Better with Nine: The Mindset of Tommy Caldwell


The doctor told Tommy Caldwell they couldn’t reattach his finger.

A home-remodeling accident had robbed the then-21-year-old of half of his left index finger. At the time, he wanted nothing more than to be a professional rock climber.

After delivering the bad news, the doctor suggested Caldwell hang up his calling and look elsewhere.

In the doctor’s mind, he’d just committed career suicide.

“I listened to that, he left the room and I got pretty depressed,” Caldwell said. “In my morphine-induced state I kind of got mad. I was kind of like, ‘How can you not have faith in me?’ I wanted it so bad and I wanted to prove to him that I still had what it took. But, mostly I wanted to prove that to myself.”

A year later, Tommy had trained himself to be a far better climber than before he lost his finger.

“Something about that experience made me realize how bad I wanted it and how I couldn’t let it shut me down,” he said. “It really was the point in my life when I went from barely making it as a professional climber to say, ‘Yeah, I can do this. This is going to happen.’”

Since, Caldwell has gone on to become one of the best climbers in the world. But the journey wasn’t without its pitfalls.

“I went through this really dark period in my life where my wife left me and I was in this depressed state and I found myself searching for who I was and what I wanted to do,” he said. “I kind of just needed a distraction from this tornado of emotion that was in my head.”

Enter the Dawn Wall — a 3,000-foot-tall climbing route on Yosemite’s El Capitan.

The route had previously been considered impossible, but Caldwell set his mind to it. It was a goal a decade in the making – one that he’d even given up on several times before.

But earlier this year he and teammate Kevin Jorgeson captivated America when they completed what’s now called the hardest climb in the world.

We sat down with Caldwell to talk about his childhood, how he dreamed up the Dawn Wall climb and what mindset it took to get him to the top. Listen to the full 15-minute podcast below.