Park City High student Sean Faulkner claims Canadian youth bouldering title
March 1, 2019
Sean Faulkner was feeling a little under the weather. A cold was keeping him at home in Park City, which was tough for a competitive rock climber.
It's often said time off is the hardest part of training, but stepping away from climbing is especially hard for Faulkner. At 18, it's already his job, his hobby and ties together a good chunk of his social network.
He receives sponsorships from several climbing-related companies, like Rhino Skin Solutions, Boulder Denim and Unparallel, and works as a coach for The Mine Bouldering Gym's pro team three days a week, where he has coached in varying capacities for three years now. When he shoots photos – Faulkner's other passion – they often capture climbing.
"It's pretty important," the PCHS senior said of climbing. "It's sort of all I do. I plan my days around climbing."
That laser-like focus is paying off. On Feb. 18, Faulkner, whose parents are Canadian, took his first overall win at Climbing Escalade Canada's Youth Boulder Nationals, winning the junior competition at Bloc Shop in Montreal. It was his first success in three attempts to reach the finals in the bouldering competition – in which climbers face short, difficult problems that top out at 16 feet.
Faulkner wasn't anticipating such success. He had squeaked through to the finals in sixth – the lowest spot – and would face a talented competitive field.
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In the final round, Faulkner competed against junior-world caliber opponents – most notably, Zach Richardson, the Pan American boulder champion and a Junior Worlds finalist from Burlington, Ontario.
"It definitely didn't seem like I had a chance of winning," he said. "And I had no expectations going into finals."
But of the six routes each competitor had to climb, it came down to the last boulder problem – a powerful yet delicate challenge that finished on a small, hard-to-grip hold.
"You had to keep a little bit in the tank," Faulkner said. "It was pretty nasty."
Faulkner was the only climber to finish the problem.
But just a few years ago, being a Canadian junior national bouldering champion would have been unthinkable for Faulkner.
In 2012, he and his parents, David and Melissa, were still living in Houston, where Sean was an avid lacrosse player at Pin Oak Middle School.
He got his first taste of climbing at a camp at Texas Rock Gym, in which he performed well enough for the gym coaches to ask him if he wanted to join their competitive team.
"It required me to quit lacrosse," he said. "That was a tough decision at the time, because lacrosse was such a big part of my life. I quit lacrosse and started climbing and that's all I've done ever since."
About a year later, his family moved to Park City, which provided more of the lifestyle that Faulkner's family was looking for. That it was also located near some of the most competitive climbing gyms in the country was a bonus.
Soon after arriving in Summit County, Faulkner joined Momentum Climbing gym in Salt Lake City, with which he trained until 2018, when he decided to train independently.
Since moving to Park City five years ago, Faulkner has been to the Canadian youth boulder nationals three times, and the Canadian youth roped nationals twice, with another one upcoming.
Now, he spends a lot of time at The Mine. He sometimes downplays his abilities by pretending to suffer through climbs, groaning in his work like a monk paying penance. But his passion for the sport is serious.
"It's pretty cool to (coach) because I kind of get to give back to how I started, what my coaches have done for me," he said. "I try and help kids improve their climbing and keep them psyched on climbing and help them grow it into a lifestyle or something they want to do as a lifelong sport."
Luke Turkington, manager at The Mine, said having Faulkner as a coach was good for the team because of his depth of experience.
On any given day, Turkington said, Faulkner is one of the top, if not the top, climbers in the gym.
"He's definitely in the top 5 percent skill level wise," he said. "With all the training he does, he's so strong. Just his overall level of fitness is insane and his technique is as good as anybody else's I've ever seen."
The young coach hopes to double up on his junior national titles come May 16, when he will compete in lead climbing in Montreal. His success in that competition, where he reached the finals last season, and then earned a spot at the junior world championships in Moscow, where he took 41st, was the impetus for his success in bouldering.
"I realized I really wanted to go for both disciplines – rope and boulder," he said. "This season, I trained a lot more than I had in the past. I was a lot more meticulous about how I trained, how I rested, what I ate, how much sleep I got, so that I could perform my best, and be the most fit I've ever been for the comp."
Faulkner will start competing toward the roped junior national competition with a provincial meet in British Columbia in April – part of the reason he said he hadn't planned to celebrate his success in bouldering.
"I have my comps coming up," Faulkner said. "Not super soon, but I gotta get ready so I can get the whole shazam – both disciplines."
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