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Ben Abel – World Youth Championships, China and 2017

In the past few months I’ve had a lot of things happen which have changed my dreams and, consequently, my focus.

I’ll start off with the 2016 World Youth Championships (WYCH), they were held in China.

Australian Youth Climbing Team – China 2016

I had just finished Boulder Nationals in Brisbane and in preparation for the WYCH I had started to train and climb harder than I have in a long while. During one training session, I fell during a big move, landing on my ankle awkwardly. I needed an ultrasound to check if I would be able to compete on it. The diagnosis was a ‘High grade 1 strain of the posterior talo fib ligament’. I had already made my mind up that I was going to compete, no matter what. Leading up to China I did my best to not climb or walk on it too much until the competition day.

During this time I had a lot of people telling me that I shouldn’t compete, to give myself time to heal properly, that I shouldn’t risk my whole climbing career for this one comp. Sure, what they were saying may have had some truth in it, but that wasn’t for me. The competition would be the culmination of so much time, focus and effort spent training. I was not broken, I knew I was going to compete. I also knew that my performance would be limited by my injury. However, I wanted to compete for the experience and the lessons that I needed to learn. I would not have learned nearly as much watching from the sidelines.

I competed in the WYCH and finished up all in one piece. My ankle was much better and I had an absolute ball. I made lots of new friends and memories that I will treasure forever. This was also the first ever WYCH that we had an Australian in the finals!!! Young gun Riley Thurston from Tasmania climbed brilliantly in semis and made it through in 5th! Well done man, such an inspiration.

When I got home I took three weeks off climbing completely to heal my body from such a strenuous year. In the break I started formulating my goals for 2017, especially since this is my last year in the Youth category. My obvious goal is the 2017 WYCH in Innsbruck, Austria later this year.

Ben Athe first problem at WYCH 2016. Photo by Yvette Harrisonbel Topping

After my break I took a three week trip to Germany and spent Christmas with my family that lives there. I took this opportunity to restart my training by building my strength back up and re-learn some lost movement in the European gyms. It was so nice going from gym to gym and catching up with friends from each city. Kinda felt like a home away from home.

Ben climbing at a bouldering gym in Stuttgart. Photo by Matt Abel

To have Christmas in Europe was so special, snow at that time of year is non-existent for Australians. Every time I go overseas I always manage to make so many close friends, which is why I love travelling so much. I calculated that I spent more time out of Australia last year than in… hahaha I do love Australia though!

My 2016 year has been all over the place. I started off the year recovering from a broken back and then training hard towards the Japan and China rounds of the Boulder World Cup. A couple of weeks after China I ruptured my A2 pulley. Luckily, it had healed enough a month before Munich Boulder World Cup that I still managed to compete. I got to spend two months in Europe for the Munich and Paris World Championships. During those two months I battled with a dodgy shoulder and came back to Australia just in time for the Australian Boulder Nationals. It was a couple of weeks after that that I damaged my ankle. For this year I know I want to do something very similar (hopefully without the injuries) and the best way to do this is by having a coach who suits my style of training and climbing.

Through a friend I was directed to Patxi Usobiaga from Spain. He does a lot of coaching and is very experienced with competition climbing and climbing outdoors. We got in touch and quickly sorted out a plan for 2017. Going into this I know I will be training harder than ever, and will be pushed to my physical boundaries.

Training is already under way and at the moment I am climbing and training 6 days a week. I know in the past I’ve done 2 to 3 sessions a day, but these sessions with Patxi require your full commitment and then some during each session. In the first week I found it hard to recover from one training session in time for the next one, but my body is adapting and I’m recovering a little faster.

Training with a coach compared training by your own plan is a lot different. My psych is higher than ever to train, I am getting up at 4:30 in the morning to do a 2 hour session before work. And it’s not only physical, he has been helping me fine tune my mental strength too. If I don’t do what he asks of me then what would be the point of having such a great coach? In that way its been a great motivation.

‘If it was easy, everyone would do it’. I have always loved this saying, often I find myself saying this in my head to get myself back to the next session, or through that last rep. I’ve even had to resort to drinking a little bit of coffee, which I’ve previously had no need for as I had enough energy and motivation for what was required.

Ben tackling boulder 1 in the Semi Final at WYCH 2016

2017 is looking good so far, I have coach and a lot of psych. My plans at the moment are to wait and see if I can compete in some of the Boulder World Cup Circuit and then I’m looking into travelling around Germany again for a while. But no plans are set in stone yet, I am just waiting to see how the next few months of training go for me.

Lately I’ve been asked “How do you afford this?” and “what is your plan for the future when you realise you can’t climb for the rest of your life?”

How do I afford this? Well I do work when I am in Australia as a Route-setter in multiple climbing gyms. I work 2 to 3 days a week. And all the money I make goes straight into my savings. I’m also lucky enough to be still living at home with my parents. So my living expenditure costs each week are quite low.

My plans for the future? At the moment I haven’t found anything that I am passionate about that isn’t climbing. And I don’t want to study something that doesn’t fuel my drive. I have left a window for Uni or TAFE if that’s what I end up doing. But this year I am climbing and next year I might start studying or maybe I could do the whole Boulder World Cup Circuit? For now its climbing until I find something I am passionate about.

Climbing and training are great but I need to keep myself busy in my spare time so I’ve started to learn German. It’s been awesome to make my mind think about something other than climbing. I’ve also started to surf more when I can, which makes good break.

Rest day is done, now off to training. Catch ya later!

Ben Abel