Interview with Pro Climber, Kyra Condie

I recently had the opportunity to interview professional rock climber and Olympic hopeful Kyra Condie. At 12 years old, Kyra underwent a 10-level thoracic spinal fusion to correct a 53 degree curve of her spine due to a severe, idiopathic scoliosis that took several months to recover. After her surgery, she went on to win international climbing competitions and is now training to compete for a qualifying spot in the 2020 Olympic Games. We talk about the surgery, her mindset, and how working with physical therapists has helped her to gain a different perspective on movement so that she can continue to train hard and push her limits everyday.



Jennifer:

Hi Kyra, thanks so much for joining me to chat.


Kyra:

Yeah, of course.


Jennifer:

So I figure we'll just start with you telling everyone a little bit about yourself.


Kyra:

Yeah, so I’m Kyra Condie. I’m 23, I’ve been living in Minnesota since forever, hence this is where I started climbing. I started climbing when I was 11, and then when I was 12 I got a spinal fusion surgery that kind of really reminded me how much climbing meant to me. Then, I was able to start climbing four months after that surgery, and ever since then I’ve never taken more than a week off of climbing. I love it. I’ve been lucky not to get many injuries which has been really good. Now, I compete on the international level and national level at competitions. I have a goal right now of making the 2020 Olympics.


"When I was 12 I got a spinal fusion surgery that kind of really reminded me how much climbing meant to me."

Jennifer:

Very nice. So, you had your spinal fusion just a year after you started climbing?


Kyra:

Yeah, it was like a year- year and a half probably.


Jennifer:

And you just got back from Tokyo?


Kyra:

I did, I just got back from Tokyo where the World Championships were held.


Jennifer:

How was that?


Kyra:

It was pretty good. It had highs and lows for me. Bouldering went really well which is my favorite, so that was cool. But then I could have done better in lead and speed was good, but not amazing.


Jennifer:

Were you still happy with your performance?


Kyra:

Overall, yeah. I think it was a little bit of a bummer because I was really close to making it onto the combined qualifier which is where the Olympic format was- I was like two spots out or something. So, if I had been just slightly better at any one of the disciplines I probably would have been in, so that was a little bit disappointing. But otherwise, pretty happy.


Jennifer:

So do you still have a chance to qualify? How does that work now?


Kyra:

Yeah, I do. So since Brooke qualified at the World Championships there’s only one spot left for US girls now, which means that the rest of us are kind of vying for that spot. And there’s two more chances: one is the Tulles qualifier, which is an invitation event and then the other is the Pan American Championships. So at the Tulles event, you first had to get an invite which is by doing well in the World Cups this year. Right now I have an invite, but I may have to make sure- there’s still a couple of World Cups left. And then the other chance is in the Pan Ams, which the winner of that one gets to go.


Jennifer:

And when are those coming up?


Kyra:

Those are in the end of February I believe.


Jennifer:

Ok, we’ll be rooting for you.


Kyra:

Thanks.


Jennifer:

So I wanted to focus on your spinal surgery and kind of what you went through with that. You were saying you had the fusion when you were 12. Did you know when you were growing up that you had something going on with your spine, or did you just know when you went to the doctor that day?


Kyra:

So how it actually worked was that I think that at my annual check up - they usually check for scoliosis when you’re growing up - I had gone to a different doctor the year before, and I think that they would have caught it if they had checked, but they didn’t actually check for scoliosis. And then that whole next year probably I was kind of getting achy back pain and it got kind of a lot worse, and I started complaining about it, and I wasn’t really one to complain or even tell my parents when I was sick. And so, I started complaining about it and then started realizing that maybe something was wrong. I then I started doing some Googling and found out that scoliosis was actually pretty common, especially in young adolescent girls.


"My curve was already at 53 degrees at that first doctors visit"

And basically I had a friend at the gym who was a physical therapist, and I asked him if he knew how to check for scoliosis and he did, obviously, and had me do the bend test. He checked for it and was like, “oh, yeah, you need to go see a doctor, like for sure”. And so I went to the doctor and got an Xray and that’s when I was officially diagnosed. My curve was already at 53 degrees at that first doctors visit. She had referred me to surgeons, because kind of when it’s past 45 degrees is what I understand is when they recommend surgery, and so I was already kind of well past that point.



Jennifer: Yeah and I’ve seen pictures on your Instagram just of you bending over and it’s amazing no one had caught that prior; it’s pretty pronounced.


