The case against climbing becoming an Olympic sport

Should climbing be an Olympic sport?

Apparently last week some guy at the ‘International Federation of Sport Climbing’ (whatever that is) announced that they are putting forward a multi discipline format to the IOC in with the hope that a sugar-coated spectator-friendly approach to climbing will help them pick climbing as an Olympic sport.

It is my opinion that this is a bad idea.

BMC Olympics 2020
Two organisations that will probably see financial gain..?

This is why;

1. The people pushing this through, in the most part, are doing it for narrowly-focused personal or organisational gain not for what is best for the global climbing community.

Thanks to political zeal, Olympic sports can be rather well funded; which can give a great cash-boost for climbing-focused organisations (of the right kind) across the world. Regardless whether the heads of these organisations truly believe that it will be better for climbing over-all,  to ignore the potential of this sort of cash boost for generally cash-strapped organisations seems to be tantamount to professional misconduct. It really wouldn’t be.

“This could give a great boost to organisations and provide more jobs within the sport” I hear you say? Put simply this sector-building argument comes from a selfish drive for constant growth and, constant growth is not necessarily a good thing, it is only the corrupting pressure of money that makes people think it is.

The suggestion that more money going into climbing has to be a good thing depends on where that money goes and how you would like to see climbing develop as a whole.

Personally, when I think about the climbing experience, I think of climbing big walls under azure skies, freezing while battling winter alpine routes, bouldering in peaceful forests. Suffering with friends, overcoming fear and the enjoyment being in amazing places. When you look at the vast experiential-diversity that climbing can deliver, the indoor climbing experience comes out paltry and miserable.

It is this ‘paltry’ side of climbing that will:

  • Get all the money from Olympic inclusion
    Gov’t funding is hardly going to send people to Baffin to climb inspiring new routes if it is not helping them climb plastic better..
  • Grow in ‘importance’ to the organisations which exist to act on behalf of climbers
    Gold medals mean more money for your sport..
  • Become the ‘face’ of climbing & drive perceptions about what climbing is about
    Are you happy with this idea?

2. The proposed event is ridiculous and the whole concept of finding the ‘best’ climber is a fallacy

Being a ‘good’ climber has far more texture and depth than say being a good 100m sprinter – and therefore it will never raise the ‘best’ climbers in the world to the Olympic platform. A good climber may climb something with extreme difficulty or risk with good style when there is no-one watching or applauding, by being diligent and focused a good climber may save a friends life, by caring about the natural environment they may minimise impact or a good climber may climb routes that challenge the perception of what is ‘possible’. I could go on – but the point is that it will never be as binary as the 100m sprint where, quite literally, the only thing that matters but how fast you travel from A to B.

Because of this, we need to ask some questions;

Do we want to shift the focus even further away from the true experience of climbing towards a manufactured and sanitised ‘sport’?

The media is generally incompetent at explaining climbing when it gets into the news – in part due to its complexity and, if they are given an Olympic definition of climbing, will this be the story of climbing that wins-out? Will this vision of climbing, delivered to a global audience, encourage any more than increased climbing-gym memberships?

Will it develop a new breed of Olympic-focused climbers who focus intensely on bouldering on plastic, leading on plastic and, for some strange reason, speed climbing plastic? I suspect so.

Will it deliver a future of  ‘climbers’ motivated only by winning at competitions, bring in doping-inducing desperation to win above everything else in an activity that traditionally has always been embedded in team work and imagination? Will this have an impact on the attitude and culture of the climbing community?

These future Olympians will be the new media-stars of climbing; and when we have them why would a journalist or politician take the views and opinions of a near middle aged man who has climbed some of the most incredible routes in the world (where they have little grasp of his achievements – and he is not reliably near a phone) when you have an Gold-Medalist media-darling on call 24/7 via their London-based agent?  It would be the equivalent of having Tom Daley provide media representation for Deep-Sea Technical Divers. Both ‘diving’ but vastly, vastly different.

The media loves to dumb down complicated things; climbing in the Olympics will be the fastest way to dumb down climbing on a global level.

To summarise.

