Pro Climber, Humble Coach, and Triple Crown Athlete: Lisa Rands

Lisa Rands, the overall Woman’s Champion for the 2014 Triple Crown, pulls down on Blacksmith (V9) at Stone Fort, Tennessee.
Lisa Rands, the overall Woman’s Champion for the 2014 Triple Crown, pulls down on Blacksmith (V9) at Stone Fort, Tennessee. Carlo Nasisse
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If you're a climber in the Chattanooga area, you've surely heard the name, Lisa Rands. And if you've been lucky enough to see her at the bouldering field or at the gym, you know, not only how strong of a climber she is, but also just how much she lives and breathes the sport.

Having spent fourteen years in the climbing mecca of Bishop, CA, Rands and her husband, Wills Young, recently made the move to Chattanooga to run High Point Climbing Gym’s climbing school and team. In a matter of no time, Rands and Young have left an indelible mark on the climbing community in Chattanooga, having taught hundreds of young climbers how to get involved in the sport as well as having coached and trained plenty of adults as well.

Rands acknowledges that the time-constraints of working as a coach and teacher can conflict with finding time to train and to prepare for competitions herself, and for this reason, she's still on the fence as to whether she'll compete in the Triple Crown this year. "I haven't yet found the perfect balance to coaching, teaching, and my own athletics.”

Lisa Rands instructing a young climber at High Point Climbing and Fitness
Lisa Rands instructing a young climber at High Point Climbing and Fitness Sofia Bunger

But truth be told, Rands said the same thing last year and went on to win the entire competition series, bagging victories at Hounds Ears in Boone, NC, Stone Fort in Chattanooga, TN, Horse Pens 40 in Steele, AL, and Rumbling Bald in North Carolina.  And while most everyone at the Triple Crown enjoys watching Rands casually pull down V9's and V10's like it's nothing, Rands cares less about winning as she does about seeing her teammates and peers succeed themselves.

“Many of the climbers on our climbing team are reaching a level where they deserve more attention themselves,” she says, including a few who made it to the Junior Nationals. So Rands is focusing less on practicing for the Triple Crown and more on helping her team’s members improve. This shift in focus, while rewarding, offers other possible benefits: “As I continue to train with the team, I feel that my indoor climbing is picking back up, so maybe there’s an indoor competition in my future instead.”

The beauty of bouldering
The beauty of bouldering Allessandro Valli

Rands is an incredibly diverse climber with an impressive list of ‘firsts’: First American woman to become number one in the world, first woman to rank 1st in an international bouldering World Cup, first American woman to climb V11 and then V12 (exceptionally difficult boulder problem ratings), first woman to lead a traditional E8 on British gritstone and the list goes on.

She is also a climber with a great deal of power and strength, one who excels at steep climbing and bouldering. Rands first took to climbing when she was studying Geology in college and she quickly discovered that she “was attracted both to the beautiful lines of tall boulder problems and to multi-pitch traditional climbs in the mountains.”

She likes climbs that are mentally taxing, especially extremely high boulders or short, yet unprotected climbs. “To allow myself to climb such mentally challenging climbs is rewarding because I spent years working to control fear in my mind and to stay calm in potentially dangerous situations. This training has helped me in other areas of my life too,” she offers.

Andrew Kornylak

In addition to the mental and physical benefits of climbing, Rands says it’s an incredibly fun way to get a whole body workout, “especially if you climb on a variety of wall angles. There’s a lot of problem solving and route finding involved as well as controlling emotions to stay calm and relaxed while climbing. Climbing improves strength, flexibility, and power. It is also very good for improving motor skills and coordination.”

Entering a competition well-prepared is an incredible advantage, and how a climber trains depends on their goals—this isn’t surprising to an athlete of any or multiple sports, since different distances or types of courses or events require different strengths, speeds, and intensity.

“For a bouldering competition like the Triple Crown,” Rands says, “climbers need to focus their energy on bouldering outdoors as much as possible, and ideally at the climbing areas where each event takes place.”

She acknowledges this might sound like cheating or at least an unfair advantage to those who aren’t local, but that’s how it works. You get to know the rock and the routes, and it makes you a stronger competitor. Rands also recommends making sure your base level is solid. “If you’re like I was last year and you can’t do as much as you’d like outside, you can train indoors with a specific routine intended to improve your ability to climb hard boulders when tired. You can also work on climbs that simulate the kind of moves required on outdoor boulder problems,” she says.

Andrew Kornylak

Each part of the Triple Crown favors someone who regularly climbs in the bouldering areas. The general idea for the competition is to climb your ten hardest climbs on established boulder problems. Rands explains that you can practice the climbs to get a “circuit” which you may, or may not, succeed in completing on the day of the competition.

“One of my strengths as a climber is the ability to climb a lot of boulder problems in a day, so even if I didn’t know the problems very well, I can still just manage ten climbs hard enough to win the competition,” she says.

Rands believes the best approach for most people is to have fun: “The energy and encouragement of the crowd can get you climbing a lot of things you never thought you could!” 

Climbing and competing at Triple Crown is great, says Rands, but it is only one aspect of the event. Meeting friends and making new ones, and supporting the organizers and all of the volunteers who “have worked really, really, hard over the years to create a fun, well-run event for climbers that improves relations with land managers and raises money for not-for-profit climber organizations,” is incredibly important—for climbers, for spectators, and for the sport overall. 

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