Next Generation Leaders
May 27, 2021 2:35 PM EDT

When Kyra Condie was in middle school, boys said a six-pack on a girl was “gross.” They said she was ugly. They taunted Condie, a vegetarian who graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in animal science—she still might go to vet school—about her diet. One day, she says, a group of boys chased her from the school bus waving cold cuts. She scrambled up a tree to avoid them.

Over spaghetti pomodoro at a restaurant in Salt Lake City, where Condie lives and trains, she chuckles while recalling the incident. She indeed enjoys the last laugh. Condie, 24, will represent the U.S. at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, as sport climbing makes its debut at the Games. And she’s using her elite status and social media platform to reach for more than a medal. “I would like to do more,” she says, “than just be an athlete.”

Growing up near St. Paul, Minn., Condie was a climber practically at birth. Her parents put her in a toddler bed early, since she’d always try to scale the crib. Her mother Cathy shares a picture of her daughter perched on a refrigerator she’d ascended; she was 4. At 10, she attended a birthday party at a local climbing gym and was hooked. But not long after joining a youth team, Condie began suffering sharp back pain. She was diagnosed with severe idiopathic scoliosis; her spine had a 70-degree curve, requiring surgery. One doctor said she might not climb again. Medical staff tried consoling her by telling her that one day she’d have a family and climbing wouldn’t seem so important. “I doubt they would say that to a young male swimmer,” Condie says.

Kyra Condie
Jessica Talley—Louder Than 11

She got another opinion—and recovered from painful surgery to reach the Olympics and become a board member of USA Climbing. On the climbing wall, Condie at times must rely more on strength than mobility, given some restrictions in her movement from scoliosis. And as a leader in her sport, she’s pushing for diversity and inclusion. “It’s definitely super white,” Condie says. One seemingly easy fix she proposes: ditching the number of racist, sexist and homophobic rock climbing route names that still persist. Traditionally, “first ascenders” of a given rock-climbing route earn the right to name it. This practice has yielded far too many ugly results. “It just makes the entry into climbing harder if you’re sitting there being uncomfortable, not even being able to say the name of a route,” says Condie.

A breakout Olympic performance will help Condie spread her message. To that end, she spent a mid-May morning at the USA Climbing Training Center in Salt Lake City, doing one-handed pull-ups with her fingers. She meticulously charts her progress in a notebook—Yay! Climbing! it says on the cover. “It is really frustrating when people say that athletes should stick to sports and stay out of politics and things like that,” she says. “I don’t want to look back in 20 years and be like, ‘oh, I should have done more.’”

 

Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com.

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