Regardless of how the future may look like we couldn’t have started out on a more sound trajectory.
With more climbing spaces springing up, there’s more than just a hope that climbing will at some point gain its long overdue recognition. But this is not to suggest that those who’ve been in it for long aren't just as skeptical as they have always been. I have spoken to quite a few people from the community and half the time, my inquiries have met with a kind of cynicism that's not unsubstantiated. But for a moment, let's consider looking at the larger picture. Perhaps its inclusion in the Olympics will bring about some change and awareness and perhaps out of the need to take a stance internationally, it will push the decision makers to invest in it. "Regardless of how the future may look like we couldn’t have started out on a more sound trajectory," says Shivpreet: a youth climber from Punjab who now works at a premium climbing facility in Delhi.
Using the above mentioned as the premise, I reached out to Shivpreet Pannu, a 19 year old climber from Punjab who nabbed the coveted gold medal in the Asian Youth Speed Championship 2019. The championship is organized by the IFSC (International Federation of Sports Climbing) in Bangalore.
Shivpreet has been climbing since she’s 11 years old. She has also participated in a number of open international competitions held across China, Bangkok, Singapore and Nepal. Having trained under the tutelage of some of India’s best, Shivpreet is perhaps the fiercest of most climbers her age and she’s only just started.
SC: Why do you climb and how long have you been climbing?
SP: Aside from it being a passion, I climb because it's my happy place and it calms my nerves. As absurd as it sounds, I started climbing with the objective to increase my height. But as I kept going at it for years, I realized that it was something I wanted to pursue my future in.
It is the only drug I am addicted to. I also feel burdened when I don’t climb for longer durations. I have been climbing since 2011 which makes it a total of 9 years since I started. I just love climbing. It makes my life lively.
SC: What does it actually mean to win the Asian Youth Championship?
Winning the Asian Youth Championship was a dream come true for me. It didn’t let me sleep for many days. Also, this was my last year in youth. When I was in China back in 2018, I was confirmed that Asian Youth Championship 2019 was going to be held in India. Back then, I decided to give in everything I had in me and continued working on it. Asian Youth Championship opened my path to Asian Games 2022 , which is a small reward for the time I have put into it, but it also reinforces my confidence to dream bigger.
SC: What’s your long term objective with climbing?
This year I am going to compete in the world university championship. And then, I will work towards Asian Games 2022. And then eventually, shift my focus to the Olympics in 2024.
There’s one thing that I’d like to say and that is to ensure you don't compromise on your education.
SC: We’ve had more than a few athletes who’ve won several accolades over the years and yet have barely met with any “success”. There are various factors responsible for such an outcome. I find this a bit terrifying but being able to pursue it regardless is what mystifies me the most. How do you knowingly make that decision to go further?
SP: Because climbing is not a recognized sport in India so planning a secure future around it makes it somewhat difficult. I am waiting for it to be recognized; that’s my plan A. Monetary stability is important I know but the pride obtained from doing something for my country is more important. On the contrary, I am also working on my studies; thinking of pursuing sport psychology in the future. There’s one thing that I’d like to say and that is to ensure you don't compromise on your education. That’s the only way to go about it.
SC: Let aside climbing gyms, with the inclusion of climbing in the 2020 Olympics, what does the future of climbing look like in India?
SP: The future of climbing in India looks brighter. But its inclusion in the Olympics 2020 alone won’t cut it. The government needs to take steps in order to get this sport recognized.
For example: Asian gold medalists under other recognized sports receive rewards including monetary funds from the government. But for climbing there’s nothing which is sometimes heartbreaking. The government should give rewards to non recognized sports. We are also athletes and we are also making our country proud and therefore, we too deserve respect. I hope this answers your question.
SC: If you could fix one thing about climbing in India, what would that be and where would it start?
SP: The one thing that needs to be fixed is popularity. It can only be started at the government level. Popularity will enhance awareness which in turn will help grow infrastructure. At this point, all climbing lacks is support. Once “this support” is made accessible, the number of medals for India in climbing would only go up.