Name: Sean McColl
Sport: Competitive Climbing
Hometown: North Vancouver, BC
Bio: Sean McColl is Canada’s top competitive climber, and one of the few North Americans to achieve success on the world stage of competitive climbing; an area typically dominated by Europeans. As a Junior competitor, McColl won every Canadian Youth Championship he competed in (1999 to 2005) and claimed five World Championship titles. Since joining the World Cup circuit in 2008, he has consistently placed in the top 10 — and was the first North American to win a Gold Medal at a World Championship climbing event in 2009, the first Canadian to win a World Cup climbing event in 2011 and more recently won the Combined Ranking at the 2012 World Championships in Paris. Not bad for a 24-year-old.
Explore Magazine: When did you first start climbing?
Sean McColl: I started climbing when I was 10 years old with my family. Our old tennis club shut down and we were looking for another sport to do as a family. We bought annual passes to the local climbing gym and I was quickly spotted by head coach Andrew Wilson and asked to join the Junior Team. From there, I started training a couple days a week and I absolutely loved every day of it.
EX: When did you decide to go pro?
SM: This is a difficult question to answer because it's hard to pinpoint an exact year. I think my 2009 season was a good eye-opener for me. From there, I started dedicating much more time to training and really decided to give it my all. I've always taken it seriously and I loved to train four days a week since I was 14 years old.
EX: What is in your gear locker these days?
SM: My favourite item has got to be the Mammut Realization climbing pants/harness. They have a harness built into the shorts so when you put your shorts on, you're ready to go. I use it during lead climbing competitions and they're amazingly comfortable as well, when compared to other harnesses. My favourite climbing shoes are the La Sportiva Solutions because of their incredible diversity in what they can be used for. I feel the strongest on slab, on an overhang, toe hooks, heel hooks; they're just amazing.
EX: Where is your favourite place to climb (recreationally) in Canada and why?
SM: Hands down, in Canada my favourite place to climb is in Squamish. I grew up in North Vancouver so my proximity with Squamish has always been there. I remember going outside climbing as young as 11 years old and finding it a totally different element. I could climb 5.12 indoors and would get shut down on 5.10 outside. It made me motivated to improve my outdoor skill and I quickly learned how to move on real rock as opposed to indoor rock climbing. In Squamish, they have bouldering, lead climbing, crack climbing, big wall and even some deep-water soloing. I also find that climbing in Squamish is always hard; moving on granite is just harder that moving on limestone. I think overall it made me a better climber.
EX: Can you give me a quick rundown of your training regime?
SM: My training generally starts each year in January of February. This year, I'm concentrating on improving my strength for the first few months. I didn't have my first bouldering competition until April and my first lead isn't until July. I'll focus on campus board, dead hangs and hard bouldering right now. After a few months, I'll transition into only hard bouldering, conditioning and short circuit training. Once I feel I'm at a level I'm happy with, I'll move slowly into longer and longer circuit training. I imagine I'll be around 30-move circuit training at the end of May. I'll dedicate the whole month of June to work on longer and longer circuits until I'm into the lead section of 2013 and I'll drop almost all bouldering and focus on lead, recovery and stamina. By October, I'll have almost stopped training specifics. I'll be trying to hold my climbing level for the last couple months of the season with maybe some outdoor climbing mixed in!
EX: To what do you attribute your success?
SM: I've had a unique climbing upbringing. I had great coaches through my Junior career who were motivated to coach. I also am very stubborn and like to succeed. With climbing, whenever there was a route that I couldn't do, I worked so hard to get the route and got stronger in the process. I realized quite quickly that the more I climbed, and the harder I worked at climbing, the better I would become as an athlete. All those hours in the gym paid off when you're standing on the podium after winning a competition. I had tremendous support from my family and friends, which also contributed to my success. While competing as a Junior, there was always someone who was older and better than me. I strived to be like them and eventually better. I always tried to believe in myself and focus on all the positives. I can look at most situations and pull out positive things from it, I also dislike negative people. After that, I was fortunate enough to have some success in competitions and get sponsorship from some great companies. My current sponsors Mammut, La Sportiva, HRT Handholds, Skratch and Sanuk are the reason I can compete the whole year and travel.
EX: Any tips for novice climbers?
SM: First, start by getting a training partner or partners. There's nothing better than having someone to help you achieve a goal. On the days you're not so motivated, maybe they'll boost your motivation. Second, make a training program with your partners. It can be as basic as "let's go climbing Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday." Lastly, stick to your program and make sure you're having fun. I absolutely love climbing, training, and competing. I wouldn't do it if it wasn't a passion of mine, which is very important.