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  • Gordon McArthur

Here we go again...



I’m sitting on an airplane; an 11hr flight to Korea. It feels oh too familiar. Legs numb from dangling off an uncomfortable seat. Neck sore from bobbing around through restless sleep. So many times have I found myself in this position–a winter not skiing the backcountry with friends, but on route to the other side of the world for ice climbing competitions. I love climbing, competing, and travelling the world, and I love the idea of another opportunity to perform at my best. But I was supposed to be done. Oddly, though, as I sit here, travelling for another season of competitions, I’m ok with it. In fact, there’s been a resurgence of excitement that I had lost years ago; a new kind of motivation, hope, and desire. A new opportunity to try harder than ever before.


2 years ago I signed off from competing on the World Cup ice climbing tour. It had been 10 years of devotion towards one thing. So much sacrifice with the notion of being my best in competition. But it had come to a point where I felt that I just couldn’t go any further. I announced my retirement and welcomed a different path in my climbing career. It was almost as though part of me was ready to let go of trying hard at a high level. With certain successes I found amongst my competing, as well in the mountains, yeah...I could walk away and just “climb for fun”. I opened a climbing gym 3 years ago; a life long dream that had finally come to fruitoin. It was a totally new kind of challenge–pursuing business ownership, as well coaching on a more dedicated level. I was even rock climbing with friends without the pressure of trying to be someone. The freedom of “retirement life” was good for my soul.


It wasn’t even 6 months when I got the call, “We need you to go back”. A long-time sponsor of mine had just become the title sponsor of the World Cup ice climbing tour, and they wanted athlete representation to show strength in the brand. “I know you just retired, but we’d love to have you compete again with this new relationship.” I didn’t know what to say. In my mind I had already let go, and was ready for “new things”. But before the conversation (on the phone) was even over, I could feel suppressed emotion surfacing with such force. A couple of weeks before this phone call, my wife asked me, “how are you doing with being retired, and the World Cup season coming up?” My answer was quick and convincing, but there was rumblings of unfinished business. Deep down I knew I wasn’t ok with it, but i was trying to put on a front; that I was good. But she knew. She could see straight through me. I didn’t want to be finished. I “retired” out of frustration, that was encompassed by stress and anxiety. I never really wanted to retire, but at the time I felt lost, and my mind was fully made up. But when that phone rang, there was no hesitation...I knew I had to go back, to keep fighting for “my impossible”. I was given an opportunity of a lifetime, again. And when the stars align like that...well, lets just say...everything happens for a reason.


I’m older, things hurt more, and i have to try harder to stay healthy. My body is different from when I started over 10 years ago. Still competing, I have to approach things differently; how i train, how i eat, my mental state and how to control that. But going back, after my 6 months of “retirement”, I felt like a kid again. I was back in the saddle with fresh motivation. I hadn’t felt this kind of excitement in a long time. The pressure was different, almost less. I felt free to just climb like I could without the typical stress that held me back in past. Something had changed inside, rather, had gone back to what i knew–let go of the fear and just climb. I found myself performing better than I had in years past. Certain goals that were held back by “curse” (I had always felt i was cursed at the Switzerland World Cup, never quite reaching my potential at that venue), were being slayed. Personal bests were being reached, and wow, was it ever thrilling. I knew it, I knew I had it in me to perform at my absolute. It didn’t matter how old I was, or what hurt, only that when I left the ground, I was more ready than ever before. My mind wasn’t focused on any type of result, only that I just wanted to climb without hesitation, to be My best.


My training has been refined, with more focus; a deeper more specific focus. All my years of preparation have lead to being better; experience guiding my movement with confidence. I have confidence. Perhaps that’s the biggest change–my confidence was always shadowed with doubt. Of course, doubt still lingers, but this time around my confidence is shining light through the doubt. Without a doubt, I’m meant to be doing this; climbing, competing, and pursuing my absolute. For a moment I wanted to be done, but who was I kidding. I wasn’t ready to be done. Maybe i just needed a little mental break. Well, break time is over. It’s time to turn it up, poor it all out, and go for it.


In a few hours I land in Korea, on my way to the first World Cup of the season in China. The last time i was in china I decided to retire. That’s in the past now, and I welcome the notion of China with fresh motivation. I’m ready for this season, and excited for the opportunity to compete for Canada, amongst amazing athletes from all around the world–friends I have grown to care for over the years. I love this sport, and all that comes with it. I need to get up and go for a walk now (up and down the isle of the plane). My legs are really numb now. Maybe it’s “older age” kicking in, or just the fact that planes are uncomfortable. It feels good to get all of this “off my chest”. I enjoy writing, as it’s an outlet to express all that circles around in my head.




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