to throw everything off. This was Evans’s first time competing in the IFSC format for finals too – each boulder is climbed by every competitor before moving on to the next one.
Evans’s coaches Andrew Smythe, Brandon Barraclough and Mei Nagasako reassured her she’d have enough time before and after preview to warm up properly. Evans recognized that she was getting flustered, and drew on her good friend and coach Mei to help keep things light in isolation by doing acro yoga, wrestling, laughing and dancing.
During the competition, Evans used what little bit of time she had to herself before getting on the wall to either psych herself up or calm herself down, depending on how she felt in the moment. She put on her head phones, prepped her gear and read through her training journal. Looking out into the crowd before the final problem of the competition she spotted her Team Boulderz coaches smiling up at her in the front row, and felt a surge of positive energy.
Climbing through the problem itself she felt both in the moment and somehow removed from it; there was no finger or knee bothering her, no heaviness or shakiness in her body, no chattering in her head. There was movement and flow and trust, and suddenly she was matching the final hold, with the roar of the crowd behind her.
In keeping with her goal-oriented mindset, Evans has a busy future ahead of her. In addition to being a Team Canada athlete and move into more international competitions, she wants to push her limits outdoors and improve her hardest red point. She’d like to try trad climbing, multi pitch and ice climbing, as well work on dynos, wide shoulder moves and slopers. Part of what makes climbing so exciting for Evans are the many diverse opportunities it offers her to learn and grow.
As I watched Evans secure her win at Youth Nationals, I couldn’t help but marvel at how far she’s come. She’s faced her setbacks head on and used them to foster an attitude of growth, discipline, mindfulness and determination. At the same time, she hasn’t lost that open smile or enthusiasm for climbing that struck me years ago. I appreciate the lessons climbing has given Evans, as I see the same lessons mirrored in my own experiences.