ACC Ambassador Gord McArthur is a professional ice climber and veteran competitor of the World Cup ice climbing circuit. In 2017, Gord established the hardest dry tooling route in the world in Storm Giant (D16). He is a guidebook author, gym owner and dedicated family man. You can read about his big 2015 season here.
After the 2017 World Cup tour, Gord decided to retire from competition, thinking that he had taken things as far as he could. Turns out he wasn’t done.
We can’t think of a better way to start the new year than to share Gord’s story of passion for sport, drive to excel and commitment to his ideals. - Ed.
Calling it quits
I had come home from Mongolia last winter broken, tired, and ready to be done. It was only half way through the competition season and my body, mind, and everything in between had given in to the years of “try hard”, filled with emotion, stress, success and failure. I knew it was time to go home and lay down my competitive career. I had done my best, tried my hardest, and laid it all out there, going after what once was just a dream; to compete at the highest level, to be my best.
Sitting out on my back deck months later, drinking a beer, eating dinner, my wife and I were talking about life, and all that encompassed our every-day. The topic of me being retired from competition climbing came up - lead by the question, “how do you feel about being done?” I tried to answer honestly, but my wife saw straight through that, full well knowing there was a certain level of unsettledness that leaked through my words. I casually tried to pose the notion of me not really caring, but I found myself uncomfortable with my own words. I could feel the emotion of not finishing properly creeping in. Feelings that I had suppressed when I had come home were quickly surfacing again. We talked for another hour or so on the topic, and in the end, we both knew I had to go back. I had to go back and finish strongly, and by that I don’t mean winning, although that’s always the goal, but more so from start to finish. You see, I’m a terrible finisher. I love starting, I love all the “middle” stuff, but finishing… it’s certainly a weak point. It was clear as day to both of us that I wouldn’t be “satisfied” until I finished properly, a full season with a full heart.
Can you come back?
Not even a week later, I received a phone call from one of my sponsors, Outdoor Research. The words, “Can you come back?” rung so deeply, as though my soul had just been shocked. My athlete manager explained to me that OR had just become the new title sponsor of the World Cup Ice Climbing Circuit. He knew I had retired, but with this new sponsorship deal between OR and the UIAA, he asked me how I felt about “coming out of retirement”. Without a breath of hesitation, I replied, “HECK YES”. The timing of everything: the conversation with my wife, the phone call from OR, it was all too perfect. Subconsciously I had been hoping for a way back, an opportunity to finish off what I had started and dedicated so much of my life to. But it wasn’t until that conversation, that phone call, that the deeply pitted hope became apparent to me.
Wasting no time, I built a new training structure, in my backyard, again. My family and I had moved in the spring, which meant my old training structure, “the great arch”, had to be torn down. I was retired, so taking it down shouldn’t have mattered. Who knew it wasn’t over yet? I mapped out a new training plan, designed with a totally different perspective, and mindset: to begin, again. Going back to what I knew, and still know, but refining the details towards a more specific regimen. It’s different now. I need to stay healthy, but be fitted with such readiness, to stay focused with a mastery of dedication that can’t be shaken.
I’ve spent years trying to perfect training plans, building mental toughness, and understanding the fine art of competing. But in the last few years, life had become fuller. More stress, more responsibility, less time. There was a lot going on, which made it harder to focus on my goals. My competition results began to slip, and so did my once capable state of mind. But with this new opportunity, I have a new fire, a new level of excitement that feels like when I first began. It’s as though I’m preparing for my first competition season ever. It’s hard to explain such feelings, only that exhilaration of competing is back; what was once lost has returned. And in full force.
My training and preparation is different this time around. I’ve refined all of it, including my new structure. A 35ft arch is now a 16ft high by 20ft wide bouldering wall. The angles, holds, height, and width, are all perfect. I’ve changed my strength training, and in the past four months, I’ve seen gains that I’ve never been able to attain before. Mentally I feel free. Free from pressure and from the unnecessary weight filled with anxiety. I remember these feelings from when I first started, oh so long ago. It’s just me this time, with my coaches and family beside me, just our plan, with no strings attached. It feels perfect, and new.
A Comeback plan
“Coming back” isn’t about winning. Yes, the goal is to perform at my best, and with any luck perhaps we’ll find a level of success that allows for such a thing, but more so it’s to finish… properly. True success to me is coming home with a smile on my face, knowing that what I started, I finished. This opportunity, this “begin again” mentality, has given me the energy I need to go the distance from end to end, with a new-found confidence and a new-found drive for trying harder.