An Entrepreneur with Eyes on the Olympics

Kai Lightner

Rising sophomore Kai Lightner’s global climbing career began with an adventurous stunt.

When he was 6, Lightner ’22 spontaneously climbed a school’s 50-foot flag pole. A woman who witnessed the incident and helped him get down provided Lightner’s family with the address of a nearby climbing gym, leading him to the start of a career that would include multiple national and world championships as well as training for the Olympics.

“I feel like I was born to climb,” he said. “I was always active; I tried a bunch of other sports, but none of them really clicked for me like climbing did. . . . I don’t get a better feeling from doing anything else.”

Joining the Competitive Circuit

The hobby became much more of a passion shortly after Lightner began climbing in 2007, when he took part in his first competition. Lightner won a youth national championship three years later, and a youth world championship in New Caledonia in 2014, becoming the first American to do so since 1995.

Adult titles followed, and during his competitive climbing career, Lightner has amassed more than 15 championships.

Though he enjoyed success in climbing during his late-teenage years, Lightner also had sights on a career in entrepreneurship and enrolled at Babson College. Throughout his first year, he spent several hours a day training for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where climbing will be held as an event for the first time.

But because of a rigorous schedule balancing both climbing and academics and with concerns surrounding the inaugural event, he ultimately decided to defer participation.

“I was realizing I was stretching myself too thin,” Lightner said. “With me being enrolled in college . . . I decided to take a break from that world and focus on my academics.”

Comparing Climbing to Business

Lightner said one of the reasons he enjoys climbing is that it “requires you to always be on your toes.”

“It forces you to be very versatile,” Lightner said. “You’re constantly having to adapt to something different.”

It’s this mentality that he has applied to a future career in business.

“There’s constant changing in entrepreneurship,” Lightner said. “New versions of technology and business practices.”

“You can always pursue a new venture, be a part of something different,” he added. “That’s something you can do in climbing as well. . . . Whenever you get bored with one part of the sport, you can move on to the next.”

After college, Lightner hopes to find a career where he can combine his passions.

“I want to associate that with whatever business practices I choose to venture to,” he said, entertaining the idea of owning a climbing gym. “The overall goal would be to merge all aspects of my life into one.”

He also didn’t rule out the possibility of training for the 2024 Summer Olympics if climbing is held as an event.

“That option would be a lot more viable for me, I’d be pretty excited to go for it then.”

Featured photo courtesy of Chris Vultaggio.

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