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'Competing with myself': Rock climbing club gives students a niche on campus

Anna Baechtold, a first-year art history major, practices rock climbing during practice on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020 at Fetzer Gym C. "It's so literal and so easy to see your progress where in other sports, it's a bit more arbitrary," she said.

Mary Diez, a junior studying biology, came to UNC with no climbing experience. 

Before stepping foot on campus first semester, Diez went on an Expeditions program where participants climbed in an outdoor setting. Drawn to the sport and being outdoors, she joined the UNC-CH Climbing Club, finding her niche and group of friends on campus. She said the climbing club is an instrumental part of her college experience. 

“A lot of climbing is outside,” Diez said. “That’s honestly one of the biggest draws I think for me, personally, was this ability to spend a majority of my time climbing and hanging out outside.”

The club climbs numerous arenas, including competitive, recreational and outdoor settings, to prepare for inter-institutional competitions. 

As the club's outdoor organizer, Diez plans trips to outdoor climbing locations. 

When the club is not traveling to nearby outdoor climbing locations, its members create intense, two hour workouts to prepare for competitions in Fetzer Hall. The beginning of practice consists of a series of stretches and warm-up exercises to engage specific parts of the body. 

“I call it warming up your brain, getting the movement ready for climbing,” said Greg Rinn, a senior studying exercise and sports science and the club's co-president.

The climbing club attracts a diverse student population to its practices five days per week. Rinn said the group shares a passion for climbing and the outdoors. 

“If I had to describe it in a word, I would say it’s a goofy atmosphere,” Rinn said. “We are all there to work out and be there to get better at climbing, but it’s a great social atmosphere.”

Emma Benson, a first-year studying exercise and sports science, joined the club to find a social outlet and continue a sport she loves. 

“I’ve been climbing for about eight years,” Benson said. “Coming into school, I knew I wanted to be a part of the club.”

Club members climb routes up the wall to improve their technique. Each climber's goal is to complete a new route without falling — which climbers call projecting practices. 

“Climbing is one of those things you have to publicly fail at all the time,” Rinn said. 

The climbing club competes against other universities, such as Duke University, North Carolina State University and Appalachian State University. Competitions are not speed races, but rather how many routes a climber can complete in a given amount of time. 

“There’s a bunch of different routes with a set of holes of the same color,” Rinn said. “You have to only use the holes of that color, and it’s worth a certain amount of points.”

The goal of each competition is to climb designated routes to earn the most possible points for your team. Diez said climbers support and cheer for other climbers, even if they are not on their team because the climbers compete with themselves. 

“It’s almost always competing with myself,” Benson said. 

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will host sport climbing competitions for the first time in the Olympiad history. Rinn said the introduction of climbing as an Olympic sport is significant. 

“The Olympics has been a big boost for the publicity of rock climbing,” Rinn said. 

The climbing club produces climbers who continue with competitions after their time at Carolina. Kerry Scott, the founder of the club, is now a sponsored, semi-professional climber. 

Rinn said the climbing club attracts a diverse group of members of various personalities that share a passion for climbing, a testament to their openness. 

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“A legacy of being one of the most inclusive sports clubs on campus would be something I would like to strive for,” Rinn said. 

Diez said the club is a tight-knit community. Benson echoed this thought and said she was able to find her niche at Carolina through the club. 

“It’s been everything,” Benson said. “Almost all of my closest friends are part of the climbing club. It pushes me to be more outgoing.”