On the Ascent

Rock-climbing debuted at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, an indication of the sport’s increasing popularity, which is hardly surprising to two hardcore NA climbers.

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Kat Klinefelter

As climbers know, school-sponsored sports are not the only athletic outlets available to students.

Kat Klinefelter, Staff Writer

A month ago, I wasn’t expecting to find myself suspended forty feet in the air in the same gym where I took gymnastics lessons twelve years ago. I wasn’t even expecting to have a weekly ritual of going to the gym. 

Like a lot of high school students, I don’t do a school-sponsored sport and always categorized myself as un-athletic.  But then I found the climbing gym.

NASH junior Madi Eschenbach’s story is quite different from mine, but our paths converge. After medical issues arose, she was prohibited from continuing a promising track career. In time, however, she turned back to a favorite childhood activity — rock climbing. 

“I climbed for the first time when I was six years old and climbed on and off since then, but now, I’m back at it all the time,” Eschenbach said. 

Most students have rock-climbed at some point in their lives, whether it was in gym class, on a field trip to the Carnegie Science Center, or at summer camp.  And most don’t continue with it because, in their minds, it is just that — a childhood activity. 

However, there has been a rise in the popularity of climbing in recent years. In 2018, the climbing industry grew by 11.8 percent. In fact, the sport has become so popular that it made its debut this summer at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Yet for NASH junior Allison Lee, competitive climbing is practically second nature.  She started out as a gymnast at Jewart’s Gymnastics, which shares a facility with Climb North in Hampton Township, and soon grew entranced by the climbers on the other side of the gym.

When I finally have that ah-ha moment and finish a climb I’ve been working on, I am always reminded of why I fell in love with the sport.”

— Madi Eschenbach, NASH junior

Lee begged her parents to take lessons at Climb North, and after an evaluation by one of the climbing coaches, she was placed into a class for intermediate climbers. Then, at only seven years old, Lee was brought onto the climbing team at Climb North. 

My first competition was when I was eight,” Lee said. “On the team, I had a choice to just train at that higher level or become a member of USA Climbing and compete in the Youth Bouldering Series, which both my brother and I did. I have been on the team now for ten years and have gone to countless competitions.”

In 2015, Lee ranked tenth in the Regional Competition and qualified for the Divisional Competition, beating almost 25 other girls to do so. In all, Lee’s involvement with USA climbing has taken her practically from coast to coast, having competed in states such as Iowa, New Jersey, Colorado, California, and Michigan.  

But it hasn’t always been all jug holds and free rappels for the junior. About four years ago, Lee suffered from a traumatic head injury that left her unable to participate fully with her team for nine months. 

However, she nursed herself back to full health and could not resist returning to the sport she loves. Today, she finds herself working part-time alongside Eschenbach at Climb North. Now that both girls are in their teens, they are working at the very same gym where they started.  

From scoring the winning touchdown to pitching a perfect game, every young athlete has their reasons for continuing to participate in their chosen sport.  But for experienced climbers, it’s the unique thrill of making it to the top of the wall.

“When I finally have that ah-ha moment and finish a climb I’ve been working on, I am always reminded of why I fell in love with the sport,” Eschenbach said.

And for novice climbers like myself, it’s the feeling not only of standing before a 40-foot challenge but also of knowing in my heart that I am an athlete, too.