Billy Surface


Claire Buhrfeind Is Climbing Her Way to the 2020 Olympics

Some Olympic dreams start in suburban gyms.

How does a 21-year-old from Plano, where there are no mountains, end up being one of the best rock climbers in the world?
I’ve always loved climbing things in general. I got kicked out of a Mommy and Me gymnastics class when I was 3 because I climbed the rope to the ceiling. When I was 5, I think my parents probably got tired of me climbing the refrigerator and stuff like that. Life Time Fitness had just opened in Plano near my house, and my dad would drop me off at the climbing area when he went to work out. I fell in love with it.

When did you start competing?
A coach told me that there was this amazing youth climbing team based out of Carrollton. I went and tried out with my now coach, Kyle Clinkscales, when I was 10. I did my first national championship that year, in 2009, and competed with Team Texas youth climbing until I was 18. I started competing for the adult U.S. team when I was 15, and I still compete on the adult team today. Typically I’ll climb five days a week—and usually three of those days are twice a day.

Most climbers specialize in sport climbing, speed climbing, or bouldering. But one specialty wasn’t enough for you?
Kyle always encouraged us to compete in all three disciplines. I honestly am competitive in pretty much everything I do, so doing all three was a fun challenge for me. And now, there’s climbing in the Olympics for the first time, in 2020, and it’s a combined format, meaning you’ll have to do all three disciplines to participate. For some people I think it was pretty disappointing, but for me it’s really exciting.

Have you already bought your ticket to Tokyo?
None of it is actually set in stone yet. As a first-year sport, it’s a little smaller. There are 20 spots for men and 20 for women—for the whole world. No country is guaranteed any spots but Japan, for being the host country. And so, maximum, the U.S. will be able to take two men and two women. Everything is decided based on international standings. My main focus for the coming months will be preparing for the Pan-American Championships in February. At the beginning of next year, we’ll know who the Olympians are. 

Which is more fun: indoor or outdoor climbing?
Climbing outside has just been something that’s always for the pure enjoyment. It’s almost like vacation climbing.

What’s it like to be the first person to simultaneously hold the top spots for speed climbing and sport climbing?
Last year I was the national champion for sport climbing and speed climbing at the Adult National Championships in Reno. That’s the first time anybody has held both titles in the same year. This year’s been a little difficult for me because I’ve been dealing with a finger injury off and on. I ruptured a pulley in my finger, which is a super common climbing injury.

What do you do in Dallas when you’re not busy training for an Olympic medal?
I love food. I love eating out; it’s probably my favorite thing to do. My favorite restaurant is Tei Tei Robata Bar on Henderson. And I love Klyde Warren and eating at the food trucks, especially The Butcher’s Son.

Have you been raging since turning 21 a few weeks ago?
I don’t like going too crazy. I do like training and keeping a strict schedule, but I think it’s also important to have fun downtime with friends. So, everything in moderation, you know? 


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