Many of you have probably tried rock climbing at least once in your life, whether that be at a gym, in the real world or at the UConn Rec Center.
But what if I told you that rock climbing is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and there is a team right here in Storrs?
“We actually compete in the nationally competitive circuit with other college teams around the entirety of the U.S.,” Climbing Team President Bowen Keller said. “We just competed at nationals actually. We train at a local gym, we get better at climbing … then we compete in various local competitions. Once you do those then you can go to regionals, and if you qualify you move on to nationals.”
The team won all of their local competitions except for one, where they came in second place with a large portion of their team missing.
Now, one question you might be thinking is how do you compete in rock climbing? Well, there are three main disciplines: Sport, bouldering and speed.
In sport climbing, you are supported by ropes and the goal is to get to the top of a wall that can range from 30 all the way to 70 feet tall.
Bouldering is similar, however, one key difference here is that in this you don’t have a rope. As a result, the max height of this wall is 18 feet, and if you fall you land on a pad below.
“Bouldering is cool because it’s usually very artistically created routes,” Keller said. “Each route is made by what is called a route setter, and they’re really creative and they’re based off a few very difficult moves … just a couple of really physically intensive moves.”
Then there is speed climbing, which is exactly what you would think it is. You’re faced with a wall, and the goal is simply to complete it as fast as you can. People train on the wall so they can learn the fastest route, and due to the repetitive nature of it, it is the least popular of the three disciplines.
“In sport and bouldering, you never see the same route twice, ever,” Keller said. “They’re always brand new. Every time you see one, you’ve never seen anything close to it before, which is the beauty of climbing, it’s not just a physical sport, it’s mental, it’s creative.”
That’s one of the things that has made climbing increasingly popular in recent years, the fact that it in ways is just as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one.
“Mental training is often the overlooked part of climbing because every route is brand new and, in a competition, you only have so long to climb it,” Keller said. “You have to be able to look at it and figure it out exactly the first time. In addition, sometimes it’s really scary, like when you’re 12 feet up and you have to jump sideways with a wall in front of you, that’s really mentally tough.”
The UConn Climbing Team is currently a Tier II club at UConn, meaning they get some funding from the Undergraduate Student Government. However, the team has its sights set on a larger goal.
“I eventually do hope for us to be an actual part of the athletics department, that’s actually a goal of mine,” Keller said. “I want to show UConn athletics that this is a serious sport, that this is a nationally competitive sport, that climbing is growing at an exceptional rate – it’s the fastest growing sport currently – and I want to show them that we’re a serious team. I want to show them that once it joins the NCAA, which I absolutely believe it will, that they should have a team.”
ESPN 2 and 3 just signed deals with USA Climbing, and all three disciplines will be events in the next Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. Hopefully, it will also be added as an official sport by the NCAA, however, there are no known plans to do so at the moment.
But with the sport becoming more and more popular, it’s only a matter of time before that conversation arises.
In the meantime, if you’re reading this right now, Keller said you should give climbing a go.
“Try climbing out, it’s really fun I’m sure you’ll like it,” Keller said. “I think it’s a great activity for everybody of every passion, every body type [and] every fitness level because in the end, it’s how I describe it usually as ‘it’s solving a puzzle that gets you shredded by accident.’"
Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.