Interview: World Cup Pro Delaney Miller

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Delaney Miller, 20, wrapped up the 2015 World Cup season on October 16 with a strong performance in China, giving her a ninth-place finish for the full-year circuit. You have to go all the way back to 1999, when Katie Brown was ranked fifth, to find another U.S. climber—male or female—in the top 10 for a lead climbing World Cup season.

Miller, who was raised in Texas and now studies at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, is the reigning U.S. champion in lead climbing and has made two World Cup finals. We asked Miller about competing on the international circuit—and what comes next.

Climbing: You ended up in the top 10 overall—are you happy with your performance?

Miller: To be honest, I only feel OK about it. That’s not to say I’m not proud, because I certainly am, but I was expecting a little more from myself. I think after skipping the clip in Briançon I never really fully recovered mentally. [In July, Miller entered the finals of a World Cup in Briançon, France, in fifth place but was called down from the wall after neglecting to clip the second bolt on the finals route.] That’s unusual for me, since I’ve always considered myself to be a relatively mentally tough person. In addition to feeling a lack of confidence, school started and my life has sort of become an overwhelming mess. I’m taking 16 credits, I’m an honors student, I have no time for a job (so lots of debt!), I don’t have a local coach, and no local rope gym. It’s not an easy lifestyle for someone trying to compete successfully on the international stage.

Climbing: What was the most satisfying moment of the season?

Miller: Having the competitors in Briançon collectively steal the first hold for me afterward. They decided the route should have been ‘mine’ that day, so they broke the hold off the wall and gave it to me. Not only was it totally awesome, but it really emphasized to me how supportive the climbing community is, especially on the international stage. I never have had so many people come up to me to offer a hug or sympathetic smile. It was an amazing and extremely humbling thing to experience.

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Climbing: How about the most disappointing moment?

Miller: The most disappointing moment of the season was in Belgium [September 25; Miller finished 12th]. I just felt like I was going to do really well there, and when it didn’t happen I was crushed. I felt all the little disappoints of the season and all the stress from school and my lifestyle culminate into a single infuriating, heartbroken moment. And that’s when I decided to move to Canada for grad school. I won’t be able to move until May, when I’ve completed my undergraduate degree in health and exercise science, but I think it will jump-start the life change I’m looking for. I expect Victoria [on Vancouver Island, British Columbia] to be a better setting for combined academic and athletic life. U-Vic is a dream school, and the Boulders gym is a world-class climbing facility. Of course, I’ll be deeply sad to leave Fort Collins, which has been an amazing home for the last two years, but I also know that it will be worth the move.

Climbing: What did you learn this year that might help you in future competitions?

Miller: I leaned to appreciate the process a little more. It’s not a new lesson, but it's something that has become increasingly important to my life. When I was younger, my favorite board game was the Game of Life. I loved earning the life cards, which represented experiences that translated into cash at the end of the game. I’d like to view actual life as a game as well, in which I will be the most satisfied at the end as long as I keep going after those life cards.

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Climbing: Is there one woman who impresses you the most among your fellow competitors?

Miller: I’d say Anak Verhoeven from Belgium. Mostly because she has the best attitude and one of the friendliest smiles on the circuit.

Climbing: How many World Cups did you do in 2015, and did you have help with your expenses?

Miller: In total I competed in six lead World Cups this season, which were spread out across three and a half months. I left for Europe in mid-July and stayed for about three weeks. I returned to the States in early August and immediately competed in Psicobloc on August 7. I had three days to move into my apartment at CSU, and then I was off again to Norway on August 12. When I returned to the States, school had already started. I had to hit the books hard to catch up. I took off from school twice, mid-September and mid-October, for the remaining two comps, each time leaving Wednesday and returning Monday evening. I’d start school again on Tuesday and catch up on the missed assignments.

It was extremely expensive. I received no financial support from USA Climbing. However, my sponsors did offset some of the expenses, for which I’m extremely grateful. [Miller’s sponsors include Adidas Outdoors, Five Ten, Petzl, Zeal Optics, and several other companies.] The whole experience would not have happened without their support and my parents’.

Climbing: Why do you think so few Americans participate in World Cup lead climbing?

Miller: For many reasons—it’s expensive, it’s a huge commitment, and it’s exhausting crisscrossing the Atlantic. Perhaps more importantly, North Americans are at a huge disadvantage to the experienced Europeans, who are familiar with World Cup holds, routes, and styles.

Climbing: Outside of training and studying, what do you like to do?

Miller: When I have free time, which is rare, I mostly enjoy watching Netflix or cooking with friends, or hitting up a local trail for a long hike.

Climbing: So, what are your plans for next season? Will you do the World Cups again?

Miller: I will definitely compete in the circuit again next year. This season has taught me a lot. I’m ready to take a minute to recover, and then to start applying my experiences to my training routine.