We must avoid thinking that being in the Olympics is automatically going to be good for climbing as a whole.

A constant push for growth, which doubtless is the key driver for Olympic inclusion, only really makes sense for people who profit from climbing which means it does not make sense for the vast majority of climbers regardless of discipline.Continue reading “The case against climbing becoming an Olympic sport”

What big-wall climbing teaches you about life

There are many subtle things that climbing teaches you, beyond using gear and climbing technique, that I think can help you live a better life. In life, as with climbing, the bigger the challenge the more (and faster) you learn;  there are some interesting parallels between being successful on big wall routes and doing well in life.

Aid climbing and the habits that define you

Personally I find aid climbing a slow, however, not being super strong, on big walls I will generally find myself doing it at some point. That said, the interesting thing about aid climbing is that the lazier you are, the harder and slower it is. Efficiency is everything.

(If you do not know what aid climbing is; it is basically sticking in a bit of climbing gear to the rock, attaching a fabric ladder, climbing the ladder and putting another bit of gear in. Repeat.)

Nathan Murphy aid climbing.
Aid climbing, Photo Oli Lyon

For example; let’s say you aid climb 1000ft of a route, your aiders are about 5ft long with about 1ft per step.

If you are being a little lazy, you use the second step on your aider and place your gear at a ‘comfortable’ distance, instead of top-stepping and placing the gear as high as you can, the difference in height gained at each placement can easily be 2ft.

Over a 1000 ft route, this would mean 330 placements instead of 200… 130 extra placements, at 3 minutes each = 390 minutes = 6.5 hours more time spent climbing. This can easily mean an extra day on the wall, which means more food and water, which means slower and harder hauling compounding the inefficiency.

The point I am getting at is that, seemingly benign inefficiencies, when multiplied out throughout a route has a significant impact on your ability, and the time it takes, to reach your goal.

Your life is a bit like a really long aid climb and, almost any way you cut it, this analogy applies, for example;

Health; That bit of cake every day, along with a tendency to skip a bit of exercise for the odd drink after work seems totally fine, but over a period of 20 years, the extra calories in, and fewer calories out means you put on weight. Combined with a slowing metabolism and the fact that being fat makes exercise harder you ‘come to terms’ with the ‘inevitability’ of putting on ‘middle age spread’ and now your just another fat dude sweating it out on the tube wearing a suit that used to fit.

Your personal projects; Most people I know have some kind of side-project. Something they are doing which is not their main vocation but would kinda like it to be. However most people I know do not work overly hard to achieve the side goal and, in reality, because ‘today was a long day at work’ or ‘I deserve a rest/treat/meal out’ or the myriad of lame excuses people use to do nothing in the part of the day don’t sell to an employer, they don’t get it done. If you spent a little over 2 hours a day on your project; it would equate to 16 hours; 2 ‘working days’ a week. If you were given 2 working days a week by your employer to do your own thing; what would you get done?

The reality is that you have more than ‘2 days a week’. After a 5pm finish you have about 7hrs of usable time before you go to bed – plus your weekends. You easily have another working week within your normal ‘working week’ should you want to use it. Not using it is a gross waste of your time and does no justice to the value of your life.

Financially; Let’s you like a nice coffee and a bit of cake every working day, you buy your lunch at the sandwich shop near work and you take the tube instead of cycling. Say this costs, as it would in London, £15/day. Over a year = £3975. Over 20 years with 8% compound interest; £175,000; which could give you £14,000/year in interest in your retirement and enable you to retire a few years earlier. Instead, due to a seemingly benign ‘comfort’ habits you work longer and are less financially secure.

The same goes with.. maintaining relationships, improving skills and probably many other areas I have not thought of. Essentially your life, with any luck, is many years long and small comforts and lazy actions are magnified by time and can make the difference between early or late retirement, physical health or obesity, or simply meeting the goals that make you feel satisfied with what you have achieved and live without regret.

Use the top step.

Speed climbing / goal focus

This is about focus and taking risks.

Speed climbing usually involves commitment and a slightly higher level of risk; you carry next to nothing so a second day would be a real problem and you are probably short fixing (leader self belays the next pitch while the second jumars/cleans) or climbing together where there is more risk of injury in the case of a fall.

