By David Lim
Forty seconds stood between Charlie Andrews ’13 and elimination. He knew it would be over if he didn’t make the leap to the next hold.
It was the second day of the American Bouldering Series National Championships for Youth in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Andrews had made the first cut the day before to make the semifinals, placing first out of the 37 best youth climbers in America.
Bouldering, Andrews’ favorite style of rock climbing, involves short climbs without a rope. Competitors have four minutes to make it as far as they can up the wall.
“It’s pure movement, and you don’t have to worry about extra equipment that rope climbing will necessarily entail,” Andrews said. “The moves can be much harder because it’s a shorter route, so it can be some pretty amazing things you’re doing on the wall.”
He said hedidn’t have the mental clarity the second day that had allowed him to get through qualifiers with relative ease. In the first semifinal climb, Andrews said he struggled to find a route and had to take a moment to calm himself down before finishing.
With the clock winding down, he didn’t have any time in his last climb of the day. Andrews had a long way to go upwards in order to have a shot the next day at the finals. Exhausted after multiple unsuccessful attempts to make the next hold, he said made a final attempt, pushing out all thoughts of what would happen if he fell.
“My only thought was iron determination to stick the hold,” Andrews said. “I tried to channel all the crowd noise through my fatiguing body. This was my last shot.”
With what he describes as an “all-out lunge,” Andrews made the hold with 30 seconds to go.
“It’s the only time I’ve ever been amped enough to yell at myself while climbing, ‘Come on!’” Andrews said.
He executed 10 more moves rapidly that he visualized in his head one after another. Seeing eight seconds left on the clock, Andrews reached the final face of the wall and accelerated as the top was just in reach, he said.
“I paused momentarily before the final move, feeling the crowd’s energy welling up behind me like a wave, but my body was done.” Andrews said. “I leapt for the finish but sailed just short and nearly landed on my friend as he turned around.”
Although he didn’t make it all the way to the top, Andrews made it far enough to take sixth place in the semifinals and qualify for the finals with the top 10 climbers. He said he faced another challenging day on Sunday in the finals and placed eighth in the national competition. He was also nominated for the North Face Young Gun Award as a role model in his community.
He has gotten to know the other climbers through their encounters at elite competitions throughout the year. They hang out during their free time before and after climbs.
“Even though I only see them once or twice a year, I feel closer to them than a lot of people I see everyday,” Andrews said. “There’s definitely a common factor in who makes it. It’s good to see them there.”
The real opponent, Andrews said, is the route to the top. On every climb, he plays a mental game against the wall. He must navigate alone and stay focused under pressure.
“Sometimes, I think of catch phrases to prevent scattered thought that can lead to distraction and non-fluid climbing,” he said.
During Divisionals, which he passed weeks before to reach Nationals, his mantra was to “climb hard, smart and fast.”
At Nationals, his technique was no longer the concern. Instead, he focused on a simpler message.
“I want to inspire people,” he said.
Andrews, who has made the U.S. Youth National Team for six consecutive years, has set even loftier goals for his future and hopes to qualify for Men’s National Team for the first time this year. If rock climbing makes the cut for 2020 Summer Olympics, Andrews hopes to be part of the Men’s National Team that would compete at the international level.
“It’s one of my life goals to compete in the Olympics, so, if the sport is admitted, I expect that would motivate me to train as hard as possible to prepare myself to qualify for the Men’s U.S. team,” he said.
Regardless of whether the event does make it, Andrews sees climbing as a part of his future in college and beyond.
“I will be out of college and my life will be totally different, so it’s hard to extrapolate my chances or anything like that,” Andrews said. “With the love of climbing I feel today, I think it’s safe to say I’ll still be climbing,” Andrews said.