Sport climber Prateeksha targets her own peaks
When Prateeksha Arun introduces herself as a sport climber, the 24-year-old is assumed to be a mountaineer. “The first thing people ask is if I’m climbing Mount Everest,” says the 24-year-old. “People think I’m a mountaineer, so I’m a whole different sport.”
Relatively new – its IFSC world governing body was only established in 2007 although its first World Championships were held in 1991 – sport climbing involves rock climbing in gyms, indoors or outdoors, on purpose-built artificial walls. Although it has found its origin in Europe, it is still at a higher stage in India.
For Prateeksha too, sport climbing was not her first choice. She was born in India but after spending her first 10 years in the US, her first love was gymnastics. But after returning to India in 2008, she found that the facilities for gymnastics were poor and “really unsafe”.
“My father used to climb in the 1990s. He was climbing outdoors in Bengaluru. He introduced me to the sport after we went back to India and it kind of stuck with me. For the first eight years, I wasn’t that serious. I was good at it and I did it because I liked it, but I wasn’t thinking of it as a professional career,” says Prateeksha, 24, an architecture graduate. Her climbing career is 15 years old.
The nationals started in the early 2000s and Prateksha joined it in 2010. Two years later, the Bengaluru girl won her first junior nationals. She soon realized she was the best, and won nine titles – two in the juniors and seven in the seniors – later. “It convinced me that this could be something I could have a career in.”
But the downside was that there were not many regular tournaments in India. The Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) – which governs the sport in India – also continued to change the structure of the competition. “I wanted to do more competitions and started competing internationally in 2017.”
Sport climbing has three disciplines: lead climbing, bouldering and speed climbing. “I do a lead and boulder climber. I don’t do speed,” says Prateeksha.
Lead involves climbing an 18m wall using a rope and carabiner hooks as high as possible in six minutes. Climbers must use pre-bolted supports on the wall which are arranged according to difficulty levels. A route is called a route that athletes have to figure out while climbing. The discipline is technical, based on difficulty, involves problem solving and is intended to test endurance. Each tournament has different ways and styles. One fall ends the tournament.
No rope or carabiner hooks are used in the boulders and the 5m high walls with crash mats on the floor. It is also difficulty based, involving routes and is a condensed, short, hard problem that athletes get four minutes with multiple attempts. The emphasis is on the number of problems completed and the efforts required to do so.
In practice, speed climbing is a race between climbers where the route is universally the same and the obstacles are placed in the same spots. The basic principle is to get up as fast as possible on the 15m wall with athletes competing against each other at the same time.
The sport got a big boost after it was included in the Tokyo Olympics.
“From 10 years ago to now there is much more awareness and acceptance. People consider it a real sport now because of the Olympics. I remember people would ask me then: ‘Do you climb walls? What kind of sport is that?’ Now more people are coming into the sport, trying it because they watched it in the Olympics. There is much more awareness in India, but I would say it is quite slow. Until we win something, progress on how many people will climb will still be slow. We are well behind in terms of infrastructure, coaching, walls, route setters.”
Sport climbing also made its debut at the 2018 Asian Games where India had three entries. Because it is accepted at major multidisciplinary events, sport climbing is progressing at least in urban areas with walls coming up in gyms and sports facilities. More private competitions are underway.
But participation in international competitions was not easy. Despite being well off – her father owns an internet service provider (BBNL) in Bengaluru – money was not always at stake if she had to travel, stay, train and take part in competitions, mainly in Europe . The uncertainty of travel has also led to increased costs for Prateksha during the Covid-19 pandemic. Prateksha almost gave up the sport.
“Thank God I found Go Sports and Dream Foundation. They contacted me for sponsorship. I am so grateful, I wouldn’t have been able to do these competitions without that,” says Prateksha. Her sister is a badminton player who represents the USA.
Funding at the right time helped her participate in the relevant events to qualify for the Hangzhou Asian Games in September-October. The qualification is also a big relief for Prateksha’s family.
“My family was finally like this somewhere because I’d been winning nationals in one capacity or another since 2012. I won the national gold, it was a plateau at that. When I made the cut for the Asian Games, it felt like something went right, I have finally made it to one of the big stages we dreamed of,” says Prateeksha, who is part of the Indian team. eight members (two). are reserves). She will compete in lead and boulder.
“The long-term aim is the Olympics, which has been a dream in my house since I was a child. My father has had the Olympic dream since I was three years old,” said Prateeksha from Innsbruck, Austria, where she trains at Kletterzentrum – considered among the best climbing facilities in the world.
Prateeksha will compete at the World Cup in Villars, Switzerland (June 30 to July 2) and Chamonix, France (July 14 and 15). “The goal in these World Cups is to reach the semi-finals. So far, no Indian has done that.” says the first Indian to reach the final of the Asian continental bouldering competition in the Philippines last November.
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