Kyra:

Yeah, and what’s funny is that I had coaches at the time when I was on a team at the gym and they would always yell at me while I was doing core exercises that my form was bad. So I’d be in a plank and they’d tell me I was twisting to one side and favoring my left arm. And I’d say, “no, I am not- I’m straight right now I don’t know what you’re talking about!” And I only realized this a couple of years ago I was like, oh my god, that’s because of my scoliosis. I still have a bit of a curve now, and someone was talking to me while I was doing push ups, saying, “you’re favoring your left arm”. And I was like no I’m not. So it was kind of funny, I realized that was what was causing that.


So yeah, somehow nobody noticed; it was pretty severe.


Jennifer:

So you go to your doctors office, and did they say right away you have to get this 10 level fusion?


Kyra:

She didn’t actually know how many vertebra right away. And I actually went to three different surgeons. The first surgeon wanted to fuse 12 vertebra; he’s at the Mayo Clinic, which is world renown, so we immediately went there because we’re in Minnesota. I didn’t like the doctor very much and the nurse practitioner was the person who did all the tests so they did all these little measurements: measure the difference between your shoulders, measure the degree of the hump on your back, watch you walk, walk back and forth, all these things…

So, the first doctor I went to, the nurse practitioner did all those things, and the doctor came in afterwards and was like “oh yeah, we’re gonna fuse these ones. Oh you’re crying? That’s okay. One day you’ll have a family. You won’t care about climbing.” And so, I didn’t really like that doctor. So I told my parents right away I didn’t like him.


"the doctor came in afterwards and was like “oh yeah, we’re gonna fuse these ones. Oh you’re crying? That’s okay. One day you’ll have a family. You won’t care about climbing.'"

We went to a different doctor, got another opinion, and he was way more involved in the whole process. He told me I would be on top of a podium, no problem. He knew that climbing meant a lot to me, and was even going to fuse less vertebra. So, the first doctor wanted to fuse 12, and go into my L vertebra, and the second doctor only wanted to fuse 10, and stay in the T vertebra, and I think that has had a really big impact on why I can climb the way I can because so much of your bending comes from those L vertebra.


"the second doctor only wanted to fuse 10, and stay in the T vertebra, and I think that has had a really big impact on why I can climb the way I can"

Jennifer:

Definitely. So did the first doctor tell you to stop climbing?


Kyra:

He didn’t necessarily say stop climbing but he wasn’t - supportive - is the word, or reassuring that I would get back to it. Whereas the next doctor was like, oh yeah, you’re athletic, you’re fine. You can do that. I don’t know if he knew exactly how much falling and stuff is involved in climbing. He basically told me the only things I couldn’t do was contact sports and tumbling gymnastics.


Jennifer:

Oh, well, climbing’s not that different, really.


Kyra:

I know. I don’t think he was picturing bouldering, but so far I’ve had no problems, knock on wood. It’s been 9 years since I got my surgery and I’ve had no problems with falling or anything.


Jennifer:

That’s amazing. Maybe it was a blessing he didn’t know that much about climbing.


Kyra:

Exactly.



Jennifer:

So did you ever get physical therapy after your surgery?


Kyra:

I didn’t really for the back because mostly the recovery was letting the bone heal. But I recently was working with a physical therapist at the World Championships and she showed me exercises to mobilize your ribs, which I didn’t really know was a thing even. And I think they would have been super helpful back when I got the surgery. They’ve been helping a lot actually because I have one of my lung is compressed a little bit because I still have a curve in my spine. It’s been helping with that a lot to be able to expand my ribcage.


"I recently was working with a physical therapist at the World Championships...It’s been helping to be able to expand my ribcage."

Jennifer:

What does that look like?


Kyra:

She has me wrap a towel around your torso, and kind of hold it tight and then add constriction basically while you breathe. And then a bunch of other ones involve laying on a ball and breathing with the ball in different spots. And then another one which is kind of cool- you breath out with putting pressure on your ribs, and do like a quick jolt and then breathe in really fast- which is the best way I can describe it.


Jennifer:

Cool, so do you notice that’s making a difference in how you feel?


Kyra:

Yeah, for sure. I think I feel a little bit less immobile in that area. I didn’t think I could regain any mobility in that area, since that whole section of my spine is fused. I didn’t think about mobility in the actual ribs that could actually come back.


"I didn’t think about mobility in the actual ribs that could actually come back."

Jennifer:

And do you have any trouble when you’re climbing?


Kyra:

As I’ve gotten better at climbing, I’ve actually run into more and more moves that I’m having trouble with. So when you’re feet get farther from your hands and you have to keep body tension all the way through- a lot of times you can compensate for how hard that move would be by twisting in or doing things like that, and I can’t compensate like that. So a lot of times, those moves I have to do the hard way or even just kind of painful.


