For young Chicago climbing star, the sky’s the limit

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If your kids are climbing the walls this summer, here’s a thought; encourage it! Brightly colored climbing walls are popping up all over the country. And as WGN’s Micah Materre reports, a Chicago girl is becoming a star in top national competitions.

Data pix.

“On belay. Belay on. Climbing. Climb on. There are actually spider webs up here. You can take them down for them.” Sophie Volchenboum weighs 60 pounds soaking wet, just turned eleven, and is already among the best rock climbers her age in the country. “I think it builds a lot of trust because when you’re giving someone the belaying device and saying can you belay me, it’s kind of giving them your life.” Her dad Sam is belaying today, which simply means he’s holding the rope to catch her if she falls.

"The passion has always been there. We’ve always seen her really want to climb. But what’s really changed a lot is we’ve really seen her grow into her skin as a climber, and understand. You can really see the wheels turning as an athlete.” About five years ago while on vacation, the family stopped to let their four kids, Sophie, and her three older brothers, ride go carts. Sophie’s Mom Julie says their daughter made a detour to the climbing wall. “Sophie was dying to do it. She was 6. She went up, there were 3 walls and you can ring the bell at the end and she went ding ding. And the 3rd one she had a hard time. And we watched this look of why can’t I get it.? This determination.”

We witnessed that determination at the new forty foot climbing walls at Maggie Daley Park. She could have chosen an easy route to show us her stuff. She did not. (tries and falls three times) Sophie would have kept trying all day, but we had to keep moving because her coach, Dave Hudson was waiting. “So kids who are going to be athletes have an athletic mindset. When they can’t succeed right away, they want to do it again.” Hudson is the head coach at First Ascent, a brand new climbing gym opening soon in the Logan Square Avondale neighborhood. It has sixty foot walls. And Sophie’s favorite; bouldering. “Bouldering is when you don’t climb with a rope. But it’s not like you’re climbing 60 feet. It’s only 10-15-20 feet.” Hudson says, “They’re so good these days if I don’t get ‘em when they’re 5-6-7- they’re not gonna become the level that Sophie has become. She just kept getting better and better, kind of one of those prodigies.”

Sophie’s dad Sam loves the way Hudson describes his daughter. “Dave said she’s this interesting combination of um fearless, crazy, and smart. And I think we see all those things in her.” Another coach, mentor and friend is 20 year old Michaela Kiersch, who Hudson says was “His Sophie” a decade ago. “There’s a lot of kids that start when they’re 4 nowadays. But you have to be careful with that, because when you’re starting at 4 when you’re 14 that’s already 10 years so that’s when having fun and just playing around and not taking it too seriously plays a big part in it.”Michaela is a world class climber and will be the head climbing coach at First Ascent. She’s hoping to bring Sophie along in her foot holds. “She loves it. She’s not scared like you would think that a child or even an adult would be. She just goes for it and pushes herself at all times and it’s really inspiring.”

Back at Maggie Daley Park we asked Sophie what she thinks about when she reaches the top of a climbing wall. “Once you get on the wall you’re kind of just alone. And you can think about what you want. And it’s also a team sport and I really love my team. So there’s many things to like about it.” Micah Materre, WGN News.”

Sophie made the National team earlier this year when she placed second in the country in bouldering in her age group. There are now more than 400 climbing gyms coast to coast, many of them in flatland like Illinois. If you’d like to learn more about this fast growing sports, click these links.



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