Once considered a recreational activity, rock climbing has evolved over the past decade into a competitive sport. The competitive aspect is still changing — it just missed being added to the line-up at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
This week in the Blade’s rookies & vets series, we clip in with two LGBT athletes who are competing without the benefit of a team.
Brinda Dass attended her first Team D.C. SportsFest three years ago as a member of the Capital Splats racquetball club. She had joined the Splats after moving to D.C. in 2008 to work for the federal government.
One table over from where Dass was stationed were the rock climbers and she found herself thinking it would be fun to give the sport a try. After reaching out to climber Bryan Yamasaki, she joined the summer climbing series.
Growing up in Chennai, India, Dass’s sport of choice was squash. She arrived in the United States in Birmingham, Ala., to pursue her Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology. After discovering that the area didn’t agree with her, Dass transferred to Texas Tech University. It was there that she picked up racquetball.
“There weren’t a lot of women playing and I was getting a lot of court time as part of mixed doubles teams,” Dass says.
Her segue into rock climbing has benefitted Dass in several ways. At 44, she is stronger and fitter than ever and the sport has equalized the strength on both sides of her body.
“I love that climbing is physical and mental, intense and short,” Dass says. “It isn’t competitive in the traditional sense as you are competing with yourself.”
Sport climbing consists of ascending a wall clean without a fall or a break, using a harness and rope and clipping in at different places during the climb. Point values are given for different paths.
Bouldering is ascending a short wall without a harness and points are only received for completing the climb. Acquiring techniques in breaking your fall to the mattress on the floor is a much needed skill to avoid injuries.
Dass had her first competition at the end of 2015 in Coatesville, Pa., where she signed up as a novice. The officials bumped her into the intermediate division during the event because of her abilities. Her second competition followed in Milton, Pa., and she is now training for the North American OutGames in St. Louis in June.
Some of her training is alongside the veteran Yamasaki, but she has also settled in to a three-days climbing, two-days yoga training per week schedule.
“I love looking up at a wall and trying to figure out the flow,” Dass says. “Once you figure out all the pieces, then you have to adjust for your own body type.”
Bryan Yamasaki says he has enjoyed mentoring Dass for competitions and that she helps him with his “personal sanity.”
His own path to competitive climbing began at the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland where he won gold in bouldering and silver in sport climbing.
“After you win something, you just want more,” Yamasaki says.
Since winning those medals, he has competed in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio. Like Dass, he also has his sights set on the North American OutGames in St. Louis.
Yamasaki grew up in Darnestown, Md., and competed in the sports of soccer and cross country. During his time at Ohio University he was too busy playing baritone horn in the marching band to think about sports.
After returning to the D.C. area, he was looking for an activity outside of the drinking scene and began climbing in 2011 at Earth Treks in Rockville. He found himself hooked from the start.
“It takes determination and drive to be successful in rock climbing,” Yamasaki says. “You have to challenge yourself mentally and physically.”
Now 32 and back in school to pursue a career in social work, Yamasaki can be found training at Earth Treks on a regular basis to keep up the arm and leg strength needed for the sport. He also volunteers there working with kids. The facility can see as many as 1,000 people pass through its doors on a daily basis.
“There is always a different way to climb something,” Yamasaki says. “What matters is what works for you. It’s such an adrenaline rush.”