Peaking Early: Mechanicsville boy heading to national rockclimbing competition
A Mechanicsville boy is putting Spider-Man to shame.
Zachary Blue trains in a custom-built “bouldering cave” in his family’s garage in Mechanicsville when he’s not at Peak Experiences in Midlothian.
Zachary Blue, a fourth grader at Rural Point Elementary School, is set to compete in a national-level rock-climbing competition next month—and he’s only been involved in the sport for about a year.
He discovered his love of rock-climbing on a family vacation at the Homestead. All of the Blues attempted to
scale a man-made rock wall, but only Zachary took to it.
After that 45-foot climb, he had a new hobby, which has since taken over the Blues’ garage.
Zachary trains at Peak Experiences in Midlothian. Those miles can add up, so on his off days, he turns to his garage, where his coach recently constructed a climbing cave.
There are two types of climbing, and Zachary enjoys both: bouldering and rope-climbing.
The latter involves a harness and heights up 50-65 feet.
Bouldering, which is currently in-season, uses no ropes. The athlete climbs shorter distances on his or her own, above a padded mat.
Kids’ feet are not allowed to exceed 10 feet above the ground when bouldering.
Zachary has no preference between those two types, but he’ll take the outdoors over indoors.
“You have more choices [outside],” he said.
Brent Quesenberry, Zachary’s coach at Peak Experiences, said, “There are people in life that are naturally gifted, and are naturally athletic, and I think Zack has a lot of natural talent. …
“He’s got the [family] support and natural strength and perseverance to be good at it.”
Zachary will compete in the bouldering nationals in Colorado in March. Quesenberry said this already puts him in the top 35 in the country among kids 9-11.
Quesenberry estimated 6,000 youth participate in the bouldering sport nationwide, and perhaps 1,000 are in the 9-11 age category.
Zacahary has had to compete and succeed at the local, regional, and divisional levels to advance to nationals.
At nationals, he won’t see the walls until five minutes before it’s time to climb.
“He’ll have a five-minute window in which he has to look at the route, gather what information that he can, decipher the sequence and the code the best he can, and then he has to try,” Quesenberry explained.
Zachary will be faced with four walls, or problems, during the weekend. If he reaches the top of each one on his first try, then he will at least tie for first place.
“He’ll need to do better than he’s done to date to make the national team, because he’ll have to place in the top four in the country,” Quesenberry said.
These artificial walls contain removable grips of various sizes of shapes. Some are like basketballs—large, but smooth—while others might resemble door handles. They can be rearranged to present different scenarios to climbers.
“Each grip has its own challenge,” Quesenberry said. “They’re presenting the challenge, and he’s got to figure it out. … It’s kind of fantastic to watch.”
The pads below are made out of foam and vinyl. The nationals wall will have two feet of foam.
Rock-climbing professionals are not allowed to use the word “safe,” Quesenberry said, since the activity is “inherently risky.”
“It’s not safe, period. What we do is try to manage the risks the best we can,” he explained.
Part of the training is learning how to hit the ground, for example.
Also, the athletes simply look out for each other, especially when someone’s up on the wall.
“The kids are so supportive of each other,” Zachary’s mother, Alyssa Blue, noted. “It’s individual competition, but they’re very careful.”
Zachary works with a team of 40 kids at the Midlothian facility.
He shared some tips of what helps him thrive in rock-climbing.
“Always try your hardest. Have fun. Stay focused,” Zachary said. “Don’t think, ‘What if I don’t do it? Am I going to get hurt?’ Think like, ‘I know I can do it,’ and it’ll be helpful if you envision yourself doing it.”
Any kid interested in the sport “should probably just try it out, see if you like it,” he added.
Peak is the closest facility devoted to indoor rock-climbing.
“You have to challenge yourself, accept that there is some risk and fear involved, and come try it out,” Quesenberry said.
He recommended that prospective students make an appointment before showing up.
Quesenberry designed the bouldering cave in the Blues’ garage. He incorporated angles that aren’t even used at Peak.
Alyssa Blue said, “He designed this in his head. … We just basically said, ‘This is the only space we have available—can you do anything?’ And I was absolutely stunned that this is where I used to park a car.”
Zachary said he most enjoys “the thrill of climbing. It’s kind of fun to be high up, or like in this case [in the garage climbing cave], upside-down.”
And he does it all without the benefit of a radioactive spider bite.
For more information about Peak Experiences, visit their website.