It’s Summer 2021; most incoming high school seniors are getting ready for their last year. They’re taking senior photos, looking into colleges, and mentally preparing themselves.
For Colin Duffy, the timeline was a bit different. While preparing for the last year of high school, he was also competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a climber for Team USA.
A Colorado native, Duffy has been climbing since he was four years old. He joined a team and started training in Boulder around seven or eight years old and has continued training in Boulder ever since. At 17 years old, Duffy was the youngest member of the USA Climbing team to compete in the 2020 Olympics, placing 7th overall.
“To be able to (…) accomplish that at such a young age and be in the right position at the right time was pretty life-changing,” Duffy said. “It was phenomenal.”
Outside of climbing, Duffy enjoys hanging out with his friends and doing puzzles; he can even solve a Rubik’s Cube in under 15 seconds. So, after the huge achievement of going to the Olympics, there was more excitement coming towards Duffy in Fall 2022: college.
It’s rare for such an accomplished athlete to attend college straight out of high school, especially a public university such as CU Boulder. Duffy, however, said higher education was always in his plan and is currently majoring in open engineering with the intention of going into applied math. He hopes to continue climbing full-time after college and explore different career options. So far he’s loved his time at CU Boulder, he said.
“Being able to like come to a pretty big college and branch out of it has been the most exciting part,” Duffy said. He’s been recognized a couple of times on campus and said that it’s cool people know him for the things he’s accomplished.
“One of the things that has made Colin such an exceptional climber is that he has an exceptional brain,” Ryan Arment, Duffy’s climbing coach, said. Arment is the head coach at ABC Climbing in Boulder and has been working with Duffy since he was nine. He’s watched him grow into the student and athlete he is today.
Being a naturally competitive person, Arment said that school pushes Duffy not only to compete with others in the climbing world but also academically.
“School was an opportunity to compete even if it’s just with himself,” Arment said. “He wants to have that perfect score, just like he wants to climb something the first time.”
Being a perfectionist in both professional climbing and in school is no easy feat. In fact, Duffy has found it pretty difficult to manage everything, mentioning that little sacrifices have to be made in order for another thing to do well, such as a missed day of training or school assignment.
“I’d say it’s very difficult. Right? Like definitely now that I’m here, I can work more with advisors to take a lot lighter coursework,” Duffy said. Though 15 credits is a normal course load for most students in college, it’s different when there is so much more to manage, like a professional athletic career. Duffy also mentioned he was most likely taking a semester off during his time at CU Boulder to train for the 2024 Olympics. Arment had similar opinions.
“I think the hardest thing for him that he’s learning to manage is his own expectations of how competitive he should be,” Arment said. “He’s the only person going to finals that’s full-time in school as well. It’s unique what he’s doing.”
For someone like Duffy, there’s always something on the forefront. Duffy is hoping to put a little more focus on school until April when training for competitions starts up again. Along with that, he hopes to go outdoor climbing more and hang out with his friends this winter.
“He’s just such a cool person,” Arment said about Duffy. “I’m excited for him to be out of his parent’s house and grow into his own.”
Despite being young, Duffy is a true role model for those split between two passions; he shows that anything is possible as long as you have the attitude and mindset for it. It’ll be exciting to see what he accomplishes next.