Team USA's First-Ever Olympic Climber Is Ready to Take On Tokyo

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Courtesy of Jess Talley

Climbing has always been a family affair for 20-year-old, adidas Terrex athlete, Brooke Raboutou, the first U.S. athlete to earn a spot on the Olympic climbing team — one of the new sports added to the games this season.

Growing up in Boulder, CO, she began sending it (that's climbing lingo for "going for it!") at just two years old alongside her brother and pro-climber parents. By age 9, Raboutou was climbing some of the toughest grades, including V10s and 5.13s — aka really steep and very technical ascents. "We always go on family vacations and climb together," Raboutou tells Shape, adding that they would often travel to her dad's native country of France. "So, it's never beach vacations as with most families."

As for her mom, she coached Raboutou through her early years in climbing and now acts as her sounding board for advice on everything from the sport they both love to just life. Meanwhile, her dad has recently stepped up to give her mental game an edge. Mental toughness was one of her father's biggest strengths when he climbed professionally, she explains. "It's been really cool that he's been teaching me his ways of how to be grounded mentally," she says. "I could probably go on forever about what my family has done for me with climbing."

Her Road to Tokyo

Raboutou is joining teammate Kyra Condie in the women's division for Team USA. (Each country gets just two representatives in each of the men's and women's climbing divisions.) And Condie is a force to be reckoned with herself, BTW. I mean, just watch her scale this climbing wall in less than 8 seconds.

Raboutou actually qualified for the Olympics back in August 2019 at the World Climbing Championships, and Condie earned her spot by reaching the final of an Olympic qualifying event in December 2019 in France. They've both been training for the big day ever since.

With the 2020 Games postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and her usual facilities out of reach, Raboutou took her workouts indoors making do with whatever she could get her hands on — literally, climbing the house, including a small wall her dad built in the basement. Basically, like everyone, she had to get creative with how to stay active at home, she says. (Related: How Rock Climbing Helped Me Let Go of My Perfectionism)

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This spring, Raboutou took the semester off from her studies at the University of San Diego to really focus on getting stronger for Tokyo.

During the Games, every climber will compete in three disciplines: lead climbing (the typical wall climbs you see athletes do with ropes), speed climbing (with a goal of getting the fastest time), and bouldering (shorter climbs without ropes).

"It's a lot of training and a lot of different aspects of climbing that you need to train," says Raboutou of her workout schedule these days. The various disciplines also require her to put in more off-the-wall training, she adds. Lifting weights — particularly deadlifts, back squats, bench presses, and weighted pull-ups — and power training, including jumping exercises, has taken her performance to the next level.

Mastering Her Mental Game

It's not only the time in the weight room that has improved Raboutou's grit on the wall, though. "Mental training is something I've been working on a lot recently and has also probably been one of the biggest improvements in my performance this past year," she says. "I've just realized how strong the mind is and how much control it has over the body." (Related: Here's How Working Out Can Make You More Resilient to Stress)

To strengthen that mind muscle, Raboutou says she turns to visualization and mindfulness, with the goal of staying present in training and competition. This is particularly helpful as she approaches a climb for the first time, she explains — something she'll be faced with in Tokyo. "We train for the unexpected," she says. "We might have done something similar, but never the exact same thing when we head out."

"[Visualization] helps me feel like I've been there before or I've done this before," adds Raboutou. "If it doesn't go according to plan, you adapt. I follow my gut on the wall and also have a plan B."

Having Fun While Finding Success

Heading into the Olympics, Raboutou already feels like she won. "I really just want to take this opportunity to be the best I can be and do everything I can to be as prepared as possible," she says. "I feel like I have done that and I'm really proud of where I am, which feels great. My goal is to just have fun while I'm there, knowing that I've done the best that I can do to be prepared." (See: How Olympic Gold Medalist Laurie Hernandez Practices Self-Care)

For Raboutou, that's still what climbing is all about: enjoying herself while doing the sport she loves. She says she always makes sure to climb with friends or get outside to reset her mind and just take pleasure in the journey.

"I'm really lucky that my parents instilled that in me — even though they were some of the best [climbers], they wouldn't want me to do it if I didn't enjoy it," she says. "I've always found that I climb my best when I'm having fun. And that doesn't mean that every moment is sunshine and rainbows. A lot of training moments are hard and there are let-downs at competitions, and I have to learn how to get over that. But for the most part, when I have a smile on my face, I'm doing my best and I'm able to perform my best."

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