What does it mean to be a true “Ambassador” of the sport of climbing? Is it your own performance? Is it your commitment to the sport? Is it what you give back to the climbing community? Is it supporting others? Or is it something else?
This year, Butora Climbing would like to congratulate Ambassador Ross Fulkerson on winning The North Face Young Gun Award. This award was created to recognize athletes that are committed to our sport through leadership, sportsmanship and volunteer work. We believe that these things that people often do behind the scenes should at least share the spotlight with the next 5.15d.
Read on to hear Ross talk about climbing, leadership, sportsmanship, volunteering, competing and inspiration.
On awards received
While I am extremely pleased to have won Nationals and to punctuate many years of training, I am far more humbled and honored to be the recipient of the North Face Young Gun award. I have competed since I was 10yr old and every year that I have witnessed this award, I absolutely revered those who won. I still look up at many past recipients. To me, it symbolized everything I wanted to be. Winning this award really made me reflect on those who have greatly influenced my life and specifically my passion for climbing. I think the award comes with a lot of responsibility too, I’m eager to continue pushing the sport of climbing and to participate in growing the community we have all worked so hard to create.
On climbers that inspire him
Personally, I am inspired by climbers of all skill levels. I am super fortunate to have a regular group of super strong, extremely motivated training partners. Such as Timothy Kang, Jake Scharfman, Sam Mcqueen, Sol Barthes, and Andy Lamb. That said, recently I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several training camps lead by world-class coaches and setters. Their insights have greatly influenced how I approach my own climbing and competition mindset. The combination of setters like Enrico Baistrocchi and Ian McIntosh together with coaches like Udo Neumann, create unique climbing situations that hugely challenge my typical training. They can see one’s strengths and vulnerabilities and pinpoint how to best execute on technical competition sequences.
Over the past couple of years, I have been working at several levels to take what I’ve learned in climbing and share it with my community. In particular, I have been working with a number of younger talented climbers to help mentor them. I have tried to help them cultivate their own passion for climbing by helping them with various climbing techniques, encouraging them to train hard and to cultivate a mindset that encourages a sense of fun, teamwork, hard work and collaboration among their peers. I have also worked closely with a couple of teachers at my high school to introduce climbing to our entire high school. The result was the school’s first-ever “2 week” climbing class in which 20 kids and even several teachers learned how to climb at a local climbing gym. I volunteered to teach the class, and over the course of those 2 weeks, it was so satisfying to see classmates learn to overcome their fears and limits – and to see them learn to challenge themselves and to encourage each other to reach the top of their chosen routes. The class was a tremendous success given the nearly unanimous student feedback and it has led to an ongoing climbing program. The school has now offered the climbing class five more times and nearly 150 kids have learned to climb.
I was honored to be selected as just one of 12 students from my high school to travel to Puerto Rico in mid-January. Our goal was to help in rebuilding the island and its schools. We traveled at the request of Oracle Corporation and Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education to help teach various high school students, their parents, teachers, and school administrators how to solve problems using “design thinking”. My fellow students and I taught several-days-long classes using the design thinking principles of empathy, collaboration, prototyping and quick iteration to help our Puerto Rican student colleagues find new ways to rebuild their communities and schools. The trip turned into an amazing success. We had a chance to meet with the head of the Governor of Puerto Rico as well as the Puerto Rican Secretary of Education. We have created long-lasting friendships with students and teachers we met in Puerto Rico. Just recently we hosted a whole group of Puerto Rican high school students and teachers here at our my high school (Design Tech High located on the Oracle Corporation headquarters and campus). We also raised over $20,000 to help bring more Puerto Rican high school students to California where we can help teach more kids about design thinking principles. We have also continued to work closely with the kids we met in Puerto Rico and have been collaborating with them throughout the school year. Going forward, our school plans to return to Puerto Rico on at least an annual basis.
Finally, I have participated in a number of climbing competitions that were benefits for local climbing crags: Planet Granite’s “Battle for the Bolts” (an event to help maintain the bolts at several local climbing crags); the “Squamish Rampage” (a local Vancouver BC climbing crag and event which benefited the clean-up and maintenance of the Squamish Bouldering environment); and, I have participated in a clean-up event for a local South Bay climbing crag at Castle Rock. Over the course of 2018, I look forward to taking on more responsibility to volunteer in different climbing related events to help benefit my community. Events of these sorts are a tremendous source of satisfaction.
