Friday Feb 29 2008
By: Paul Cambra The Press-Tribune
Local girl takes part in national bouldering competition
For most 10-year-olds, life can sometimes seem like an uphill climb. Hannah Donnelly wouldn't want it any other way. An avid rock climber, Donnelly recently competed in the American Bouldering Series Youth National Championship in, where else, Boulder, Colo. In her first attempt at national competition, Donnelly landed right in the middle, placing 16th out of 31 participants in her age group. This was the funnest experience, said Hannah from her home outside of Granite Bay. My parents and grandparents, my aunt and a friend all went along, and I got to know my coach better. Her coach, Mike Rommel of Gritstone Rock Club in Auburn, has been impressed by what he's seen of Donnelly so far. I've worked with a lot of talented pro climbers, said Rommel, and she's one of the best. Donnelly has been involved in rock climbing less than a year. Her mother, Robbin Weiser, happened upon Gritstone while they were still setting up shop. I hit Mike up for a donation to our school's auction, she said. He donated a six-month membership. Hannah ended up having her birthday party there and was immediately drawn to the sport. With Gritstone being a relatively new business, open for less than a year, Rommel didn't envision having a team this soon. I didn't think the talent would be there so soon, he said. I want kids strong and receptive enough to take in what I can give them. I never pushed to have a team, but at this point, we formally have one, and expectations and training are set a little higher. Rommel took his team of six kids, ages 10 through 17, to the Nor Cal Regional Competition in Fremont last month. Donnelly won her age group, which qualified her for the nationals in Colorado. This is a whole new adventure for us, Weiser said. I grew up with gymnastics, but a good family friend rock climbs and has talked about the analytical side of it. In other words, when you are on the wall, you had better be paying attention. Her ability to focus and concentrate has improved, Weiser said. I firmly believe it's from the climbing, She's more analytical, and is connecting it to her school work. It's a problem solving form of exercise. In competition, climbers are put in isolation, meaning their backs are literally to the climbing wall. Unable to watch those before them climb, they cannot gain an advantage by learning from someone else's mistakes. Once up, climbers have four minutes to solve the problem, then four minutes to rest before going on to the next one. There are four problems in all. In Hannah's words, they were easy, easy, easy, really hard. She mastered the first three, falling only once on problem number two, but was unable to finish the fourth. I was trying too long of a reach, Hannah said, I should have tried something different, but I kept trying the same thing and I never got it. As trying as it must have been for Hannah, for her coach it was even more frustrating, since they are not allowed to talk to their students while they are on the wall. I'm standing five feet away and I can't say anything, Rommel said. The beauty of it was it was well within her ability level, she just misread it. But that comes with experience, how to maneuver and read different routes. Outside of the physical aspects there are mental aspects of climbing and reading routes is the biggest challenge. Hannah's route will take her into a new age group next year, and from what Rommel said, the competition will be a lot tougher. But nobody thinks that will slow her down. Her dream is to be a professional rock climber, said her mother. She has a poster of Beth Rodden in her room and her goal is to someday to have her poster on some young girl's wall. Not out of the realm of possibility, considering the upsurge in the sport's popularity of late. In the next eight to 12 years, climbing will be an Olympic sport, Rommel said. It debuted in Turino as an exhibition sport and was inducted into the World Games two years ago, which is a stepping stone to the Olympics. Overall, there's a buzz in the industry. For now, Hannah will be satisfied with her twice-weekly trips to Gritstone, with its familiar wall and climbing companions. The atmosphere is so supportive, and down to earth, said her mother. The teenagers offer her constant encouragement, they're like her second family. They are really great. And now that they are an official team “ Rommel bought them matching jackets to make it official “ you can expect a new level of commitment and enthusiasm, something Hannah never lacked from the get go. I just want to keep at it and never give up, she said. You just have to learn you can always keep going, you will always have something ahead of you. And as for next year's national competition? I'm definitely going again.