And then, as moves get kind of weirder, there’s some difficulty. Sometimes you have to kind of reach behind you, like grab something and reach behind you and arch. That’s something I have a really hard time with because I can’t really arch my back at all. And twisting- I pretty much have no twist available so I have to twist from my hips, and so as soon as my hips are immobile or I can’t twist my hips for some reason, I have a lot less mobility and sometimes that affects me as well.


"I can’t really arch my back at all. And twisting- I pretty much have no twist available"

Jennifer:

That’s amazing, just watching you climb, you would not realize that you can’t twist. You look like you’re getting into a lot of twisty and bendy positions in your climbing.


Kyra:

Yeah, I’ve had to make up a lot of it with my hip mobility.


Jennifer:

That’s what I was going to say- do you work more on your hip mobility to kind of compensate that way, so you can just focus more on that?


Kyra:

Yeah, so those are the things that PT has really helped me with, longer term. I can’t really do a whole lot for the actual back, but as far as how I can help my actually climbing yeah hip mobility; I have to climb square a lot of times so it’s kind of aggressive on your knees. So, a lot of knee PT and knee exercises have been really helpful.


"PT has really helped me...longer term...I have to climb square a lot of times so it’s kind of aggressive on your knees. So, a lot of knee PT and knee exercises have been really helpful."

Jennifer:

Cool. So you’re an amazingly accomplished climber, and I want to talk a little bit about your mindset. So you’re 12 years old, you get this surgery. You were not an Olympic USA team climbing member at that point. How did you work your mindset around- you get this significant spinal fusion- I don’t know if you knew anyone your age that was getting it, maybe you were the only one. How do you structure your mindset around- ok, I’m going to continue to push my climbing limits. Was the USA team always one of your goals?


"having this surgery where climbing kind of got taken away happened really at the ideal time for me...it was a source of motivation- like I’m not going to let this stop me."

Kyra:

I was kind of in that phase in climbing/ young teenage life where I was like “I don’t know if I want to go to the gym, I don’t know if I want to go to practice. I kind of want to hang out with my friends at the park…” that kind of stage. So, I think having this surgery where climbing kind of got taken away happened really at the ideal time for me, because I didn’t get that burnout. I was kind of nearing that burnout stage and instead, kind of got it taken away from me and realized how much I loved it. So that kind of really sparked wanting to get better, even more than it did before. So year, I did have dreams of winning nationals and things like that and that’s why the doctor I ended up getting surgery from said send me a photo when you’re on top of the podium; he knew that was a goal of mine.


So it wasn’t actually until after my surgery that I got kind of good. I had been making finals at youth nationals but it wasn’t until a year and a half after my surgery that I actually won nationals and so I think it was a source of motivation- like I’m not going to let this stop me. I think that has carried on in general. I’m kind of stubborn, and I think that it really helpful in sports, especially climbing, since there’s so much failure. If you don’t have that tenacity, you’re not going to last in climbing, in general. I would say that’s where a lot of my mindset comes from. I’ll fail on something and I’ll be like, “dang that doesn’t seem possible” but then I’ll keep trying it and I think that’s something that you need.


"If you don’t have that tenacity, you’re not going to last in climbing...I would say that’s where a lot of my mindset comes from."

Jennifer:

So just not being able to climb is what inspired you to try as hard as you can, because it got taken away from you?


Kyra:

I think that’s one of the biggest things that’s fueled me ever since. I took four months off for the surgery and since then I don’t think I’ve taken more than a week off.


Jennifer:

Is there anyone that has inspired you along the way?


Kyra:

I guess one of the first people who I ever met who was a pro climber was Alex Johnson because she climbed at the same gym as me when I first started. She even came and visited me in the hospital, I was talking to her about this the other day and now she’s a super good friend of mine. But when I first started she was 19 and I was 11 so it was more of a coach relationship. She was probably one of the first people I really looked up to. And then after that, there was nobody who was really like me in that way, so I didn’t really have anyone to look to for that. It was kind of before Instagram was really big and so it wasn’t easily accessible. I probably looked up to the World Cup stars at the time: Ana Storin, and people like that.


"one of the first people who I ever met who was a pro climber was Alex Johnson...She was probably one of the first people I really looked up to."

Jennifer:

Did you have anyone you knew that went through something similar to what you were going through- like had a major surgery and came back from it?


Kyra:

At the time, no. Now, because of Instagram and my posts, people sharing it, I’ve gotten a lot of messages from tons of climbers who have had back surgeries and the same surgery as me and I think that’s really cool actually.


Jennifer:

Yeah that’s really cool. And it’s equally as cool that you didn’t know anyone at the time you still pursued what you did. You didn’t have anyone to look up to and you still got on top.


