| March 18, 2018

Column: Climbing to the top

March 6, 2017

Growing up, all of my friends had their own sport they dedicated their time to — I always wanted that. I found rock climbing in seventh grade.

I went into visit a small gym in the Portland suburbs and after several minutes of talking with the coach I was sucked in. I practiced three days a week and found my way into the gym anytime I could. I climbed for five years as a member of the competitive team.

I was always eager to share my sport. I loved taking people with me and showing them the ropes, literally. Yet surprisingly, I struggled to find others outside of the gym who were willing to go give it a try with me.

It is only in the past several years that climbing seems to have boomed. Many college kids arrive on campus in the fall and almost immediately take to the wall. People I never could convince to go suddenly master in lingo associated with the sport and hitting the gym five days a week.

Given the recent spike in popularity, it makes sense that there has been a big push to put climbing on the international stage.

This sport was one of new games added to the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

This leads many people wondering how Olympians would compete in rock climbing. Often, the initial assumption is by speed, which depending on the venue, is not 100 percent wrong.

In rock climbing clubs across the country, a normal competition has several three-hour time slots, where climbers can ascend and compete on their own schedule. Different routes are worth different point values.

But it will look a bit different in 2020. Each country will be represented by four athletes — two male and two females. These athletes will compete over the span of four days, where the climbers will compete in sport climbing, bouldering and speed climbing. The medals will be given to the climbers who perform the best overall in the three different categories.

But why now? Climbing is a sport that has been around for long time, yet it is just gaining attention now. This is at least in part due to increasing accessibility. It used to be that climbers could easily access outdoor climbing spots, yet in recent years the indoor climbing gym has been converting people from rock to plastic. The majority of younger climbers even get their start on plastic — myself included.

It makes it easier. You can be a part of an outdoorsy sport and live in the middle of a metropolitan area.

According to the Climbing Business Journal, commercial climbing gym growth went up 10.9 percent from 2012 to 2013. The growth spiked in 2015 with the addition of 37 new gyms across the country for a grand total of 414 commercial climbing gyms nationwide.

I see more and more people around me with climbing gear and paraphernalia and the 2020 games are still three years away.

I pulled back from the sport after several years. I climbed so much and for so long, I began to forget why I loved it in the first place. But after watching the dozens of climbers come from around the area to compete in the Palouse Climbing festival, I began to remember why I was drawn to it in the first place.

Climbing forces an athleete to get stronger physically and mentally. It is a puzzle on the wall — it exercises the body and mind. As cliché as it sounds, I cannot think of a better way to explain the sport in simple terms.

I am not one to bandwagon but maybe it is time for me to jump back on with a sport that only continues to grow.

Meredith Spelbring can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu

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