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‘I cried happy tears for the first time in my entire life’: Bend climber, 13, reflects on national bouldering title

(Update: adding video, new info, comments from McCarl and her coach)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Shae McCarl, a 13-year-old rock climber from Bend, beat out more than 80 of her peers to win a national bouldering title at the USA Climbing National Championships.

"I cried happy tears for the first time in my entire life," McCarl told NewsChannel 21 Friday.

McCarl was one of nine climbers from the Bend Endurance Academy Team competed in the competition held in Reno, Nevada July 13-18. BEA's climbers included each of the three disciplines of competition climbing: Lead and Tope Rope, Speed, and Bouldering, the organization said.

After eight rounds of competition over six days, McCarl was crowned national champion in Bouldering, earned a silver medal in Lead and Tope Rope, and finished 12th in the Speed discipline.

"I got 10th last year, so getting first in bouldering this year was just a dream come true," McCarl said.

Her first-place finish capped off a six-day competition at the national championships. Participating in each of the three disciplines (Boulder, Speed, Lead and Top Rope) for that span was something Shae's never been a part of before.

"Competing for six days straight," she said, "It just completely wrecks your fingers, super-sore. My muscles were just so tired and my fingers -- my skin was actually all peeled off, and it really hurt. But it was all worth it!"

While this was new territory for McCarl, this is the third national competition in a row a climber from Bend Endurance Academy took home first place in at least one of the disciplines.

Mike Rougeux, the program’s executive director and Shae's coach, told NewsChannel 21 the climbers don't know the routes beforehand. However, the move that took Shae to the top was one they've gone over several times.

"Climbs can have repetitive movements and style, so this leg throw and run across is something we practiced the week before nationals,” Rougeux said, while watching a replay of the attempt.

McCarl added, “That was definitely the most important boulder. It was a really close race, and it was amazing to get first."

McCarl also won a silver medal in the Lead and Top Rope category, and finished 12th in Speed Climbing. That was good enough to earn her second place in the overall competition.

The judges in Reno adopted the same scoring method which will be used in the Olympics. That’s where Shae hopes her career takes her, one day.

"That would be so cool to go to the Olympics,” she said. “That would be definitely a dream come true, an amazing experience."

Here's more from BEA's news release on the team's and McCarl's accomplishments:

Her results in each discipline ended up placing McCarl in second place in her age category for the combined results, which is the same format being used for climbing's Olympic debut in Tokyo. 

“I felt prepared, both physically and mentally, going into the finals, but you never know what will happen at nationals. All of the competitors were so strong, so I felt like anyone in the finals could have won,” McCarl said on her feelings heading into the final round of the Bouldering competition.

“It’s impressive, really impressive,” says Mike Rougeux, executive director at Bend Endurance Academy, who has now had three national champions in climbing over the past three years. “We had so much uncertainty this season around if and when we would have events, or if the gym was open for us to train, which makes it even more special for our whole team to see one of our athletes take the top step on the podium."

The young Bend climber reflected on her winning the national title, saying, “I've been working toward this goal for a really long time, so when I realized that all of my training and sacrifice had paid off. I actually cried happy tears for the first time in my life. It was an amazing feeling that I'll never forget.”

Making the accomplishment even sweeter, McCarl went on to say, “I also remember feeling so thankful to be surrounded by my coaches and teammates who have been so supportive throughout my journey.”

The event saw upwards of 80 competitors per category coming from across the US to compete. BEA qualified nine different climbers for the event, which hasn’t been held due to COVID-19 since the Bouldering National Championships took place at the Deschutes County Expo Center in February of 2020. 

“We honestly didn’t know what to expect in terms of how our athletes would perform on the National stage this year since every state had such different responses to the pandemic," Rougeux said. "Some teams barely had a two-month break right after Bouldering Nationals in Redmond in 2020. Other teams across the West coast definitely had more limited access to commercial gyms to train in, due to statewide closures.”

“We did our best and pivoted to more climbing outdoors and spent more time out at Smith (Rock), and then just kept plugging along at getting into Bend Rock Gym to train whenever we could.” says Rougeux.

Bend Endurance Academy climbing team programs will start back up for the fall season in September and interested athletes are encouraged to explore team options online at

About Bend Endurance Academy: 

The Bend Endurance Academy is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Central Oregon with a mission to promote healthy living through active, outdoor experiences. We emphasize teamwork, inclusion, personal growth, and community responsibility.  

Founded in 2009, the Bend Endurance Academy currently features development programs for youth and juniors in Rock Climbing, Cycling, and Nordic Skiing. In 2019, more than 900 people participated in our programs and participants ranged in age from 4-74 years of age. 

The Academy operates in the Deschutes National Forest under a Special Use Permit from the US Forest Service and in partnership with the Bend Rock Gym, Meissner Nordic and many local businesses. 

For more information, please visit


The Bend Endurance Academy promotes healthy living through active, outdoor experiences. All programs offered emphasize teamwork, inclusion, personal growth, and community responsibility. 


A world with active, inspired and more engaged people.

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Max Goldwasser

Max Goldwasser is a reporter and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Max here.

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