Kyra:

Yeah, I think I’m really lucky that it worked out the way it did.


"I’ve gotten a lot of messages from tons of climbers who have had back surgeries and the same surgery as me and I think that’s really cool actually."

Jennifer:

Did you have any specific down moments while you were going through this and any ways specifically that you got through that?


Kyra:

It was a while ago so it’s hard to remember exactly then, but I still do occasionally have moments while I'm on the mats competing where I'll turn around and see a move and I'll think 'that's gonna be really hard for me'. Or I won't realize it and get on the wall, and be like 'what the heck- how is this even possible?' and then I remember, 'oh, I can't bend.' So, I've had moments like that; those are the most frustrating to me because sometimes it feels totally impossible. And like I said, climbing is a lot of failure, but it always feels at least possible or overcomeable. So as soon as something feels like it's not, that's kind of when things have become the most frustrating.


"I still do occasionally have moments while I'm on the mats competing where I'll turn around and see a move and I'll think 'that's gonna be really hard for me'."

Usually working with coaches and things like that have been really helpful for moves like that and even PT's, because they can think about movement in a different way, and help me come up with different ways of doing a move that I maybe wouldn't have thought of. So that has even gotten a lot better.


"working with coaches and things like that have been really helpful for moves like that and even PT's, because they can think about movement in a different way"

Jennifer:

So where are you now? We talked a little bit about that you just got back from Tokyo, you're pursuing the next round of competition to get into the Olympics. How are you preparing day to day? Are you just climbing or are you also going to school?


Kyra:

Yeah, so I actually finished school, I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor's in Animal Science-Pre Vet, so I took all the pre-med/ pre-vet classes, and that was last April, 2018. So this whole last year I've been able to focus pretty much entirely on climbing and qualifying for the Olympics. And so right now, I'm at home in between competitions and it's kind of just a focused training time which is really nice.


I tend to do two days on, one day off; I used to do three days on but I've switched it up because I think more rest is good, and I've been actually seeing a lot of improvement that way. On my rest days I try to keep it as mellow as possible: run errands, clean the house, things like that, answer emails, do things like this. And then on climbing days I go pretty hard and sometimes do double sessions.


"I tend to do two days on, one day off...because I think more rest is good, and I've been actually seeing a lot of improvement that way...on climbing days I go pretty hard and sometimes do double sessions."

Jennifer:

So are you pursing veterinarian school?


Kyra:

Yeah, I want to be a Vet eventually but right now, I'm kind of making the pro climbing thing work, so I'm going to make that work for as long as possible. The two things that I ever wanted to be in my whole life were a vet or a pro climber so I'm going to eventually try to do both.


"The two things that I ever wanted to be in my whole life were a vet or a pro climber so I'm going to eventually try to do both."

Jennifer:

My last question for you is: what moves you? So, what moves you physically/mentally? Do you have any mantras that keep you motivated? What's kind of your inner dialogue?


Kyra:

Yeah, a kind of funny mantra that the whole climbing community in Minnesota has is "you suck, try harder". Which is pretty applicable to climbing; it's like you're getting getting beaten down but just try harder and maybe it'll work.


I think I have a really big drive to want to get better and I enjoy the work that I put into it. I don't want to win because I got lucky, I want to win because I know I put all the effort in and worked as hard as I can. And those are always the people I've looked up to, the people that I know work hard, that are maybe working a full time job and training full time and things like that- that's always really inspired me.


"a kind of funny mantra that the whole climbing community in Minnesota has is 'you suck, try harder' ".

Jennifer:

And a similar question- why do you climb?


Kyra:

Oh man, that's a hard question too. I climb because I love it, at the very base of it, and I think it challenges you mentally and physically, and that's not something you get in all sports. I also just love the community; I'm so in it now that I could never stop.


Jennifer:

Where can people find you if they want to learn more about you?


Kyra:

Instagram is probably the best spot, I always reply to messages that surprises people usually, but I like to interact. Instagram @kyra_condie







CONTACT

Location

Inside of Origin Climbing + Fitness

7585 Commercial Way Unit J

Henderson, NV 89011

Phone

Call or Text (702) 277 - 0193

  • White Instagram Icon
  • White Facebook Icon
  • White YouTube Icon

This website does not provide medical advice and does not direct that you undertake any specific exercise or training/rehabilitation regimen.  Consult with a professional before undertaking any information found on this website. All visitors to this site must consent to Terms of Use and Notice of Privacy Practices.

© 2020 by Onsight Movement, LLC

Onsight_Logo_Horizontal.png