"I like that you're bragging that you made it as first place when you were 1 of 1. Have to say it, but at least be forthcoming about not really being compared to something and state that you had no competition. I'm all for encouraging more women and women with disabilities to climb, but the way you are doing it is misleading. Also, being third of three isn't any better when you sell it as something greater."
The above quote is from a rockclimbing.com forum post in response to a write up I did about my first season competing as a paraclimber. I wasn't lying, or exaggerating - I had come in first and third in the national comps that year. The problem was, he wasn't lying, either.
Can you still be the best, even if it's because you just happened to show up? I'm boarding a flight tomorrow for bouldering nationals, knowing that (barring a plane crash or crippling food poisoning) I've already won gold, because I'm the only female upper limb competing*. Again.
No doubt, there is major growth in the sport happening. I just don't know if it's going to happen soon enough for me to get rid of that nagging voice some internet troglodyte planted in my brain all of those years ago.
What number would it take for me to feel like I've earned it? How big would the field need to be so I don't feel like every time I say 'I won the world championships!' I feel guilty if I don't qualify it with '...but there were only 6 of us.' I have no idea. Ten sounds good. I think we could get there for 2020 worlds, especially if other countries allow more of their national competitors to compete at the world level even if they don't have a large field at home (I'm looking at you, France).
Until then, I'll keep plugging along, winning by default. I justify it by hoping someone else with a disability will see me, and decide to give climbing a shot. They won't see me if I'm holed up in the basement, pouting over medals I feel like I haven't really earned. Dust off, get on that plane, and climb as if it were a field of 500.
*There totally could be someone new there that will kick my ass, I really hope so and I'll be sure to update accordingly!