PEORIA — Climbing debuts as an Olympic sport this summer in Tokyo.
But the sport will reach new heights in Peoria when the 2021 USA Climbing Youth Rope Championship gets off the ground at First Ascent Peoria this weekend.
About 150 kids aged 8-18 will come from six states to compete for a chance to advance to nationals in Reno, Nev.
Some of those kids might one day be on the U.S. Olympic team.
One of them is Hayden Klinger, 13, an East Peoria native who has been in regional competitions for the bouldering classification and will make his debut this weekend in the top rope category.
“I’ve been climbing for three years,” the Germantown Hills Middle School student said. “I love to climb, love how it always challenges me and pushes me to be my best.
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“I climbed everything in the house, everything outside it, too. I even left my mom wondering one time how I ended up on our roof.”
Bouldering is defined as low climbing, without the use of ropes and harnesses. Top roping is where the climber and belayer attach to opposite ends of the rope, and the climber ascends the wall, while a partner pulls up slack in the rope through a belay device.
If you fall off the wall while bouldering, you land on a deep, soft mat below. If you fall during top roping, you descend gradually to the floor while harnessed in the rope.
First Ascent Climbing & Fitness — which is at 927 SW Washington St. in the Warehouse District — is a 20,000-square foot facility. It has several climbing walls and a 48-foot climbing tower.
“My dad introduced me to climbing when I was 5,” said Weston Altorfer, 13, a home-schooled student from Morton who will compete this weekend. “It was so fun, I’ve been doing it ever since. A big part of it is figuring out the problem. A lot of times other people are working on the same problem and everyone helps.
“Competitors are put into isolation and don’t see the setup of the wall. They are stationed with their backs to the wall, then we turn around and have a few minutes to study the hold placements on the wall and determine a climbing path.
“The correct path is called the beta. Sometimes, though, my buddies and I will try to break the beta — find a different path that works. It’s a great challenge, I love breaking the beta and completing the climb. I think I’m pretty good at reading the route.”
Competitors in the regional will get six minutes to complete their climb.
“We have kids coming from the Chicago area, Minnesota, Nebraska, both the Dakotas and Iowa,” First Ascent manager Amanda Villiger said. “And we we have three from the Peoria area, they are part of our First Ascent Peoria Youth Climbing Team.”
The facility gives climbing classes, and the team coach is Eli Mathis.
The gym also features a free-weight training area, hosts a morning yoga class, has cardio equipment, four walls for rope climbing and a work space for anyone who wants to handle business tasks while taking time to climb.
There are five age-group categories for the regional competition, all climbing different routes based on their age and skill level.
The regional is 1-7 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sunday.
“USA Climbing called us and asked if we’d be willing to host regionals,” said Villiger, who presides over a facility that just opened in 2019. “This is a major event, it’s going to feed into nationals. We’re excited to have it here.”
And the Peoria-area climbers are excited, too.
“I love the challenge and the competition,” said Brooke Fredrickson, 12, a Norwood Elementary School student who will climb on Saturday. “I like figuring out the answers, finding the path on the wall.
“I’ve been doing this two years now. I was always climbing around on jungle gyms (on playgrounds), and when First Ascent opened we were there on the first day.”
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men’s basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.