Kirky Olsen Climbs Up Down Under
Sept. 2, 2009 -- After just a year in Gunnison 19 year old Kirsten "Kirky" Olsen can hang with the strongest local climbers.
Last week she competed with the best in the world at the Youth World Climbing Championships in Sydney, Australia.
She placed 20th, and was the top American in her category. She climbed amongst 310 individuals from 36 countries.
Olsen is a sophomore at Western State College. She is a double majoring in Exercise and Sports Science and Outdoor Leadership. The Admissions Office at WSC was one of her major sponsors.
This week she returned to Gunnison in high spirits, but without much of a voice. "I lost it from screaming for my fellow climbers," she said. "We swept the 14-15 year old female speed climbing championships for bronze, silver and gold."
This was the second World Climbing Championships for Olsen. She competed in the 2006 event in Austria. Olsen qualified for worlds by placing fourth in this summer's National Championships in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Olsen reported that she was climbing for a crowd of around 600 people. "Climbing in front of that many people makes me climb way better. It becomes more of a mind game though."
Olsen made it through the first two days of the championships before taking 20th place. "I was upset and first, but then reflecting I am happy with my results," she said.
The competition is a high point for a competition career that began when she was seven years old. At 19 now she is finishing up competing at the youth level but will continue to compete as an adult. "The climbing community is like a family," she reflected. "These climbers that I travel and compete with are my best friends."
Here in the Gunnison Valley she has gained the respect of local climbers.
Stuart Slay, a junior at WSC, is one of Olsen's favorite climbing partners. "She is humble and sets up climbs for me," he said. "She climbs much harder than me but she doesn't make a big deal about it. She's very comfortable and fits in to the climbing scene here very well."
Ben Johnson, an admissions counselor with WSC, recruited Olsen out of Michigan. "Kirky is vibrant and energetic and will bring a positive representation from Gunny," he said.
Johnson has been impressed not only by her climbing skills, but her ability to thrive socially in a sport that has a scene that can be intimidating. At local climbing areas she can be seen socializing with climbers of all abilities.
Olsen credits the surrounding climbing areas like Hartman Rocks, Taylor Canyon and Skyland in Crested Butte as having a positive influence in her training. "To have Hartmans five minutes away from Gunnison and to be able to go there in between classes is awesome," she said.
She also uses the local indoor climbing facilities at the Recreation center in Gunnison and the Escalante Fitness Center at WSC in her training. "To train for these competitions you have to climb inside," she said.
Major climbing competitions are generally held on artificial climbing walls with plastic climbing holds, larger and more intricate versions of the indoor walls in Gunnison.
While she regained her voice and strength early this week Olsen reported about a big topic of conversation in Sydney: climbing in the 2012 Olympics. Currently there has been much effort and activism to get the adventure sport in the Olympics.
To Olsen it would be an ideal evolution. Would she try out to represent the USA in the Olympics if it were a possibility?
"Most definitely," she said with enthusiasm.
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations