PUSHING A PRODIGY Connie Lightner wasn’t surprised when she saw her six-year-old son climbing a 50-foot flag pole. He’d been already climbing trees, apartment buildings, and basketball hoops around his urban home of Fayetteville, North Carolina. “Get down from there, Kai!” Connie shouted to her son, now halfway up the pole. Just then, a stranger passed by, and offered Connie a casual suggestion. “You should take that boy to a climbing gym,” she said. “He might be good at it!” Connie had never heard of rock climbing, but it sounded like a great idea. “Getting him to stop climbing wasn’t working, so I just gave up and brought him to the climbing gym,” she says. “I loved it right away,” says Kai. “I joined the climbing team, and I’ve been competing ever since.”
» IN SOME SITUATIONS, I CAN REACH HOLDS EASIER, BUT OTHER TIMES, I HAVE TO GET SCRUNCHED UP «
CRUSHING By the time he was 10, he was racking up first-place wins in his youth division in SCS National Championships for both sport and bouldering. He’s continued to win at least one competition every year since. In 2015, while on spring break, Kai climbed a personal milestone, his first 9a: Era Vella, in Margalef, Spain. In February 2016, Kai, now 16, took first place in the Youth Bouldering Championships. Over the last year, he says he’s grown seven inches and gained 65 pounds. He’s now 6’2” and 160 pounds. “In some situations, I can reach holds easier, but other times, I have to get scrunched up,” says Kai. “There are certain advantages and certain disadvantages to every body type, and you just have to work with what you got!”
Published on Jun 30, 2016
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