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Level Creek 11-year-old climbs for U.S. team

Staff Photos: Jason Braverman. Zach Galla, an 11-year-old Suwanee resident, is one of only two young climbers from Georgia to make the U.S. National Sport Climbing Team. Here, Galla practices at Adrenaline Climbing in Suwanee.

Staff Photos: Jason Braverman. Zach Galla, an 11-year-old Suwanee resident, is one of only two young climbers from Georgia to make the U.S. National Sport Climbing Team. Here, Galla practices at Adrenaline Climbing in Suwanee.

SUWANEE -- To master a climbing wall, athletes must bend and twist their way to the top using hand and foot holds.

Before beginning the ascent, however, competitors can be seen performing a kind of dance as they plan their path up the artificial wall.

It's called "reading a route," or visualizing it. Serious climbers can do it well. An 11-year-old from Level Creek Elementary can read like few others.

Zach Galla of Suwanee is a rising fifth-grader who earlier this month joined hundreds of other young athletes during a national climbing event in Atlanta.

Out of about 400 other finalists, he was selected as one of only four to later compete on the U.S. National Sport Climbing Team -- deemed by many as the destination for the highest and fastest wall-scalers in North America.

"Nobody works harder, more enthusiastically and more happily than Zach," said Trey Johanson-Smith, one of the young man's coaches.

"He reads his routes beautifully ... far better than I can read them, just honestly."

She said it means he's able to memorize the path and "understand how it's going to translate into his body mechanics throughout the competition."

The competition, which was held July 7-11 in Atlanta, pitted 400 young champions from all over the country. In Galla's category of 8- to 11-year-olds, 30 divisional champions fought for one of four spots on the national team.

Galla made the cut.

As a new member of the U.S. National Climbing Team, he could one day compete at the World Cup Climbing Championship Games when he is 14 years old -- competitive climbing's version of the super bowl.

But he's taking things one step at a time -- his formula for success.

"While I'm up there, I just think about the next move," Galla said. "Really, that's all I think about."

Galla said he enjoys the momentum that winning brings.

"I just think it's fun to progress and try new routes and stuff ... try them again and again until I get them," he said.

Johanson-Smith said it's second-nature for Galla.

"He just gets it," she said. "He's really focused, really determined."

Galla offered tips for young athletes: "Focus -- focus is important," he said.

"And stay in school," he added, smiling.