Last Year, Best Year

By Aubrey Johnson

Edited by Kelsey K. Sather


I stepped out from behind the tall black curtains dividing isolation from the competition floor. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the bright lights. A judge guided me to a chair in front of my first boulder.

I sat down with my back to the wall and scanned the scattered faces up in the bleachers. My family was there, all giving me the thumbs up. My teammates waved at me and I smiled. The clock sounded, announcing there was “one minute remaining.”  

I slid my arms out of my jacket sleeves and dipped my hands into the chalk bucket in my lap. For some reason I wasn’t shaking with nerves like I had in previous competitions. I felt calm, focused, ready.

“Ten seconds.”

I stood up and stepped back onto the white mats, still facing the crowd. “Time. Time. Time. Climbers you may begin climbing now.”

I spun around. Big black holds covered in chalk moved left and then right up the wall. I read the sequence carefully, imagining myself sticking each move. I stepped up to the wall, took two deep breaths, and pulled off the ground.

Go time.

Aubrey climbing at Nationals. Photo by Lucid Images UT

Aubrey climbing at Nationals. Photo by Lucid Images UT

When I’m climbing, I’m the most confident when I feel like I’m moving powerfully yet gracefully. Bouldering at my limit lets me push the boundaries of my physical strength and technique and lets me find that confidence. Boulder problems, especially those in competitions, are often full of jumps, coordination moves, and powerful sequences that, along with strength, require precision and skill.

When I first started climbing, I spent all of my time on a rope. I don’t remember bouldering much for at least the first year. Then, when I did discover bouldering, I grew to love it just as much as I loved to sport climb.

A few years ago I even became so fixated on bouldering that I didn’t want to sport climb at all. Every practice when my coach said we were getting on ropes I tried to persuade him to let us work on boulders instead and it sometimes worked. :)  

While my passion for the two disciplines is more balanced now, I think the reason why I enjoy bouldering so much is partly the social aspect of it and partly the set of skills boulder problems often require.

I love getting to play around with moves that involve swinging through the air, hanging upside down by my toes, and balancing on volumes. Sticking a hard move that I've tried over and over again is such a rewarding feeling. Those little moments of success are part of what keeps me excited about climbing. 

Aubrey climbing at Regionals.

Aubrey climbing at Regionals.

I made a commitment at the beginning of this season to make my final year on the climbing team my greatest one yet. I wanted to work harder, climb stronger, and accomplish as much as I could.  

From this goal, the phrase “Last Year Best Year” was born.

These four words remind me to find opportunities to push myself in every way I can and to always put in my best effort. The last few months are evidence that my work is paying off! I felt that my overall bouldering abilities vastly improved this season.  

I noticed myself finishing problems I wouldn’t have been able to last year, and while I try not to define my climbing solely by grades and competition placements, I did see a positive trend in the way I finished at competitions over the course of this season. I placed better than I ever had in the open category at Full Gravity Day and at USAC bouldering Regionals and Divisionals.

Aubrey climbing at Divisionals. Photo by Klara Dombrovska.

Aubrey climbing at Divisionals. Photo by Klara Dombrovska.

It’s been a goal of mine ever since I started competing to qualify for bouldering Nationals. I knew at the beginning of the season that I only had one chance left to make it—and I’m thrilled to say that I accomplished this goal.

While my actual climbing performance at Nationals was not what I was hoping for, I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to compete. It was the best way I could think of to end my last youth bouldering season.

Climbing on the big stage proved to be a humbling yet incredible experience that I won’t soon forget. I learned a lot from the boulders put in front of me and from watching the other competitors climb. I’m definitely motivated to keep improving and to work on the weak points revealed to me at Nationals in the upcoming sport season.

It’s hard for me to believe that next fall I won’t be training for regionals with my teammates. This bouldering season led me to a lot of new friendships, both at Spire and across the nation. I have met dozens of people through competitions and days spent training at the gym; I’m thankful for the way bouldering has brought these friends into my life.

I always have the most fun bouldering when I have people to climb with. One of my favorite things in climbing is working through a problem with friends, taking turns trying to figure out the best beta, and cheering each other to the top.

While I’m a little sad my youth bouldering days are over, I am also excited to see what the next years bring, and luckily, I still have one more sport season with my amazing teammates and coaches. I’m ready to continue making my last year my best year yet.

 Go time!