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On the Cover: Kai Lightner

Cover Date: November 25th, 2014

An Interview with Kai Lightner

Editor: Kai, you recently won gold at the IFSC Climbing World Youth Championships 2014 at Noumea, New Caledonia.  You’ve been training super hard, so what was it like when you grabbed the gold?  Can you describe the feeling?

Kai Lightner: Being able to stand on top of the podium representing my country is an unbelievable feeling that is unparalleled with anything else I’ve ever experienced. What also made it even more special was the fact that my teammate, Drew Ruana, took second place, which meant the US, had two athletes on the podium.

I was very excited to win this world title, especially since I had messed up in earlier rounds.  During finals, I was able to forget about my previous mistakes and persevere my way to the top! 


Editor: It is pretty clear to the world that you were born to climb and boulder. You’re inspiring millions of young people and adults to get out their climbing shoes and go climbing!  How did you first develop an interest in this sport and how old were you?

Kai Lightner: From a very young age, I have always climbed everything, which got me into a lot of trouble. Finally, when I was 6, my mom heard that there was a climbing gym in the area and she brought me there. I was immediately hooked!  I had a huge “tree house” where I was allowed to climb everything.

Editor: It is said that you are a patient and highly methodical climber.  What’s going through your mind when you’re hanging from a rock, chalking out your next, precise move?

Kai Lightner: Usually, when I’m climbing, I try to stay calm and think of the most efficient way to climb each move. I usually chalk up a lot, which my coaches absolutely HATE. For me every time I pause on a route, my mind is just wired to automatically chalk, shake out my arms, and plan the most efficient way to push through the upcoming sequence.  This routine helps to keep me calm and patient on routes in order to preserve energy for possible crux moves close to the anchors.

Editor: What are your favorite places to climb in the world?

Kai Lightner: I have had the opportunity to travel the world in the last couple of years, and explore a lot of indoor climbing walls for competitions. However, I haven’t had the opportunity to climb at any outdoor crags outside of the United States. In the US, I really enjoy climbing at the Red River Gorge and the New River Gorge.  

Editor: Who are your climbing and bouldering icons that inspire you?

Kai Lightner: I look up to climbers such as Adam Ondra, Chris Sharma, Sasha DiGiulian, Jakob Schubert, and many others. These athletes are exceptional climbers, and they seem to be really nice people that I aspire to be like.


Editor: You are blessed with a gift that many climbers wish they could have: a wonderful mom who travels with you, supports you, guides you and understands your heart and emotions.  How does it feel like to have your mom, Connie by your side?  It must be a really great feeling! 

Kai Lightner: My mom has always been a supportive role model to me. She’s always the one who drives me to all my events and hikes up the mountains with me.   Although climbing is outside of her comfort zone, she committed to learning everything she could about the sport, in order to help me out.  She is always a source of motivation, whether it’s at a competition or on a climb that I’m having a hard time completing.  She’s pretty awesome.

Editor: She most certainly is. So, where are you off to next and what is your goal, Kai?

Kai Lightner: In a few weeks I’ll be off to Mexico City to compete in the PanAmerican Championships.  It’s always fun to hang out with my US teammates and kids from different countries.

In 2015, I hope to defend my youth world title in Arco, Italy and compete in open competitions. That will be a really big learning year for me.  Whenever you venture into a tougher level of competition, it’s always a lot of new things to learn.  I look forward to the new challenges and growing more in the sport.   I also hope to venture outdoors more and find new projects to climb and to push myself to rise to the challenge.

Kai’s Bio:

"In 2006, six year old Kai Lightner walked into The Climbing Place in Fayetteville, NC and discovered the world of rock climbing. That year he began competing in the USA Climbing organization, and attended his first Sport Climbing Series National Competition in 2007.  

As an active competitor in the USA Climbing youth circuit, Kai has earned 7 National Championship titles, 2 PanAmerican Championship titles, and 11 US Team designations.  In September 2014, Kai earned the gold medal for his age category (14-15) at the Youth World championship in Noumea, New Caledonia, becoming the third American Lead World Champion.

Kai has a passion for indoor competitive climbing and enjoys “pushing the limits” through outdoor sport climbing.  In 2013, Kai reached new heights outdoors, climbing his first 5.14a route.  Since that time, he has ascended 10 sport climbs 5.14a – 5.14c.

He aims to continue tackling new outdoor challenges, and one day compete in World Cup climbing competitions."

Thanks for talking with us and sharing this totally amazing journey with us, please say hello to your Mom for us, the climbing world loves and respects her so much.

Good luck and we’ll do a follow up interview with you in the future, Kai. 

Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Editor of the Facebook page: 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
All images © of the designated photographer and used with Connie Lightner's written permission.