On being a leader and a mentor
My progression as a climber over the years has pushed me to keep improving myself – both as a climber, as well as a student, and family member. One of the many unique aspects I appreciate about climbing is how it helps me relate to the world around me. In particular, there are so many climbing skills, experiences, and lessons that are applicable to my daily life. Chief among these skills are dedication, empathy, teamwork, communication, and collaboration. I have tried to demonstrate and cultivate many of these traits amongst my friends in my climbing circles, as well as at school, in my neighborhood and within my family dynamics. As a climber, I feel a duty to try and spread my knowledge and appreciation for the sport. At school, for example, I have introduced all my friends to climbing to the point where it is not uncommon to hear various climbing lingo and phrases around campus. I know climbing has shaped me into the person I am today. Being identified as a climber is something I am continuously proud of and always looking to pass on.
On his commitment to the sport
I started competing when I was 10 years old. In my first season, I placed 14th in Bouldering and 6th in Sport Climbing. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Since I started climbing, I have competed at US Nationals every year (except in 2015 to recover from a “growth plate” finger injury). I have been US Sport Climbing Youth National Champion twice (in 2017 and 2013), Bouldering National Champion (2018), and have 2nd place finishes in Sport twice (2014 & 2016), and Bouldering (2017). I have competed at Worlds twice (Guangzhou 2016, and Innsbruck 2017). I also won four medals at the Pan American Youth Climbing Championships held in Montreal this past October 2017. I won two gold medals (Best All Around Climber and Sport (roped) Climbing), silver (for the brand new Olympic Combined event), and bronze (Bouldering).
In the beginning, climbing was just something that was really fun to do. While climbing still brings me immense joy, it has evolved into a lifestyle that I previously didn’t know existed. Through climbing, I have been able to travel throughout the US, and more recently, around the World. In more recent adventures, I’ve had the opportunity to represent the U.S. in several international events (the 2016 Youth Worlds in Guangzhou, China, the 2017 Youth Worlds in Innsbruck, Austria, and the 2017 Pan American Championship in Montreal, Canada). At my first World Youth’s in 2016, I took 7th place in Sport, and 11th in Bouldering. And in 2017, in my first Pan Am’s, I managed to win four medals (per above). At all three of these events, I got to experience the great energy, spirit, and kinship that unites climbers, coaches, and staff. I have had the chance to see different cultures and how popular climbing is in other societies. This has definitely motivated me to be a more influential leader and ambassador for climbing back here in the States.
And finally, in early June 2017, I managed to send one of the biggest climbing accomplishments of my life. A couple of close friends and I climbed the Northwest Regular route of Half Dome in a single day in just over 14 hours. The feeling of reaching the top, a little before dusk, on a beautiful early summer day, was simply incredible. I couldn’t believe what my friends and I had just accomplished. Dreams really do come true.
On being a sportsman
I have been fortunate to grow up in a family of incredibly talented athletes. I have six older cousins who have all played collegiate sports. From a young age, their philosophies and perspectives had a profound impact on me. They mentored me on the importance of being a great role model, and to promote good behavior while always having fun and keeping a healthy atmosphere. For me, this shows up all the time in competition. It’s about having fun during the comps – during ISO and out on the wall. It’s about encouraging friends and co-competitors to do their very best when they are out on the wall competing. Climbing is a place to help foster and create an easy-going, collaborative environment. I have developed close friendships with a number of World-class climbers, through various national and World competitions, at Summer training camps, and during all sorts of outdoor climbing adventures. It has been great to personally connect with climbers from all over the World.
In the end, I think the climbing community is uniquely built on friendly/supportive competition in the spirit of camaraderie with a collective willingness to help others enjoy and excel in the sport. As climbing continues its rapid growth here in the US and around the world, I hope the sport continues to embrace the same amazing community for future generations that has been so influential for me. The community continues to inspire me to do my best. I hope my accomplishments and drive help to inspire those around me to do their best as well.
On climbing Open and Youth Nationals
Unfortunately for me, the biggest difference between Open and Youth Nationals is my head game. Ideally, there would be very little difference but Open nationals, being a fairly new domain of competition for me, was a bit rough. I think my nerves got the best of me. I’ve always thought of myself as having a pretty good head game but when you are second out right after Nathaniel Coleman, it is hard not to feel a little anxious. Another big contrast that plays into the difference in head game is the atmosphere. For some reason, the atmosphere at Youth is much more lighthearted. Even though I hang out and warm up with many of the same people during Open and Youth there is something oddly soothing about the chaos that comes with youth D’s running around in ISo. I think it brings me back to when I was competing in my first nationals and what a transformative experience it was.
The only notable physical difference I felt was in the setting. At Open it was designed to put on more of a show for the audience – with heavy reliance on more gymnastic and dynamic moves. Personally, I am all for the transition to more extravagant movement but there definitely needs to be a balance that includes “straight up” hard climbing.