So, you wanna compete in Paraclimbing?

Welcome to the wild and crazy world of Paraclimbing, where the competition is fun, fierce, and usually ends with chugging beer out of someone’s leg! I haven’t missed a US Nationals since the first one in 2014, and I love growing the family. That first nationals was about 40 athletes. We’ve more than doubled last year, and I’d love to see that number explode.

In the US, it’s pretty easy to get involved with paraclimbing competitions, but there isn’t a lot of info out there about HOW. With more and more adaptive climbers reaching out all of the time, I’ve decided to put together a FAQ about what USA Paraclimbing is all about.

First step? Read the rulebook! Many questions can be answered there, so here’s the link: .I highly recommend doing a Control+F for ‘adaptive’ (soon to be ‘paraclimbing’) and reading everything that comes up.

Who can compete? Anyone with a qualifying physical disability can compete at USA Paraclimbing competitions. A list of what that is can be found here in the USA Rule book, page 64. It’s totally fine to have other disabilities that aren’t physical, too, but you must also have a disability that physically effects the way you climb.

But I’m a brand new climber! That’s ok! There still aren’t a huge number of adaptive competitions around the country, so for many athletes our first ever climbing competitions is nationals. GULP! Just keep in mind that is totally normal and have fun and enjoy your first year. Many of our athletes have only climbed a few months before entering. Before you know it, you’ll be a salty old veteran, too! Nationals can be taken seriously by climbers who want to make the US team, but many of our competitors are there primarily to have fun and meet new people.

Why compete at para nationals? Serious answer: It is a wonderful and unique experience to get to meet many other wonderful people and paraclimbers. While there is a sense of competition, as is appropriate, there is also a wonderful sense of support and camaraderie.

Less serious answer: You’ll get to meet a bunch of people who all kickass regardless of lower limb function.
— -Kyle Long, USAP National Team 2019

Do I need to qualify for Nationals? Nope. All you have to do is sign up, show up, and try your best. Hopefully one day we’ll have so many athletes that we’ll be able to roll out a regional series as a qualification event, but for now Para Nationals is an open competition.

What if I’m not a US Citizen? That’s great! We welcome international competitors. For team qualifications, top US citizen placements will be what is considered, in case of a foreign national making podium.

What is USA Climbing? USAC is the governing body over competitive climbing in the US. More officially, “USA Climbing is the national governing body of the sport of competition climbing in the United States.  As a 501(c)3 non-profit, we promote three competition disciplines, bouldering, sport and speed climbing, and is recognized by the International Federation of Sport Climbing, the International Olympic Committee, and the US Olympic Committee.

What is this going to cost me? In addition to any travel, you’ll need to purchase a USAC Paraclimbing membership ($45) and pay for nationals registration ($100). You’ll get a rad t shirt and some swag in your registration kit.

Will I be able to get around? Host gyms are selected based on many criteria, including how accessible they are - both in the facility itself as well as proximity to hotels and major airports. We request that the facilities have appropriate ramps, bathrooms, elevators, anything needed to allow people to move around independently.

What is this about Categories? We’ve created categories that people with similar disabilities compete within. Generally, they are leg amputee, arm amputee, visually impaired, limited range of motion and power, and seated/paralysis. For some of those there are subcategories- these can all be found in the rulebook, but we hope to have some major changes in place soon so keep checking back. There is also a youth category, that is not broken out by disability type (but hey, if we get enough kids in, we will!) For more information on categories, check out that rulebook- Paraclimbing starts on page 64. Some of these are pretty vague, but basically if you have a disability that effects your physical performance while climbing, it’s likely that you qualify for one of the categories.

Myself, Justin and Jake at the 2019 Nationals once the climbing wrapped

Myself, Justin and Jake at the 2019 Nationals once the climbing wrapped

You’ll run into climbers from every single walk of life and every kind of profession, you’ll get to be part of serious conversations and laugh at stupid jokes, and you’ll blend completely into a crowd. Everybody here “gets it”. And before you know it, you’ll find yourself cheering on the next new climber, too.
— Mandi Curtis, USAP National Team 2018

What if I want to compete at my home gym but there isn’t an adaptive comp? While it’s intimidating, I encourage everyone to enter regular, abled competitions - even if they don’t have an adaptive category, and even if you come in last place. Any competition experience will help you prepare for nationals.

When is it? Typically at the end of March - the 2020 Nationals are March 28-29.

Ok, I’m in - what can I expect at my first Nationals? Nationals is a multi day event, combining social gatherings and events in addition to the competition. We usually have slideshows from a pro climber, movies, food trucks, etc.

The competition itself can be hectic for the first timer. While there may be changes in store for 2020, here is how the competition has run in the past:

  • All routes are on top rope.

  • There are man routes to choose from, last year there were about 80 over 35 ropes. Some climbs can count for multiple ‘tops’ - for example, there may be a zone 20’ up one climb, and that gets you points for Climb X. If you make it to the next zone, you get credit for Climbs X and Y. If you make it to the tippy top, you get credit for X, Y, and Z.

  • You have 3 hours to compete and get points. If you fall, you can get back in line and repeat a climb as many times as you want. Points from your three hardest climbs go towards your total score.

  • Everyone climbs at once - it gets crazy, it’s loud, there are lines for climbs, it can be hot and hectic. But it’s also wicked fun.

  • Awards ceremony follows shortly after the finish of the climbing portion of the competition.

How do I sign up? Follow USA Climbing, USA Paraclimbing on facebook and instagram as well as sign up for USAC emails. Registration will be a few months before the event. Sometimes the website doesn’t work well with screen readers so if you need help signing up, call the USAC office.

How hard is the climbing? It’s hard to say as the routes aren’t graded other than route 1 is the easiest and route 80 is the hardest. I’d guess that route 1 is 5.4 and route 80 is 5.13.

Every route you see in this picture is a nationals route. Picture by Jon Vickers.

Every route you see in this picture is a nationals route. Picture by Jon Vickers.

I’m serious, and I want to make the US Team: Paraclimbing Nationals is a qualifying event to make the US Climbing Team. Traditionally, top 4 US finishers get invites to the team. Every odd year is the World Championships that we attend as a big group. Otherwise, making the team will allow you to compete at other events internationally (world cups, other national championships) while representing the US.

2019 Team USA Paraclimbing at the World Championships in Briancon, France

2019 Team USA Paraclimbing at the World Championships in Briancon, France

Is there any prize money? …no, but I’ll give a hella high 5 and a hug to anyone who tries their best.

Are you a brand or company interested in supporting Paraclimbing Nationals as a sponsor? Please reach out to learn more - click the ‘Contact’ link at the top of the page!