Jaxson MacDonald is working to parlay a birthday party invitation when he was a kid into a place on Canada’s Olympic climbing sports team that will compete at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris, France.
The 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Terry Fox secondary in Port Coquitlam recently took a big step — up, of course — towards that goal when he placed third at the Canadian national open bouldering championships in Ottawa.
For MacDonald, who finished 17th at last year’s world youth speed climbing championships in Arco, Italy, the event was a chance to test his strength and technique against some of Canada’s best boulderers of all ages.
And his placement earned him a spot at a selection camp for prospective national team members to compete at international World Cup events, although Canada’s climbers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where climbing sports will debut, have already been determined.
That’s set MacDonald’s sights on the next Olympics, in the City of Light.
It’s a long way from his first clamber up a climbing wall when he attended a friend’s birthday party at Coquitlam’s Climb Base5.
MacDonald said he loved the athleticism and cerebral challenge of planning a route up the vertical face so much that his parents enrolled him in a summer camp at the climbing gym when he was 10 years old.
He has learned much since then.
Competitive climbing comprises three disciplines, each with its own attributes: speed climbing, in which two climbers race their way side-by-side up a vertical face; bouldering, in which a climber ascends a 20-foot tall wall in a set time frame and without the use of a rope; and sport climbing, which involves getting as high as possible up a wall in a set time limit.
MacDonald said as he gains more experience in the sport, he’s specializing in bouldering as it rewards the strength he has developed in his fingers, shoulders, back and core.
“You have to be able to be explosive,” he said, adding his workout routine between the four or five visits he makes a week to the climbing gym consists of a lot of pushups and pull-ups along with a balanced diet that allows the 6’ tall, 145-pounder to maintain a high strength-to-weight ratio.
It’s not an easy sport to master, MacDonald said, especially as mental fortitude can be as important as physical skills.
That’s particularly true at competitive events, where athletes are kept in an isolation room prior to getting their chance at the wall so they can’t see the route ahead of time or learn from their rivals’ mistakes.
Those missteps are a key component of getting better, MacDonald said.
“You have to try again and again to learn every single hold and perfect it.”
Getting past the price a mistake can exact — a slip or fall to the ground below — requires tremendous focus, MacDonald said.
“You’re really aware of everything your body is doing, how it’s moving and how you’re connected to the wall.”
MacDonald, who will be looking to build his bouldering resume even further when he competes at the youth nationals Feb. 15 to 17 at The Hive gym in North Vancouver, said the demands of the sport have benefitted him in other aspects of his life as well, such as managing his time for schoolwork and concentrating for tests.
“You have to put a lot of time and effort in,” MacDonald said. “All the work you’ve done will determine how well you do.”