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Student pursues alternative athletic route

Junior competes on local rock climbing team and participates in tournaments

Claire Moriarty and Ana Marbett
Originally published March 29, 2018

Junior Keely Carolan climbing a 12 pitch route on the Stawamus Chief in Squamish, British Columbia. She has been a member of the Stone Gardens climbing team since 2016. (Photo courtesy of Keely Carolan)

Junior Keely Carolan climbing a 12 pitch route on the Stawamus Chief in Squamish, British Columbia. She has been a member of the Stone Gardens climbing team since 2016. (Photo courtesy of Keely Carolan)

Everyone is born with an instinctive fear of heights. Many people never get past it, but others learn to thrive at great heights. Junior Keely Carolan is one of those few.

Since joining the Stone Gardens climbing team in 2016, Carolan has become a devoted rock climber. Her connection to the sport is apparent in the college of climbing stickers that cover her Nalgene water bottle and in the hours she spends training at the gym and competing.

“The competitive rock climbing team that I’m on, we train pretty much all year,” Carolan said. “It’s a really great and encouraging atmosphere to be in.”

Competitive rock climbing is divided into two seasons, bouldering and ropes, which occur in the fall and summer respectively. Climbers compete in two local competitions in order to attend regionals, and the top ten athletes from there progress to divisionals and later possibly to nationals.

Climbing competitions are generally not scored based on how fast a route is completed, but rather on how high a climber goes or how many holds they utilize. Because rock climbing is a relatively new sport, new styles of competitions are still being created.

“Competition climbing is something that’s definitely been developing more in the past five to ten years,” Carolan said. “It’s a good way to challenge myself and I’m a very competitive person so I think I’ll definitely keep it a part of my life for that reason.”

Junior Daniel Windus is another member of the Stone Gardens climbing team. “It sounds cliché, but [I like] the freedom that comes with it, and the athleticism that develops just by climbing and not even doing training,” Windus said. “Just climbing can get you in shape and keep you in shape and it can be a lifetime sport. It’s something that if you’re careful you can do for as long as you live.”

Every sport has a unique culture that athletes embody and cherish. Carolan appreciates the welcoming nature of the climbing community and the connections it allows her to make with her fellow athletes.

“As you progress and learn more skills you can pass them on to people who are newer,” Carolan said. “I’ve met people who had a lot of skills and knew a lot of things and as I spent more time with them they passed those skills on to me, and it’s just very friendly, everyone’s open and willing to go climbing with you.”

This is a widely held opinion among climbers. “I’m fine with going down to the gym by myself because either I’ll know people there or I’ll make a new friend and end up climbing with them for two hours,” Windus said.

There are not many sports that connect athletes to nature as profoundly as climbing does. The beauty of climbing lies in the wide range of locations and scenery available for the sport. From gyms in the city to crags in the mountains, climbers manage to find adventure.

“Alpine climbing is when you go way out into the mountains and climb something really high up, so when you’re out there, you’re just in this untouched land, and there’s mountains around you, and it’s just so serene and beautiful. It makes me really feel human,” Carolan said.

Carolan’s passion and love for the sport led her to a position as an ambassador for Orbital Climbing, a small company based in Tennessee who reached out to her on Instagram. Carolan has promo codes to distribute in order to get the brand name out.

“I’m hoping that’s the first step in my journey, because my huge dream is to make a living doing what I love, so my hope is that this is my first step towards achieving that dream, or part of it, at least,” Carolan said.

Part of the beauty of climbing is that it can be enjoyed for an athlete’s entire life. Carolan intends to pursue competitive rock climbing into college and beyond. “I really like the way it connects me to other people,” she said. “It connects me to nature, and it connects me to myself in a way that I just haven’t found possible with any other sport. It’s allowed me to learn things about myself that I didn’t even know existed.”

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Student pursues alternative athletic route