Rock climbers aim for chance at national title

SUWANEE - Some of the best young rock climbers in the Southeast gathered in Suwanee on Saturday with hopes of earning a spot in the USA Climbing National Championships in July.

Adrenaline Climbing, the county's only facility dedicated solely to rock climbing, hosted this year's USA Climbing Southeast Divisional Championships. It's the first time this particular event has been held in Georgia, said Brad Johanson-Smith, co-owner of Adrenaline Climbing.

Roughly 110 kids between ages 8-16 put their climbing skills to the test in both difficulty and speed competitions on Saturday. They were divided by age and gender and the top 10 in each division advanced to the next round today. Those who finish in the top 5 in each division today move on to nationals.

In the difficulty competitions, climbers have five minutes to make it as far up a wall as they can. The climber is scored on how far they go. Each climber goes on two different routes, with the second being harder than the first.

Prior to the 10 minutes they spend competing, climbers must wait in another room so they don't see the routes and mentally plan out the path they're going to take.

Taylor Pritchard, a 16-year-old who lives in Suwanee, said the longest he's ever had to wait at a competition is six hours.

But the wait doesn't seem quite so bad for Pritchard and the others since they see many of the other climbers at numerous competitions throughout the year and become friends with each other.

Adrenaline Climbing has a team of roughly 30 climbers, four of whom Johanson-Smith said are nationally ranked.

Carlo Nasisse, 13, is ranked 26th in the nation in his age division, but that's really no surprise given that he says his mother was climbing when she was pregnant with him.

Nasisse, who lives in Athens and makes the drive to Suwanee two to four times a week to train, said that while he enjoys competing, climbing does much more for him.

"I think it really helps me as a person," Nasisse said. "It's not really a sport like soccer. It's more of a lifestyle where once you start you can't stop."

Johanson-Smith said he could definitely tell that climbing has made a difference in many of the kids' lives.

"Climbers are such good kids," Johanson-Smith said. "The only way I can explain it is they're given so much responsibility at such a young age. When you're belaying someone, you basically have their life in your hands."