By Jonathan Spaner

As far as individual sports go, there aren’t any more solitary than competitive rock climbing.

In games like tennis, or golf, or any other single person games, a coach or confidant is a few steps away to talk strategy, and the cheer of the crowd is right on top of you, willing you on to victory. But it’s a long, lonely way up the wall, and when the competition is “who can go the highest?” support can feel like a million miles away. But for Remington Irwin (Remi for short), family is right there with her, just like the lucky necklace she wears around her neck, every scramble upwards.

Irwin has mostly stepped away from major competitions as she completes her first year of business studies at the University of Alberta, but is still climbing almost daily and coaching this growing sport.

The upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics will mark the first inclusion of the sport at the Olympic games, in three categories: Speed, Lead and Bouldering (“Fastest, with a rope, and shorter wall” as described by Irwin for the uneducated). Her resume is impressive, competing all over the world, from Chile to Austria, to New Caledonia, to her last major international tournament, the 2017 PanAmerican Youth Championships in Montreal. But more impressive, from her point of view, is her parents’ commitment to furthering their daughter’s love of a niche sport.

“My parents are like the most supportive people. They get so into it, it’s insane. There was always at least one parent at every practice, at every competition. They never sent me by myself.”

Corrina and George Irwin, Remi’s parents, thought climbing in a gym would just be a safer way to have her pursue a childhood hobby, which was climbing on everything. “As a kid, she would just climb anything she could, so we thought, “Hey, why not just do it at the gym instead?”” Corrina explained the origins of her daughter’s climbing career. And from there, the small, but dedicated climbing community took hold of their lives.

George first became a judge in competitions, which everyone in the interview acknowledged was, and still is a much needed, and often underpopulated role in the developing sport. Eventually, he worked his way up to becoming the head judge for entire competitions, dealing with appeals, questions or complaints from competitors and their teams.

From there, he got into climbing more and more, even becoming the president of the Alberta Climbing Association, ending his term this past May. Remi wasn’t lying when she said her parents get into it; they even built a small bouldering wall in their basement for her to practice on when she couldn’t get to the gym.

“The best aspect of being President of the Climbers Association was the community of climbers, and parents of climbers” George admitted.

Remi proudly revealed that George was the go-to fun dad for all her climbing friends and teammates, often taking part in selfies on the road trips to out-of-town competitions, willingly or not. Now that she is focused on her studies, and taking a break from large competitions, both parents agreed it’s been bittersweet to take time for reflection into their lives in climbing.

The Olympic dream might have to be put on pause, but Remi’s love of the climb will always be there. Corrina admits while she misses watching her climb regularly, she said Remi has found something that wasn’t there when in competition.

“She’s more engaged and has more fun when she is climbing now. It’s just a great place for her to clear her mind now.”

The physical support and commitment to raise the profile of sport like competitive climbing is evident in Irwin’s parent’s actions the last half-decade and more. But, when separated right before competitions, Remi recalls a time when the emotional support of her mom helped her up the wall, even if she couldn’t lift her up herself.

One competition, she forgot her lucky necklace she said she had always climbed with, and in the few minutes between isolation and climbing, called Corrina to see what she could do.

“She was on her way [to the competition], but drove back to the hotel, and grabbed my necklace. By the time she got back, I was already climbing, and she felt so bad that she didn’t make it back in time.” As it turns out, the necklace wasn’t the source of her super climbing abilities after all, though it’s clear to Remi what pushed her to the top.

“ I think I won that one!” she said with a laugh.


Feature Image Photo Credit: Ken Chow