China's 14-year-old rock climbing star explains why her sport is 'a puzzle to find the best way to the top' mentally and physically

By Ben Young

Claire Cheung comes out on top at the 2018 Kailas rock climbing competition and shows that hard work really pays off

By Ben Young |

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Claire Cheung started climbing when she was five years old.

Fourteen-year-old Claire Cheung was one of the top rock climbers at the Kailas Hong Kong Just Climb Cup 2018 competition held in Paradise Mall near Chai Wan last month. She achieved the highest score in the Women’s Professional category.

“Rock climbing is and will always be my passion,” said Claire, who lives in Shenzhen. “I’ve been doing it for my entire life and I don’t plan to stop.”

The full-time athlete started rock climbing when she was five years old, and now that the sport is starting to gain traction in both Hong Kong and China, she hopes to become a pioneer.

“Rock climbing is such a great sport because it challenges you both physically and mentally,” she said. “You have to be very physically fit and strong, but it’s also a puzzle to find the best way to reach the top.”

Claire, who started rock climbing because of her dad, hopes to inspire more people to try the activity.

“Sometimes it can be hard to get outside, especially in a city like Hong Kong,” she said. “But with rock climbing, you can get an outdoor experience indoors.”

Claire hopes her success will allow her to meet more climbing champions like Yuji Hirayama.
Photo: Kailas

Claire added the sport is also a lot of fun. “It’s addictive. I’ve always just loved it, loved finding new ways to climb and finding ways to improve,” she said. “Of course, once I started getting really good and winning competitions, that made it even more fun.”

She was thankful to her parents for supporting her in pursuing an unconventional career path. “It seems a little strange in Chinese culture to not focus on academics and pursue a career in sport,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of doubters, and people told me I should stop. But I’ve stuck with it.”

Of course, like with any sport, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to become a champion. Claire trains six days a week – a regimen that includes several hours of skills training and fitness work, and strict dieting.

“It’s important to maintain your weight if you want to be elite at this sport, which means sometimes I don’t get to eat my favourite buns,” she said. “But it’s worth it.”

Claire, who hopes to become China’s best rock climber, added that she doesn’t think she has a lot of natural talent. “Anyone can become good at rock climbing,” she said. “The reason I am good is because I love this sport so I train harder than everyone else.”

Her advice to other young rock climbers is simply to not give up.

“Even if you don’t want to climb competitively, stick with it because it’s so good for your body, mind and soul. You learn discipline, you learn how to solve problems, it’s just a wonderful activity.”

Edited by Nicole Moraleda