For nine of the past 10 years, only one woman—former Boulderite Alex Puccio—has stood atop USA Climbing’s national bouldering championship podium. Then, in February, a fellow Coloradan unseated the nine-time champ: Colorado Springs’ Megan Mascarenas. It wasn’t the first time the diminutive climber (she’s five feet two inches tall) had tasted big-time victory. Last year, Mascarenas claimed her first World Cup win in Vail—a title she’ll try to defend June 10 and 11—securing fifth place in the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s (IFSC) overall World Cup rankings. The ranking is impressive, but even more so when you consider Mascarenas only competed in two of five World Cup events because she had too many other commitments—like high school.

Yes, Colorado’s latest climbing phenom might have just earned her diploma (with straight A’s, mind you), but her climbing resumé is already longer than those of most athletes twice her age. The Doherty High School grad started climbing when she was two, tagging along during her mother’s climbing dates with her future stepfather. Today, Mascarenas spends as many as 20 hours per week training at Sport Climbing Center in Colorado Springs with former pros such as Kevin Branford, one of the country’s most respected route setters. She plans to climb and travel before attending the University of Colorado Colorado Springs with hopes of pursuing a career in medicine. “I am an extremely competitive person,” the 18-year-old says. “I don’t want to do anything I set my mind to halfheartedly, so I train or study as hard as I can and as smart as I can.”

That means Mascarenas mindfully constructs training sessions with “new small, attainable goals,” like perfecting a new dyno—a jump that requires the climber to briefly lose contact with the wall—or trying to do five pull-ups on small climbing holds. She also holds herself accountable to larger ambitions, such as climbing five V10s in one workout. (Bouldering problems are rated on a scale of V0 to V16; few people ever climb a V10, never mind five times in a training session.) Such focus on building strength and skill, coupled with Mascarenas’ proclivity for solving puzzles—she can decipher a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute—make her a formidable competitor when it comes to unlocking bouldering sequences.

This year, though, competitions come with something new: expectations. “There is pressure now,” Mascarenas says. “I am the national champion, and people expect you to win.” Among those people, of course, is Mascarenas herself.

Find Mascarenas at the Bouldering World Cup at the GoPro Mountain Games

When: June 10 to 11

Where: The base of Gondola One at Mountain Plaza in Vail

Women’s Qualification: June 10 at 3 p.m.
Semifinals: June 11 at 10 a.m.
Finals: June 11 at 4:30 p.m.