New Heights

November 1, 2019
HANG ON! Logan Schlecht practices at a Sender One gym in California.
JASON CHANG

Movies about rock climbing feature people reaching the highest peaks in the world. But you don’t need to conquer a mountain to feel the excitement. Rock-climbing gyms are opening across the country, and the sport is growing more popular by the minute. According to 2015 statistics reported by the International Federation of Sport Climbing, an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 people in the United States are climbing for the first time every day.

In early October, TFK Kid Reporter Priscilla L. Ho was one of these first-time climbers. “Fear was the first emotion I felt,” she says. But fear “turned into exhilaration when I reached the top and looked down with pride at the crowd below.”

Justen Sjong used to be a professional rock climber. Now he’s a senior director at El Cap, a company that owns two climbing-gym networks in the U.S. One of the gyms is called Earth Treks. Its Englewood, Colorado, location is the biggest indoor climbing gym in the country. Sjong thinks of climbing as “the physical version of chess.” He says, “You are presented with a boulder or a problem on the wall, and you’re to solve it with your body. And you can be creative with how you go about it.”

Big Competition

Lots of people take part in rock climbing just for fun. They do it at birthday parties and summer camps. But some people take the sport seriously. Eleven-year-old Logan Schlecht is a member of the competitive climbing team at the Sender One gym in Santa Ana, California. “It really boosts my mental game,” Logan says.

A common misconception about climbing is that it’s all about muscle. According to Logan, this isn’t true. “It’s not all about physical strength. It’s really the ability to push yourself to the limit and know that you’re able to do this,” he says.

Climbing has gotten so popular it’s now an Olympic sport. Olympic athletes will compete in it for the first time next year at the 2020 Summer Games, in Tokyo, Japan. Only 20 men and 20 women from around the world will be allowed to climb.

So far, just one athlete has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Climbing Team: 18-year-old Brooke Raboutou, of Boulder, Colorado. In August, she told Climbing magazine, “I hope I can help the sport grow and introduce new people to the joys of climbing.”