ORLANDO — The 800-square-foot room on the second floor of a Seminole County residence’s guest house hardly can contain the degree of activity.

Twenty-three people are in the room — the majority of them part of a youth rock-climbing team, some as young as 10 years old. Most eyes are transfixed on one side of the room. They are looking at not so much a wall as a puzzle, a geometry lesson with a singular purpose — to challenge them.

The wall is approximately 10 feet high, 10 feet deep and 30 feet wide and juts out at odd angles. It is vertical in some spots, horizontal in others and slanted elsewhere. Handholds and footholds adorn each piece of wood.

“It’s so much more intense than what we’re used to,” said Bryson McGinley, a 15-year-old student at Seminole High School.

McGinley belongs to Team Aiguille, which was left without a place to practice when the Aiguille Rock Climbing Center in Longwood unexpectedly closed in mid-October. Team Aiguille manager Jenna Rodriguez said the gym expects to reopen at a temporary location, possibly next month, but the climbers were confronting a deadline.

A regional competition is scheduled for mid-December in Augusta, Ga.

“I was really sad for the first couple of days,” said Reagan Lewis, 15. “The next couple of days, I was just in a daze, like, ‘Oh my gosh. Where are we going to climb? I don’t know where we’re going to go.’”

A solution was nearby.

One parent already had a semblance of a climbing wall in her home, where Team Aiguille occasionally brought small groups to practice. Modifications were required, though. Over the course of a few weekends and selected weeknights, coach Eugene Hoberg and some climbers’ fathers put their carpentry skills to work.

“A couple of guys do construction for a living,” said Steve Carnes, whose 12-year-old daughter is a climber. “The rest of us helped move stuff, hold stuff, drill stuff, whatever. It took lining up the different cuts.”

They used plywood, three-quarters of an inch thick, and attached shapes of various colors to allow the climbers places to grab and put their feet as they practiced the different routes.

If a climber falls, a soft landing awaits. A red pad over pieces of foam covers the floor.

“We’re not out there free-soloing,” parent Laurie Steffy said.

Practices last approximately three hours and can be up to three days a week.

“Aiguille was so successful that the gym was always packed,” Hoberg said. “To a degree, this is really good because we have the whole place to ourselves. We don’t have to be in a certain order to get everybody on the wall.”

Should they ever be needed, extra pieces of plywood rest against a side wall. An orange Home Depot bucket sits on the floor nearby. A rechargeable drill, put to use when Hoberg screws in a handhold, is always available.

Focused as they are (and should be) on improving their skills, the climbers don’t notice them.

“You’ve got to figure out where to put your feet, your body positioning, where to put your hands,” McGinley said. “Timing is a big part of it, knowing when to rest. It’s all very centered around what you do and being precise about it.”

Nothing stopped the climbers or their parents from finding a place to train after Aiguille closed, although not everything went smoothly. When the air conditioning unit broke, it had to be replaced the day before the first practice.

Onward and upward.

“This is kind of a thinking man’s, thinking woman’s sport,” Carnes said. “It’s problem solving, is what it is.”

Copyright 2019 Tribune Content Agency.


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