Meet Olympic Hopeful Claire Buhrfeind

Claire Buhrfeind // photo Eddie Fowke

Sitting at an elevation of just 660 feet, Plano isn’t exactly known for big boulders and cliffs. So it might seem strange that one of the nation’s top-ranked female rock climbers hails from North Texas.

At just 21 years old, Claire Buhrfeind is taking on the world of climbing — quite literally – from Singapore to Australia and all over Europe. But the Olympic hopeful’s humble beginnings started right here. “My dad said I used to climb the refrigerator when I was 18 months old,” says Claire, who officially got her start climbing at a Lifetime Fitness summer camp designed for six-year-olds.

Claire credits her parents for sneaking her in. “I was five, and my parents lied to get me in there,” she laughs, but she held her own. By 10 years old, she had made her way onto the Team Texas climbing team and into the U.S. Circuit, where she connected with coach Kyle Clinkscales who took Claire and other adventurous kids on climbing trips around the country.

Claire Buhrfeind // photos Brian Hall
Claire Buhrfeind // photos Brian Hall

“I’ve always loved outdoor climbing, but unfortunately it’s not really in my backyard,” says Claire, pointing toward El Paso and Austin as the best “local” climbing destinations.

Closer to home is Summit, a family of locally owned climbing, yoga and fitness gyms that recently opened its newest location here in Plano. Boasting climbing walls up to 55 feet tall, Summit delivers the challenge Claire craves when it comes to training.

“Keeping composure is probably the hardest thing to learn, like learning how to tune everything out and just focus on what’s right in front of you,” Claire explains, adding she’s always been naturally comfortable being pretty high up. But that doesn’t mean she’s looking to do anything too crazy.

“The thing you have to realize with climbing is literally anything can happen. You can climb a route like 100 times and maybe once you break up the holds or a rock can fall, or you could slip. Anything could happen.” So while Claire says she considers fellow American climber Alex Honnold incredible, she isn’t planning her own free solo climb without ropes, harnesses or other protective equipment anytime soon.

Instead she’s looking toward the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan where rock climbing will debut as an Olympic sport for the very first time. To qualify for the Olympic team, Claire will have to rank among the top 20 female climbing competitors worldwide. Each country, including the United States, will be allotted four spots — for two male climbers and two female climbers — but only 40 competitors will ultimately make the cut for the games.

Yet Claire is focused and up to the challenge. The Red Bull- and Black Diamond-sponsored athlete aims to secure her roster spot next spring in the Pan-American Championship. For now, a minor injury has forced her to take a temporary break from training, which she says has allowed time for reading, yoga, traveling and other things that enable her to take a step back and reflect on her passion for climbing.

“It sounds so cliché, but it really has shaped me into who I am today,” Claire says, thankful for the experiences she’s had through climbing. “I am really passionate about sharing that, I think especially coming from Plano. The gym and competition space opened my eyes to this whole world of opportunity.”

At Summit, Claire has also found community. Indoor climbing brings together people of all ages and ability levels, and Summit makes it easy for both brand new and experienced climbers to participate side-by-side in a fun and social way. Now a top-level competitor herself, she says it’s really rewarding to be part of something that’s so full circle.

“You know, I see these little eight-year-olds, and I’m like, ‘I was exactly where you were!’ So it’s exciting for me to think of where climbing has brought me and where it can take others,” Claire says. And throughout her climbing career, she’s kept her focus on what’s important.

“Competing and being part of these events is a lot more to me than just trying to be successful or be on the podium or get medals,” she says. For her, the bigger reward is just being part of the global climbing community she loves. But don’t look for her to start slacking off anytime soon.

According to Claire, “As long as I am invested in competitive climbing, I am always going to want to be at the highest level.”

One thing is for certain: All of Plano will be watching and cheering loudly as Claire takes on the international stage next year. For now, fans can keep up with Claire’s adventures on Instagram at @clairebuhrfeind.

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