Exactly six weeks ago, my life was turned upside down as I felt the one strand of rope slip from my fingers and through my ATC and felt that sinking feeling knowing that something was going to really hurt in a few seconds.
As I hit the ground, both heels landed on a flat slab of sandstone, I sat up, shook my head and took my shoes off, thinking that I would be able to walk out the crag a few minutes later. I felt an intense throbbing in my right foot, I was able to move my toes and ankle and I automatically assumed the best case scenario of just a bit of bruising and maybe a sprain. I tried to stand up and crumpled to the floor. Now knowing it was a bit more serious than I originally thought. My friend called my dad and told him that “David’s had a little bit of a fall – he’s okay, he can still speak…” probably not the best words to tell a father but he arrived a few minutes later. Now the shock was slowly wearing off and the real pain was setting in. Right on cue for the walk out. We contemplated calling Mountain Rescue but opted to rather get to the hospital quicker. I got on my dad’s back for about a quarter of the way when a fellow climber Steve was walking out and offered me a ride. Thanks to Steve’s ridiculously strong legs, we managed to get out quickly and relatively painlessly.
As we entered Kingsburry Emergency room, a feeling of anger came over me. “How could I have been so unbelievably stupid?” The doc made sure everything else was intact and then sent me off for x-rays. When we came back, my mom and him were looking at the images. He pointed out an area on my right calcaneus and said. “That is the end of your youth Olympic aspirations.” He left to fetch the back slab (half cast) that he’d be putting on me. I burst into tears of anger and disappointment. “How could I have been so stupid?” “How could I have been so stupid?” We asked him how long it would take to heal. He said 12 weeks. I almost kicked him in the head with my now bomb proof foot. That night was one of the most heart wrenching nights of my life.
The next Monday we went to see an Orthopedic Surgeon to confirm treatments. He ordered a whole range of scans and photos. My left foot had swelled up to one giant mess of calf, cankle, foot pain. He ordered a CT scan for both feet to see the extent of the fracture and an MRI for my left foot. The CT came back positive as the fracture didn’t extend into the joint and was stable, hopefully cutting my recovery time in half. My left foot had many micro-muscle tears and bruising.
Life had changed, suddenly I was unable to go to the toilet without someone to carry me there, for the first week I couldn’t lift my neck up. Getting up and down stairs was an ordeal. everything was made difficult.
I told myself that if I was unable to make the Africa Cup in 6 weeks time, I would be okay with that, but I wanted to give it the best shot I could to get there. A week and a half after the fall I went to Bloc 11 to hangboard for the first time. I hung underneath the beastmaker from a sling on my harness and did repeaters until I couldn’t un-clip myself. We put top ropes on campus boards, boulder walls and anything to try keep me from getting weak and unmotivated. We did everything we could to ensure a fast recovery from Low Intensity Pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS Therapy) three times a day to calcium tablets to eating a disgusting amount of sunflower seeds.
As the weeks past, life became easier and I slowly became more and more mobile until I was allowed to get onto a pair of crutches. Then into a pair of climbing shoes then into smaller shoes, then into some sketchy one footed bouldering. 2 weeks before the comp, I was training twice a day, sport climbing in the morning and core/hangboarding at night. The Tuesday before the competition, we went back for more x-rays and the fracture was barely visible. 5 weeks of intense recovery later. I could start putting weight on the foot and practice walking again.
Although I knew I was strong enough for the competition, I knew that a huge part in winning the comp would be my mind. In an Olympic format competition I couldn’t just focus on my strengths and had to compete in all three disciplines, lead, speed and bouldering on one day. I was pretty confident I could win bouldering as long as my feet held up, I was unsure if I could win lead and I knew I couldn’t win speed as Cape Town doesn’t have a speed wall. I needed to win at least two out of the three disciplines in order to place first.
The Morning of Friday the 8th of December loomed over me. We checked out the hotel and ubered to the gym. We all knew that the day was going to be physically and mentally taxing, with 2 speed runs and a full 4 on 4 off boulder comp in the morning, followed by 2 enormous lead routes in the afternoon. I went out for my first speed run, I had warmed my shoes up to make them sticky and they were clean as new, As I set off, my feet started slipping and sliding everywhere and I ended up with a time of 17,49 seconds. I stormed into isolation, absolutely furious with myself. But in a mega comp like this, you have to completely forget about every negative thought in your head and focus on whats coming up. I changed shoes and came out for my second run, getting a better 12,93 seconds but I knew this would only place me in third or fourth position. I ended up third, after some rest we were ready for the bouldering. I was confident in my ability but was worried that I would take a fall and end up having to forfeit the competition. Each boulder had it’s own different choreography and I managed to get bonus on the first 2, the third boulder was the most athletic, which I knew would cater to my strength, however it was also the most committing and I knew that if I fell off, it would seriously hurt. I flashed that boulder and dropped down, I felt a sharp pain in my left foot but luckily had enough time to recover before the last boulder which I got bonus on. That placed my in first for bouldering. It all came down to whether or not I would be able to beat all the master sport climbers from Gauteng in order to take home gold.
We viewed our first route after lunch. It was long, technical and pumpy. I was worried that I wouldn’t have the mental strength to cope with techy moves after a powerful beginning. I got about half way up the route, still feeling super fresh when I heard the judges shouting at me to come down. My foot had gone past some black tape. FREAKING BLACK TAPE!!! I was called off, furious I went back into isolation knowing that it was over and nothing could save me on the next route and Chris would easily make it past that section. The next thing I know, Chris comes storming into isolation furious having done the exact same thing as me on the same hold. It all comes down to the final route now. I was still placing in second as Chris had destroyed speed with a time of 10,49s and came second in bouldering leaving him with a score of 2 and me with a score of 3. The last route was steep, burly on square pinches, I could see it was more my style than the first route but was seriously worried about the endurance it would take to send. I was just about to head into the steep burly section when I popped off uncontrollably from a spinning hold. I called a technical and after it was fixed, Chris went out to climb. I heard an enormous roar from the crowd. after 11 minutes of rest I went out and tried as hard as I possibly could. I ended up getting one hold further on the route than Chris and that pushed me into first by the skin of my teeth.
As I walked out and stood on the podium, an immense sense of relief, satisfaction, joy and disbelief overwhelmed me. All those late nights Beastmaking at Bloc 11, all those laps on the arch and City Rock where my forearms were begging me to let go, they were all worth it. And although it sounds cliche, in the end for me it wasn’t about winning the Africa Cup or being selected for the Youth Olympics. It was the fact that this was the first time in my life that i’d wanted something so bad and knowing that the odds where stacked up so highly against me makes me wonder how far I will be able to push that drive that’s inside each and every one of us, we all just need the right calling to let it out.