Junior Kileen Marshall is proving every day that unconventional sports are just as rewarding as the championship teams that grace the University of Miami campus.
Marshall began rock climbing at the age of ten in her previous hometown of Pittsburgh. She was self-motivated.
“We used to drive by a climbing gym,” Marshall said. “One day I convinced my parents to stop.”
Marshall began climbing for a team in ninth grade, but the competition level in Pennsylvania allowed for little growth. When her family moved to Coral Gables before her junior year in high school, she started climbing at the X-treme gym in Miami.
“The team down here was a lot better,” she said. “The coach had more experience and there were more kids involved.”
Marshall advanced to the Junior Nationals Competition during the summer after her junior year and placed third in the country for her age group following her senior year. Climbers must go through the rigor of regional and divisional competitions before they can reach national tournaments.
“More than anything it’s your footwork,” Marshall said. “[But it is also] really mental-that’s what I love most.”
Rock climbing is categorized by a rating system with 5.5 being the easiest rock formation and 5.15 being the most difficult. A 5.10 rating is generally where specific techniques begin coming into play. By the time she had reached her junior year in high school, Marshall was climbing a 5.11 A. When she took the number three spot at Junior Nationals, it was on a route rated 5.12 A.
“Once you pass a certain point, it’s all your technique that’s going to get you up the wall,” Marshall said.
After her senior year, Marshall headed to Colorado to climb the Garden of the Gods, a breathtaking formation of steep and jagged red rocks just outside the city of Colorado Springs.
“The biggest thing I had to learn was finding where to go,” she said. “I’ve always been taught to plan your route and what you’re going to do, but you can’t do that outside.”
Marshall has continued going to X-treme throughout her time at UM. Though she doesn’t compete like she did in high school, she still finds it a rewarding experience. She is able to help out the younger climbers who are just beginning their careers. Marshall enjoys the atmosphere of the gym.
“Climbers in general are laid back,” she said. “It’s like a little community, you know who the regulars are.”
The sport is growing exponentially in the U.S. It has always been popular in Europe and South America, but the U.S. has been slow in catching on.
“[Competition is] a lot more selective now then it was when I was climbing [competitively],” Marshall said.
Marshall said that in some countries it’s commonplace to be a rock climber.
“Everyone does it,” Marshall said. “It’s like kids [here]playing little league baseball.”
Perhaps the reason the sport has taken so long to catch on here is because of the perceived danger of rock climbing. But many rock climbers, including Marshall, have no reason to believe that it is not an incredibly safe sport.
“People assume I’m so out there or daring or extreme,” she said. “You probably risk more on the drive over to the gym.”
Ian Daniels, another UM student and X-treme gym climber, has had the formation of a rock climbing club in the works for some time.
“The club is just on the verge of being accepted by the university, and there’s been a huge interest among the students at UM,” Daniels said. “So far we’ve had about 70 people interested in joining.”
The first excursion with the soon-to-be-official club takes place this Tuesday at X-treme.
“…The facility at X-treme is really fantastic,” Daniels said. “The idea is to get some funding from the school as well, for equipment, trips, and down the line, get a climbing wall set up at the Wellness Center too.”
Marshall and Daniels are hopeful about the future of the club, which will enable students to get a taste of the outdoors.
“So far it’s been really exciting to get this club going- everyone’s been really helpful and enthusiastic about it, and I think with the support everyone’s given so far, we’ve got a great future ahead,” Daniels said.
See the Wellness Center Club Sports Department for details on the rock-climbing club.
Melissa Teich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org