Whatever you want to do, doing it in your ‘spare’ time is going to be less efficient compared with doing it full time. All that time spent hauling and messing around with your job slows everything down.  Being 100% committed and taking the risk, speed climbing gives you focus; the option of a night on a hard ledge with no sleeping bag and no water or food is pretty unattractive and this positive stress forces continuous action.

So you want to do [thing-you-want-to-do], if you do it in your ‘spare’ time say it might take 5 years. If you focus completely; it would probably take 6 months.. this obviously depends on what you are doing and how well you use your ‘spare’ time but going at something hard and fast, although tougher, is the usually the quickest way to meet your goal.

In summary..

Loosely speaking, you could apply this to many sports, especially endurance activities, but for me, there is something about the big wall experience that amplifies life-scenarios in a way that, with retrospective analysis, can give clarity and insight in to the way I live my life.

There are also obviously many other things climbing in general teaches you, from relationships, handling stress, injury management etc etc.. but big-wall specific; this is my take 🙂

Hydracare – Idea to IP sale

Hydracare was a project which aimed to reduce dehydration in hospitals and care homes – a problem sadly still poorly addressed. It started while at university and the patent/surrounding IP was eventually sold in 2012.

I came across the problem of dehydration after obliterating my foot in a climbing accident that required me to spend 8 days in a French hospital. After leaving the hospital with a rucksack and directions to where I could purchase crutches & injections I was prescribed to inject myself with – I made my way to Paris and hitched a lift back to the UK where I started to research my injury with the precision of someone who has a 30% chance of not walking properly again and with a job that was not taking up all of my time.

If you break your Talus in half there is a chance the bone will die causing you life-long problems.

I cannot remember where, but there in an online medical forum a woman was writing about how her husband, after under going reasonably significant surgery almost died from dehydration – which caused further surgery to be carried out at (I think) a loss of a limb. Again after that operation he became dehydrated and further complications ensued. All the man needed was water on a regular basis – but somehow this was not being administered.

It turns out that dehydration can significantly slow the progress of recovery, and if serious can cause further complications. In need of a project for university and sensing I was on a rich vein I Googled ‘Dehydration problem’ which I suspect today will have people asking the same questions and pointing out the same issues.

Dehydration is a big problem – especially with the elderly.

My research at the time shown the dehydration problem to cost 80,000 bed days in the UK alone (one bed day is estimated to cost £600+) and costs even more through dehydration caused illnesses and accidents. In the US, Medicare paid out over half a billion dollars for patients diagnosed with dehydration, in one year; dehydration is a global problem.

 Elderly patients often don’t want to drink due to poor thirst mechanism, water is often changed by cleaning staff and, with nurse shift changes it is currently very difficult to monitor patient water consumption. The elderly, especially, need constant reminding and monitoring, if the carers don’t notice a patient not drinking, within a short time it can lead to a long hospital stay, from which many never fully recover.

 In hospitals dehydration causes post surgery complications and can reverse a patients condition, again it’s very hard to prevent. If hospitals used this product it could save millions of pounds just from bed-days saved resulting from improved recovery rates.

 At home the elderly need to be reminded to drink, staying hydrated prevents dizziness (caused by low blood volume) and falls upon standing. Elderly with care support could be given independence for longer preventing them from having to move in to nursing homes.

Project..

As a Brunel Industrial Design student – for me it was important to build a product of some kind. These days, if I wanted to make a tangible difference I would probably lean towards lobbying and trying to change how dehydration is viewed on a legislative level. Either way I designed a product and through entering competitions IKB Awards I was able to get low-cost access to a Patent Attorney who patented they key basis of the product; a drinks container with a monitoring and alarm means.

Hydracare simply reminds patients to drink and alerts staff if too little water is consumed. The product can be used in hospitals and care homes as a bed side unit, or can be used by the elderly in the home potentially with family, day carers or the elderly person themselves using the devices’ feedback. In a care setting carers are able to identify those who are not drinking within one day; preventing serious problems and possible legal action from the patient’s family. The design was shaped with significant input by care professionals with the aim for it to be a simple and inclusive design although admittedly it is fairly over-engineered from a commercial/production point of view.

