Wichman climbs to new heights, rocks competition

Story by Layna Hong, Managing Editor

When people think of athletics, they think of football, basketball, baseball and the other various sports that East Meck offers. However, when senior Emily Wichman thinks about athletics, her mind jumps straight to rock climbing. Wichman climbs competitively at Inner Peaks, a local climbing gym.

There are three disciplines in rock climbing: bouldering, sport and speed. Bouldering is when you climb without a rope on shorter walls; sport climbing is when the climber has a rope attached to them (this is mainly used by younger kids because it is safer; it is a form of lead climbing); speed climbing uses an auto belay (a running rope secured around a fixed object) placed at the top of the wall, and two climbers try to climb up the wall as fast as possible to beat each other and hit a buzzer.

“Bouldering is about power and short movements,” Wichman said. “Rope climbing is about endurance because you have to go farther.”

Wichman got into rock climbing at the age of ten, when she attended a birthday party at Inner Peaks (which is owned by East parents Doug Cosby and Page Lee). She then went to a summer camp and joined a team. She has only been climbing competitively since the beginning of high school.

“I’ve gotten a medal in speed climbing. That was pretty exciting,” she said. “I was one of the only girls who actually was able to hit the buzzer at the top of the wall.”

She has only earned this one medal but has qualified for nationals once. In addition to competing, Wichman also coaches a younger team of mostly middle school kids, and says that the lack of dedication amongst those doing it recreationally is why she had to join a competition team.

“They don’t have the same dedication and motivation,” she said. “For me to get better and improve, I had to join the comp team.”

Despite the difficulties of teaching younger kids, Wichman says that she still enjoys coaching.

“It’s difficult to get children to do what you want,” she said. “My favorite part is when I give someone beta (climbing term that designates information about a climb) and they actually follow through and do it and they are actually able to do the move.”

Even though climbing is thought of as a recreational sport, those who do it competitively have the same motivation and drive as other athletes.

“We have two practices every week, and each is about two and a half hours,” she said. “And I usually go climbing on the weekends at least once.”

Climbing is also being recognized as a sport internationally; in the 2020 Olympic Games, climbing has been approved as a sport. Climbers will be able to compete for gold in three disciplines: speed, sport and bouldering. Like all other sports, climbing comes with risks. Wichman recalls a time when she took a really big fall.

“My foot slipped off of a hold,” she said. “I fell all the way through the arcway and I slammed into the wall.”

Though falling is a part of lead climbing, which is what Wichman was doing, it was still scary. Even though bouldering is technically more dangerous than lead climbing, she considers lead climbing more frightening.

Even though Wichman considers competition stressful, she still considers rock climbing to be her thing and hasn’t played another sport since soccer in the seventh grade.

“I climb for fun and it’s my sport,” Wichman said. “I do it because it’s a challenge.”