How Molly Thompson-Smith overcame injury to climb back to the top

Molly Thompson-Smith (GBR) in action (Photo by Naoki Nishimura/AFLO SPORT)

Rest and recovery is the way forward for most after a major injury, but not for British climber Molly Thompson-Smith, writes Alice Reeves-Turner.

Ever since she hosted her seventh birthday party at the local indoor climbing centre, Thompson-Smith has been hooked to the sport. 

So much so that her obsession with climbing saw her return to the wall just three weeks after having surgery to fix three ruptured pulleys in her finger — but this time hanging from just one hand. 

“For five months I couldn’t climb with two hands,” she said. “I waited three weeks until I started climbing with just one hand just because I hate sitting at home and I missed climbing. 

“I was very limited. It’s not quite as fun as normal climbing. 

“I would go to the climbing wall everyday as well just to remind myself of what I was missing out on and not isolate myself too much, but I really missed it. 

“Being injured made me realise that I probably will climb for forever.” 

This isn’t the first time the 22-year-old has displayed her passion for climbing, which she is now able to do full-time thanks to a Sky Scholarship. 

She missed scaling walls so much during her gap year across Asia that she abandoned it five months early. 

Turns out it was a decision that worked in her favour.

Just six months after returning from her travels in November 2017, Thompson-Smith became the first British woman to win a World Cup medal in lead climbing, a result which gave her a world number seven ranking. 

“My gap year was supposed to be eight months long,” she added. “But I came home after three months because I realised, I missed climbing.

“Winning a World Cup medal was amazing — it was like a fairytale ending to a crazy year. 

“At the beginning of that year I was in India travelling and not climbing at all and by April I had come home.  

“It ended up being an amazing year. I made World Cup finals and got Britain's first lead medal for women. It was the first time I actually thought okay maybe I could climb full time one day and take this a lot further.”

Thompson-Smith’s hand injury happened during training just one month after her World Cup success, derailing any plans of further triumphs during her recovery.

Having been unable to climb with two hands for five months, she has had to battle to catch up with her competition who have had an extra year to train in the speed and bouldering categories. 

“I definitely feel like I’m still playing catch up,” she added. 

“Speed climbing is actually quite intense in your fingers and coming from a finger injury it's like something I want to avoid. 

“I was scared that I would re-rupture my pulleys when I first returned. I still am a little bit fearful with certain holds.

“I had no idea whether everyone was just going to have overtaken me so much that I'd really struggle and never be able to come back.”

But come back she did, and if she can cope with training through injury for a year, there’s no doubt Thompson-Smith is destined for climbing success.