Gripping stress

January 17, 2019

Maggie Hammer shut her eyes and took a deep breath in, blocking out the students, the teachers and the noise in the bustling Community High School hallway as she mentally prepared for an upcoming rock climbing competition. She was leaving for a youth competition in Boulder, Colorado later that day and the anticipation was invading her mind. Although she has competed in over 100 competitions, nerves still hit her hard before every one.

“I get nervous because one slip could cost you the entire season,” Hammer said. “It’s happened to me before, and it affects my performance at competitions.” 

For the past 8 years, Hammer has been competing in youth competitions around the country, traveling as far as Utah and as close as Ann Arbor’s Planet Rock climbing gym. At the competitions, the pressure is on for her to win, but with the stress negatively affecting her performance and mentality, it was becoming too much. The pressure from within affected her both inside and outside the gym, forcing her to consider turning in her teal and gray competition climbing shoes for good. And for two months, she did just that.

The decision came while competing at the Youth National Championships in Kennesaw, Georgia. She tied for the incredible opportunity to advance to the Youth World Championships the following month but did not make the final cut. Only two competitors could advance and when it came down to breaking the tied scores, Hammer didn’t advance. The results lead to Hammer feeling defeated, alone, and extremely disappointed in herself, fueling her desire to stop competing. “I see it as the biggest upset of my career so far. It was devastating,” Hammer said. “I came so close to moving on but didn’t quite make it.”

During the next few months, Hammer still visited the gym and climbed occasionally, but did not actively train like normal and did not enjoy her time there. Instead of feeling invincible and craving the opportunity to push herself, she sat in the gym and cried. All she could do was think about what had happened, the loss, the disappointment. The more Hammer thought about it the more she considered quitting climbing altogether.

One day when Hammer was talking to her mom and expressing her negative opinions, her mom told her that she would support whatever decision she made, but strongly believed Hammer would regret quitting later on.

“After a lot of thought I decided that my mom was right,” Hammer said.“Climbing is my passion and I can’t just give it up because of  a couple bumps in the road. It keeps me engaged because each wall I climb is a new challenge. It’s also pretty cool that it’s a unique sport many people don’t do.”

Climbing was also a family interest her brothers, parents and she all shared. Her older brother Max got her into rock climbing nine years ago along with her little brother Zach. Max gave the nearby climbing gym a try when his gymnastics coach left, leaving him with less enthusiasm for gymnastics without the coach’s presence. After climbing at Planet Rock he discovered he really liked it and dragged the rest of the family into climbing to share his passion.

“My family goes to the gym together to train and sometimes we even compete in the same competitions,” Hammer said. “It’s really nice that we can all bond over it.”

At age nine, Hammer made the decision to advance in her climbing career and go from practicing at the gym for fun to competing against other kids her age. She quickly became very successful in competitions, qualifying for the highest youth competition every year she has competed, Youth Nationals. But climbing the ranks and earning awards brought the stress as well.

“When I reached the age to do adult competitions, I was ecstatic,”  Hammer said. “Adult competitions were the perfect way for me to continue doing what I love but not get so stressed out.” The minimum age for adult competitions is 16 years old, so Hammer could not compete in them until this past year. Although she still did and continues to do some youth competitions, she felt a mix of adult and youth competitions provided a better balance for her.

“Adult competitions are less stressful because I know I probably won’t win and I can instead just focus on my own personal achievements,” Hammer said. “At youth competitions, there is a chance I can win so I get in more of my own head and am harder on myself when I don’t do well.”

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