19-year-old competitive rock climber and University of New Mexico Lobo Isis Rothfork will represent New Mexico in Chicago at the Youth National Championships, hosted by USA Climbing, in July. With two landmark seasons under her harness, Rothfork remarked that she has a different mentality going into competition.
“It’s like a different game, going in when you're not really chasing. You're kind of being chased.” Rothfork said.
In 2021, Rothfork was ranked top in the nation in her age group for bouldering. Last year, she climbed her way to second place in Youth Nationals and then went toe-to-toe with athletes around the globe in the Youth World Championships in Dallas.
Competitive climbing is divided into three disciplines: bouldering, speed and lead. Although Rothfork competes in all three, she said her strength is in bouldering, where competitors climb without ropes on 4-meter tall walls with crash pads below them.
Rothfork began climbing competitively at the age of five, but has been in the climbing scene her whole life because of her parents.
“Especially in the beginning, it was a family fun thing that I would do with my parents and eventually my brother,” Rothfork said.
As Rothfork grew up, she leaned more and more into the competitive side of climbing, sometimes missing school to travel out of state for competitions. However, she hit a wall, quite literally on occasions, as she could never quite make it past semifinals.
“I would know that I can perform the same, if not better, than some of the people who are performing really highly. But I was never able to reflect that through scores for like the first 12 years of my competition career,” Rothfork said.
That is until she earned 19th place for bouldering in the semifinals of the national tournament, the second to last position in the qualifying cohort. Rothfork later secured her spot as the best in the nation, which placed her first on the podium in bouldering at Nationals. In 2022, Rothfork podiumed again and, with the momentum of the past two years behind her, she is hoping to become national champion once again in July.
Rothfork’s success is grounded in hard work and unwavering dedication, as well as a healthy dose of Rage Against the Machine: her preferred training music.
“I'm pretty good at staying psyched and maintaining energy,“ Rothfork said, “All I have to do is wake up in the morning and remember that hundreds of people are actively trying to take my place.”
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To train, Rothfork splits her time between Albuquerque and Salt Lake City, Utah. While in Albuquerque, Rothfork helps coach the New Mexico Mojo Competition Team at Stone Age Climbing Gym. Team Mojo offers training for aspiring competitive climbers ages 9 to 18; Rothfork herself was once a member.
“I would say the kids I coach actually are pretty inspiring. It's just cool to talk to them about what they're psyched on and it helps motivate me.” Rothfork said.
Thorough reflection is also an integral and unique aspect of Rothfork’s training routine.
“I'll upload all my videos into a Google Drive and then I'll write pages and pages and pages about every climb, which I subject my poor coaches to reading,” Rothfork said. “I think that really the biggest opportunity for growth is in the reflection process.”
Looking toward the future, her biggest goal is to compete in the World Cup, the foremost competition in the world of climbing. She also aspires to compete in the Olympics, which first included climbing two years ago in Tokyo. Rothfork is aiming for the 2028 Olympics and would compete on home turf in Los Angeles.
Even with high goals and even higher expectations, Rothfork doesn’t let the pressure get to her; with all eyes on her, Rothfork feels alive.
“People don't enjoy being watched when they climb, but I've always liked climbing last because it means that you have the biggest crowd. I think (pressure) is a beneficial thing for me, whether or not it's naturally that or I've twisted my perspective so it’s become that,” Rothfork said. “But being able to take something that you might not be comfortable with and making it a strength or even just something that you're okay with, I think, is a big part of striving for excellence in anything but especially climbing.”
Gillian Barkhurst is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo