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'I'm an inspiration because I am still climbing at 75': 'Adventure Grandma' anticipates Olympic sport

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Posted at 10:40 AM, Apr 17, 2024

Sport Climbing: A Growing Trend

We are 100 days away from the Paris 2024 Olympics. For the second time, athletes will compete in sport climbing.

Sport climbing encompasses three exciting formats: bouldering, speed climbing, and lead climbing. In bouldering, athletes face the challenge of scaling high walls without the assistance of ropes, all within a tight time limit. Speed climbing, as the name suggests, involves a thrilling race against the clock in elimination rounds. Lastly, lead climbing pushes athletes to their limits as they strive to ascend as high as possible on a wall within six minutes, without any prior knowledge of the route.

Sport climbing has become popular in recent years, mainly drawing in younger athletes. Statistics from the Olympics show it's a mixed-gender sport with 39 percent of climbers under the age of 18.

Defying Age and Stereotypes in Climbing

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Elaine Davies scales the vertical wall at Adventure Rock in Milwaukee.

"When I grew up back in the 1950's, you didn't even hear about climbing especially in Wisconsin," 75-year-old Elaine Davies said.

Davies started climbing at 49-years-old. Reporter Symone Woolridge met Davies after noticing her and a group of people mingling at Adventure Rock in Milwaukee.

She asked the group, how did you start climbing?

"Are people surprised by you?" Woolridge asked Davies.

"Oh yeah," Davies laughed. "When they come in and see the grey-haired lady and they climb and they go oh my goodness, if she can do it, I should be able to do it."

Davies said she is always the youngest woman in the room of climbers. Just this weekend, she volunteered for a high school competition at the gym.

Strength, Flexibility, and Adventure

Davies climbs twice a week and attends a yoga class once a week.

"It was just exhilarating," Davies said about her first climb. "I showed up. I climbed. By the end of the night my arms were so pumped I could barely hold onto the steering wheel of my truck to drive home."

Davies doesn't feel her age and attributes a lot of her strength to climbing. She has noticed a change in her body as she has become more flexible and much stronger. She said she doesn't think she could do some of the things she does now if it wasn't for climbing.

And it's not just climbing.

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Elaine Davies climbs part of the Grand Canyon on a family trip.

Around the time Davies started 25 years ago, she also found interest in white water rafting. From days to weeks-long she has participated in rafting trips. Her family calls her 'Adventure Grandma.' Last year she went down the Grand Canyon for the second time.

The Gym Can Get Crowded

She hopes that her story encourages others her age, but jokingly, Davies hopes the gym won't be too crowded with an increasing amount of people finding interest in sport climbing.

"The downside of that is, there are so many people that come to the gym at times it gets so crowded," Davies joked.

"They're stealing your sport," Woolridge laughed.

"They're stealing my sport!" Davies responded.

A Young Climber's Journey

Many people are starting to learn more about the sport. Some said they found interest in the sport, by word of mouth.

"That was fun," 13-year-old Rian Olson said as he jumped off of a climbing wall at Adventure Rock.

He's been climbing for just over seven years now and has been competing for the bulk of that time. He fell in love with the sport after his dad introduced him.

"Last year when I was 12, I got 7 in nationals [sport climbing] and then I got 35 [bouldering] in nationals the next time. I should've started with the 35," Olson said as he laughed.

He said it takes a lot of technique to climb and people might think it's easier than it looks.

"There are different ways to climb and styles of climbing," he said.

His style is one that keeps his coach, Jacob Bach, on his toes.

Bach joked, Olson likes to wear socks with his climbing shoes, although it's not recommended, and also doesn't watch as many climbing videos as he should, which is also recommended.

"The greatest thing I get is like Instagram reels that I watch," Olson joked after he was asked about watching other people climb.

There's no doubt Olson and his climbing coach have a special bond.

"He cares a lot about how we do and how our mentality is," Olson said about his coach. "He's such an awesome coach and he really pushes us really hard."

Olson was one of Bach's first athletes.

"He is one of the most hard-working, talented, most excited people and he loves being a part of our team specifically," Bach said about Olson.

A Sport for Everyone

Bach is the head coach of the Adventure Rock Climbing team. He said there are about 115 athletes on the team, ranging from seven to 18 years old.

"There's something that's really hard to capture on film about climbing. It is the true amount of grit that it takes to do the sport. I get to see athletes every day grabbing like eight to 10-millimeter ledges hanging upside down and just giving it their absolute everything. Knowing that someone is hanging from truly the very tips of their fingers, and the emotion that it takes."

Bach used to be a dancer. He said similar techniques are used to climb. But no matter the sports you used to play, the activities you were involved in, or what the sport climbing statistics show, climbing seems to be for everyone.