Kai Lightner, climbing his way to the top.


I was first made aware of Kai Lightner 2 years ago, while following the blog The Joy Trip Project. I was fascinated by this young man who was excelling in a sport that I knew very little about, but was intrigued enough to learn more. Following this  young man throughout his competitions, I knew it was only a matter of time until I reached out to him and his mother.

Constance, how has it been for you to witness Kai’s growth in a field where the majority of climbers are not African American?

I think it’s awesome that he has found a world where few people care about race. I love being at events and watching so many different races, cultures, nationalities, and genders, bond through their love of the sport.

Kai is much more adventurous than I ever was as a kid. Rock climbing is something that he found on his own, and decided to pursue. Although I thought it was a little unusual in the beginning, I was proud of him for venturing out and finding something that he loved. As he began to grow more in the sport, I love that he has found his own identity. He sets his own goals, and is the primary person pushing himself to achieve them.

Constance, what is your hope for Kai, outside of climbing?

I hope that he ultimately finds a career that he loves and is sustainable. Climbing has given him a host of skills that would be applicable to any career path. Whatever he chooses to do, I’ll probably always advocate for him to continue setting high goals and work hard to accomplish them.

James Mills

Kai, has being a young man of color brought any added pressure to you, while out competing in your sport of climbing?

I have always known that I was one of few minorities in the sport. I can’t say that this has ever made me feel pressured to perform; however, I have always felt a responsibility to carry myself in a positive way and be a role model.

Kai, what drives you to compete in the sport of climbing?

I love climbing and I have always been addicted to challenges. Whether it’s competition climbing or trying to conquer hard routes outside, I love the feeling of pushing myself to my limits and fighting to accomplish all of the goals that I set out to achieve.

Kai, what are your future aspirations in the sport of climbing?

Right now I stay busy doing school work, training, and competitions. I am an 11th grade honors student and I take a mix of high school and university courses. Unfortunately this limits the amount of climbing that I am able to do. One day I would like to take a few months to travel abroad, challenge myself to climb more difficult routes outside and compete in more international adult competitions. I’d like to see how far I could rise in the sport, if climbing was my primary focus. After pushing my limits for a few months, I’d want to return to school and continue pushing myself academically as well.

Kai...James Mills.

Kai, what advice would you give to other young African Americans, who may be considering competing in a sport like climbing, that doesn’t traditionally draw an African American audience?

Never limit your options based upon what’s popular in your environment. The one thing that might be your passion could be something really different from what everyone else is doing around you. Whether it’s different types of music, an eccentric sport, or an unusual hobby, don’t be afraid to try different things. You might like it and be really good at it.

Kai. if you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

President Obama. He is an awesome example of someone who had a goal, and despite aspiring for something that had never been done before, he believed in himself and went for it anyway. It was true, it hadn’t been done- an African American President. However, instead of being discouraged, he wasn’t afraid to dream big and eventually accomplished his goals. That’s an inspiration!

Kai, what is the most inspirational thing about your mother?

My mother has always been an ambitious person, from going to school and earning her Ph.D. to being department chair at her university. Growing up and watching how successful she was always was a motivator for me to push my own limits.


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