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Climbing The Ranks Youngsters Take Steps In National Competition

Sun., May 25, 1997, midnight

They do it for the adrenaline rush.

Climbers crawled up a 40-foot steel monolith Saturday, their faces stern, their muscles tense, arms and legs moving like those of a spider’s.

“It’s just you and the wall,” said Mike Kenny of Spokane, as music by Pearl Jam blared in the background. “You’re constantly pushing yourself and getting a rush. Nothing comes close.”

A climber for 12 years, Kenny was one of the coaches Saturday at “Spring Surge,” the Junior National Climbing Tour competition at Spokane’s Wild Walls Climbing Gym. The event attracted more than 50 competitors ages 13 to 17 from all over the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s about pushing limits,” said John Goicoechea, a 13-year-old national champion and a member of the Spokane team. “You always go past where you went before.”

For seven hours Saturday, Goicoechea and other kids tied ropes to harnesses around their waists before maneuvering up the wall with chalk-covered hands and with their feet covered in tight-fitting canvas shoes.

Each climber had three chances to reach the top. Those who were able to do it the fastest won ribbons, as well as points that would qualify them for national competitions.

Some were able to do it in less than a minute.

“It’s an exciting challenge,” said Goicoechea, who spends 30 hours a week climbing.

The Freeman Elementary sixth-grader with platinum blond hair is a national champion in his age group. In addition to climbing, Goicoechea trains five times a week by lifting weights and doing sit-ups, he said.

After reaching the top on Saturday, Goicoechea smiled to his team mates as he descended back to the ground.

Some say climbing has become the sport of the ‘90s.

Instead of soccer or basketball, kids are beginning to go to climbing gyms to practice, Kenny said. They also spend as much as $2,000 on equipment such as harnesses, ropes and special climbing shoes.

Because of the cost, it’s considered a “preppy” sport in California, Kenny said. Here in the Northwest, however, it attracts kids from all walks of life.

“It’s a good sport for kids who aren’t into team sports,” said Jean Peterson of Spokane, who came to watch her son, Todd Mires, compete. “It teaches them concentration and gives them energy in both their minds and bodies.”

While experts like Goicoechea make it look easy, climbing requires a great deal of flexibility and concentration, Kenny said.

“I love the adrenaline rush,” said 15-year-old Julie Bohn of Portland. “If you fall, you keep going even if you’re shaking. It’s hard but it makes you stronger.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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