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The Student News Site of McLean High School

The Highlander

The Student News Site of McLean High School

The Highlander

Riley rocks the wall

Senior Riley Purcell excels at rock climbing
Courtesy of Riley Purcell
Senior Riley Purcell guides her brother through the basics of rock climbing. Part of rock climbing culture is to be supportive of those who are still learning the ropes.

Maneuvering her way through the rock wall, senior Riley Purcell takes careful steps up the jagged rock wall. She is calm yet careful as one wrong move could send her falling down.

Purcell began rock climbing at her local gym in middle school before joining a team in high school through Sportrock Climbing Center in Alexandria. Rock climbing was the perfect activity for her to explore her athletic and courageous side without the overwhelming pressure of a team sport.

“Climbing is something that I’ve been interested in since I was little–I was one of the kids who liked to climb trees a lot,” Purcell said. “Other sports were always a little stressful for me because I’m not a very competitive person. Climbing was a great way to get active without the stress of competition and it definitely has a different, more relaxed environment [compared to other competitive sports].”

The positive attitude from her teammates motivates her to make her way up the wall. When she ascends the wall through a new route, known as “climbing beta”, her teammates always cheer her on.

“It’s considered bad sportsmanship if you have a bad attitude towards other people in the gym,” Purcell said. “Members of your team go around and attempt the climbs, and the teamworking aspect of it is cheering on your teammates.”

Purcell spent years climbing to get to her current V6 level of bouldering, considered intermediate in the rock climbing community. She has seen her skills progress dramatically since her climbing journey started through hard work, dedicating time in the gym three times a week.

“I’ve become a lot more aware of where my body weight is on the wall and how to position myself to minimize the amount of weight that I’m actually holding in my fingers and working with gravity,” Purcell said. “My endurance has gotten a lot better–I realized I was getting a lot stronger from climbing.”

Purcell’s teammates recognize her knack for rock climbing and admire the time and effort she dedicates to the sport.

“Although she’s always been an amazing climber, I’ve definitely seen her improve [upon] specific skills like different hip moves, which are super difficult to use in climbs,” said junior Tatum Olson, Purcell’s teammate at Sportrock Climbing Center. “She’s able to hold onto the tiniest of crimps, which most others in the gym often need to skip over.”

Climbing a rock wall is not only a physical battle, but a mental one as well. While the stress of getting up the wall used to get to her, she is now able to channel her stress into calming energy.

“[Climbing the rock wall] is a pretty relaxing and calming process because I’m no longer focused on school or homework or whatever else I have to do, I’m just focused on getting from the bottom of the wall to the top of the wall,” Purcell said. “It’s like figuring out a puzzle–you’re looking to see what’s the next move you can make. I’m very aware of where my body is [when climbing], kind of like meditation.”

Purcell’s excellence was propelled by the positive energy from her team, and she hopes to find a similarly supportive team when she joins climbing clubs in college. She recommends climbing to those who are looking to try something new and who want to discover a kind and helpful community.

“The climbing community is super accepting and there’s definitely something for every skill level; you don’t have to be super athletic to get into it,” Purcell said. “I recommend checking out a nearby gym, because [rock climbing] is really enjoyable.”

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