Emma Hunt, 18, made her first podium at the recent Speed World Cup in Salt Lake City, where she placed second. She also smashed her own record, to set the new U.S. National record at 7.525. Following the event, she sat down with Gym Climber to discuss the comp, training, and everything else.
I just want to start by saying huge congrats on last night. How does it feel?
It doesn’t feel real yet. Yeah… I came off the wall after the third lap when I made it to the big final, and I was just so stoked. It feels awesome. This was only my second World Cup…
That’s amazing. What thoughts were going through your head?
I have a similar comp routine every time. It’s so important with the knockouts to have clean and consistent runs. Because if you make a mistake, you can just be knocked out so easily. So I was just wanting clean, fast, consistent run. I was listening to my playlists and cleaning my shoes in between every lap.
What’s on your playlist?
I think I was listening to Cage The Elephant. Some Macklemore. I think I had a High School Musical song in there too. There’s a lot of random stuff piled in it from years past.
I saw that you were saying something to yourself before each go? Can you share what you were saying?
Run a clean lap. And don’t false start. That’s a big one for me. USA Climbing uses the laser on the start peddle, and you just have to break the laser beam. But you also have to keep your weight on it. And then you have to slap the buzzer at the top… At one comp I didn’t hit it hard enough and I didn’t get a time. So I just wanted to make sure to slap the buzzer and not false start.
So it sounds like you put a lot of emphasis on basically not messing up. What goes through your head when something does go wrong?
It’s pretty nerve wracking when you do slip. I slipped in an IFSC comp one time, and I just remember immediately being like, Oh my god, it’s already over. And I tried to recover and I slipped again. But then the girl fell. So you just had to keep going no matter what. And it’s so frustrating. You’ve put so much work just to put in one lap. It’s really sad when you mess up.
It sounds heartbreaking. I haven’t seen you in too many comps since, well as you said, this is your second World Cup. But it seems to me like you’re always having a good time, regardless of the pressure.
Yeah. And I’m just so happy to be here. Last night I got to compete with my best friends, too. Callie Close is my best friend. And she was in finals with me. We got to sit next to each other in qualifiers… It’s just so easy to enjoy myself. And why would I do it if I didn’t like it?
That’s awesome. Do you and Callie train together?
We do. Yeah. So we train with team Stone Summit with our coaches Olexiy Shul’ga and Claudiu Vidulescu. They’re great. They push us to be the best… To be World Champions [laughs].
Very Cool. How long have you been climbing?
I’ve been climbing since I was 5. So 13 years now… And I started competing when I was 8, so 10 years ago. I started speed my first year in B. I really wanted to do speed. Since I didn’t do it in C and D, I was really psyched when I finally got to do it.
Did you ever think you’d make it here?
I didn’t think I’d be this good! I wanted to be fast, but I didn’t know what the limits were.
I think going into my second year of B, I hit my first 8. And that’s when I really got excited. That’s when it became real, like a possibility. And that was when I was 15 at Open Nationals. I was like, Oh, I gotta keep doing this.
And you’re a senior in high school?
No, I actually graduated high school in three years. I graduated a whole year early when I was 17. So I started going to college in 2020. Fall 2020. I just finished my first year.
Oh, wow. So, where are you going to school?
Kennesaw State University. Five minutes from Stone summit.
That’s convenient. What are you studying?
I’m a major in Nursing and a minor in Spanish.
Oh, that’s a lot.
It is a lot. It’s gonna take me a long time to complete it. But I really like it. I did a healthcare pathway in my high school.
How do you balance it all?
It’s not easy. I’m really frustrated a lot of the time. I took less classes so that I could climb more. I usually do work during the day. Go work out in the evening. And try to play with my pets when I get home.
What pets do you have?
I have a dog and a cat. Flynn and Nala.
What are your plans for the summer? More comps?
Yes. The North American Cup that’s happening here [in Salt Lake City] in June. I have youth regionals that weekend after. And I’m hopefully going to Villars for the next World Cup. And then Youth Nationals is in Reno in July. And I don’t know past July. They’ve been pretty hard to plan for, with COVID and everything.
How has COVID affected your training in the last year?
I couldn’t get into the gym until June, which really pushed back my speed training from where I wanted to be. Going into COVID, I remember they canceled Open Nationals the day I was supposed to travel. And at that point, I was running times of 8:05 and 8:02. So I just really wanted to be in the sevens. But I had to wait a whole other year. It was really frustrating. I didn’t take it too well. I got really frustrated with losing all my speed. So I didn’t want to do it. And then I finally just picked it back up.
How did you deal with that frustration?
I would boulder. I just kind of put all my energy into something else.
What enabled you to come back?
I didn’t really take a full break. I just went from doing speed three days a week to one day a week. But when they started scheduling comps, or when I would hear a rumor about a comp coming in, I started getting more psyched again.
What is it about comps that you love so much?
The climbing community has been such a big part of my life, the majority of my life. So just to be here with everybody and my friends… It’s so much fun.
What are your big goals?
2024 Olympics would be cool. More World Cup podiums… I guess I just checked off that one [laughs]. I put that one on my long-term goals. It may take a little longer to make it to the podium. But I’ll make some new goals… I have a chalkboard in my room with some goals. So that was from Regionals, Divisionals, Nationals and so on.
How did you celebrate last night?
I went out to get milkshakes with my best friend, her family, and my mom. And then I called my dad and brother.
What kind of shake did you get?
Cookies and cream.
What is your biggest strength and your biggest weakness right now?
I feel like my mental game is probably my biggest strength right now. Just being able to hone in on each lap and forget the one from before. Like I slipped on one of the qualifying laps and that’s pretty concerning going into the final, but just being able to let it go and reset for every new race. I feel like that’s good for me right now.
Weakness… I don’t really know of a good one. There’s too many to choose from…
It’s interesting that you say that…
Yeah, I can be so critical. You can find something wrong with everything. Like every lap, you can be like, Oh, I flew too far from the dyno, I wasn’t pulling with my arms enough at the top….
Going back to your strength, what has allowed you to cultivate that mindset?
Years of practice. I think starting at such a young age has taught me what not to do and what to do. Because when you’re little, you’re trying to put so much pressure on yourself because you want to do good. And then you fall short, so you know how to cope with it. And that really helps. I started getting more into it, I started noticing what patterns went right. And, I’m very superstitious. I buy Five Guys before every competition. I actually went out with five guys before this one.
Yeah. Because I did it before Open Nationals. And I won. So I stuck with it. Before that I ate Cracker Barrel for about five years. And now it’s Five Guys. So I had that before Finals, and then the night before.
It’s your comfort zone. You don’t leave it. So just finding those little things that make you feel more positive—it just really helps. I have so many things. It’s actually a little annoying, because I’ll be like, I don’t want to always do this, but I can’t stop.
Well, it seems to be working for you. OK, last question: Two truths and a lie.
I have a semi hairless Border Collie dog. I have a six-foot wingspan. And I like to sport climb.
Feature image by Daniel Gajda/IFSC