This story is part of our series, Generation 5.16: 11 Young Crushers That Could Take Rock Climbing to the Next Level.
About to compete in his fifth international competition of 2017, Sean Bailey, 21, reflects on climbing professionally: “The best part is having the freedom to pursue your passion … I feel privileged,” says Bailey. “The worst part is pursuing your passion.”
Competitive indoor climbing is demanding, he explains. It’s not particularly lucrative, nor is it following the norm for his age—most of his friends went straight to college out of high school. Some are surprised to find he instead chose climbing.
Bailey first climbed around age five with his parents, both climbers. Soon, he joined the youth team at Vertical World and tagged along with the Ruana family on weekend trips to Smith Rock.
At 17, he took first in his category at both the American Bouldering Series and the Sport Climbing Series Youth National Championships. It was a proud moment, and perhaps a predictor of future success. He also got on rock at Pacific Northwest destinations like Leavenworth, Gold Bar, and Little Si. He still travels to these areas when he’s home, most frequently Little Si.
In March 2016, Bailey won the USA Climbing Sport and Speed Open National Championships. While indoor pursuits dominate his schedule, he sent Realization (5.15a) in Céüse, France, that August. The aura of the route, which was bolted in 1989 and freed by Chris Sharma in 2001, intimidated Bailey more than the bouldery pocket moves.
Says Bailey, “It’s got so much history that it was hard not to let it get in my head.” After completing it in about a week, he was both psyched and relieved.
In 2016 and 2017, he made it to IFSC World Cup finals three times total—successes in his mind, since in each case he had a shot at winning. “If you’re in the finals, you can be pretty much as successful as anyone else,” he says. “I like to use that as something to be happy about.”
Bailey competes frequently to get experience at the World Cup level, and to observe his competitors. He’s learned that the best climbers “know themselves really well” and are able to tap into their own unique skillsets. Now, he’s following suit by adapting his own training accordingly. Bailey’s at the gym five to six days a week, up to three hours at a time. His focus is “the grind of just getting stronger.”
Bailey is excited to climb at more international destinations. He’d also love to do more adventure climbing in places like Yosemite. Eventually, he plans to go back to school and possibly pursue engineering—but, for now, he’s giving back by setting routes and coaching the kids’ team at Vertical World. “Once I’m a little more established, I’ll start thinking about how I want to make my impact,” he says.
Realization (5.15a), Céüse, France
Highest-ranked American male in 2017 IFSC Vail Bouldering World Cup, first place in 2016 USA Climbing Sport and Speed Open National Championships
[Ed. Since this story was first published in our December/January 2018 issue, Bailey took first place in the USA Climbing 2018 Sport National Championship. We interviewed Bailey about the win.]
Improve in World Cup Lead events, more international climbing trips, attend college for engineering.