On Being Short

Ramon Julian (5’2″) at the 2009 Arco Rock Master. Photo Credit: Giulio Malfer

“If I weighed nothing, I could do that, too.”

“He can only do that because he’s so small.”

“Oh, if he can do it, then I can definitely do it.”

These are all comments I’ve heard whispered (or just blatantly stated) between climbers watching me boulder in the gym. I’m 5’3″ and about 116 pounds. I have an even ape index. Clearly, I’m not the biggest guy in the cave.

This will be a bit of a rant, so I apologize. But this has been on my mind for far too long.

Why these comments? Why this thought process? Do other climbers feel inadequate when they see a short little Asian kid climbing hard? I resent the fact that other people attribute my success to the fact that I’m small. Do you really think that being so small is an advantage all of the time? Yes, I do not weigh very much (comparatively), so there’s less that I need to haul up the wall. But I also don’t have the capacity to build as much muscle as bigger people do. Do you really think that having a 5’3″ wingspan is an advantage in climbing, especially inside, when the average person is probably around 5’8″?

Yes, I won’t deny that being small is certainly an advantage from time-to-time. Pound-for-pound, I’m quite strong. My strength-to-weight ratio is solid. I can dyno with the best of them, I can lock holds off past my waist. I have small fingers, so I can crimp things that others wouldn’t dare touch. Two-finger pockets can sometime become jugs. I’m flexible, I squeeze into small places, I can hand-foot match on things most people couldn’t. Yes, there are advantages.

But the same can be said tall people – there are moves that are much easier for tall people. There are things someone 6’0″ could do that I couldn’t. But I understand that there are also moves that become very awkward for tall people. There are advantages and disadvantages. That’s the way it goes. Welcome to climbing.

So don’t take anything away from my climbing because I’m small. Don’t sit there and tell me that my size is the only reason I’m good at what I do.

You know why I’m a good rock climber?

Because I work hard at it. I sacrifice a normal social life so I can train 5-6 days a week. I put in hours and hours and hours every session so I can get better. I run laps, I do circuits, I campus. I’m motivated to get better.

That is why I’m a strong climber.

I used to use my size as an excuse. Sometimes I still do, but I’m trying to break that habit. I have accepted the fact that there may be climbs out there – both inside and out – that I will be unable to do because I’m just too small, because my hands are too tiny. That’s fine, because there are tons of climbs that I can do.

I look around me, and I see so many strong climbers who are short. My friend Sasha DiGiulian is only 5’2″. Ramon Julian, possibly the stronger climber in the world pound-for-pound, is also 5’2″. Nina Williams is 5’3″ and crushes V9. Here at Earth Treks, my friend Ben is Five Ten sponsored, sends V10, and is 5’5″ with a negative ape index. Minh send V10 at 5’2″ with a negative ape index.

Ben Dooley crushing in Joe’s Valley, Utah

I have no excuses. I won’t use my size as one anymore. There are countless climbers out there of small stature who crush hard. My goal is to be one of them.

Tall people reach. Short people rock climb.

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2 responses to “On Being Short

  1. I get that too… I’m 5’2, but heavier than you. Climbing is the only thing I do where some people see being short as an advantage. It can be on some climbs, but it’s definitely not on others.

    Whatever though… people are people, we’re all different. Just keep rocking what you’re rocking and doing your thing 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. You’re amazing! Keep climbing strong! I’m 5’2 with an even ape index and started climbing in March. Crushin those V3s and working on 4s and 5s!! Thank you for the encouragement and inspiration!!!

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