The project I won a few competitions including a Medical Futures Innovation Award a grant from UnLtd and a couple other minor cash wins (IKB Award, Bright Ideas Award, Reliance Prize of Prizes Award) which in the most part went on the project or went into future ideas.

Dehydration Prevention

I could have moved faster on the product – but it took several months before the Tech Transfer department at Brunel renounced their claim to 75% of my IP; a ridiculous practice considering I am a fee payer not an employee – I was pissed off to say the least. After University, and a bit of travel, I made attempts Continue reading “Hydracare – Idea to IP sale”

Tips on getting an office

Moving in to your first office can be pretty cool, but for most (self funded) start-ups you tend to spend your formative years either working from home or renting a desk with other companies.

There are are a few ways to manage your work environment and I have experience of most of them – below is a break-down of the key options and what I found.

Working from home

There are lots of advantages in doing this – but unfortunately it is coupled with a few striking disadvantages.  I worked from home for a little over a year as we started up for the first time. At this point we did have an office but this was in Kuala Lumpur where our programming team was; in the UK there was just me doing my best to keep them busy.

I had recently moved to a flat in North London over looking a park with a friend who I used to work with. There are some advantages to having no commute and ‘arriving at work’ basically means sitting up in bed and picking up your lap-top. However it not always conducive to a productive work environment.

The key disadvantage is that you find yourself travelling out for all your meetings and you find yourself feeling slightly awkward when you say you work from a home office (it clearly positions you as a small company or one man band). It got to a point where taking on additional employees or interns just felt a little awkward and when dealing with more serious clients the fact that you do not come across like a ‘real’ business does become an issue (even if it is just down to confidence).

Rent a desk

There are plenty of companies offering hot desking environments and depending to what sort of company you are starting certain types of offices will suit you more. They usually have additional costs for when they take and forward calls for you and other add-ons like meeting rooms and such. I did not really want to move in to this kind of office, many are practically chicken farms, and generally over priced for what you get.

The easier option is to find a small business that has some spare desk space that they are looking to rent out to individuals or other small businesses. You can usually find a decent desk in a friendly, small and intimate office for £200 to £350 per month. I moved in with another start-up albeit a more advanced company and built good relationships with was beneficial for everyone involved. I rented one desk, and if I needed more for free lancers or employees, it was easy enough to take another.

One key issue with moving offices like this, or running a lean start-up in this way, is sorting out a phone line. The easiest way is probably to just have a land line number that forwards to your mobile. If you are often out in meetings this is invaluable.

Serviced offices

As you grow you are likely to need a bit more than a couple of desks in an office – somewhere for your business to call ‘home’. We moved in to serviced offices early into our third year. Our first office was enough for 12 people and a small meeting table (we were not too fussy about putting people close together) and as we got the office in the middle of a recession it really was not a problem to negotiate down rent costs (for which we got about 30% off).

The office cost around £3,000 per month (in 2009) (if my memory serves me correctly) and although actually pretty expensive for the space we could leave with more-or-less 3 months notice and phones, IT, internet, chairs, desks, cleaning, heating, electric, reception and post collection was included. It meant we could move in and be up and running in a matter of hours.

Serviced office #1
Serviced office #1

About a year later we moved into a larger room in the same building – which cost about £5,500 and I estimate to be around 750 sq/ft. The office was actually pretty damn nice, but at £95/sq/ft/year it was obviously fairly expensive. We were able to fit around 20 people in that space, and to be honest could have fit another 10 if we were going to push it!

Serviced office #2
Serviced office #2 (before we sorted it out!)

Leased offices

We wanted space for about 30 to 40 people it was obvious that moving into a leased office would make more sense. Also as we were getting bigger it was clear that our revenue streams were going to be a bit stronger and we could ensure that we would be able to honour longer-term rent agreements.

A cost consultant suggested that we should be able to find space at £17.50 per Continue reading “Tips on getting an office”