Washington Elementary’s Colin Emmerson is heading to the U.S.A. Climbing Youth Speed Climbing National Championship. | Credit: Courtesy

Colin Emmerson, a 10-year-old Washington Elementary School student, is quickly — and literally — rising through the ranks of competitive indoor rock climbing. The incoming 5th grader, who started climbing at the Santa Barbara Rock Gym with his family about four years ago, recently qualified for the U.S.A. Climbing Youth Speed Climbing National Championship in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, on July 11.

Speed climbing is one of three types of competitive indoor climbing; sport climbing and bouldering, Colin’s personal favorite, are the other two. As the name suggests, the goal of the speed event is to make it to the top of a 10-meter-tall wall as quickly as you can. You wear a harness and use an auto-belay, a device that allows you to safely climb, fall, and repel on your own. There are multiple hand- and foot-holds spread throughout the wall that the climbers grab onto in any desired order, as well as weight sensors at the top and bottom that precisely time the participants’ journey upward. 

“It’s our first season with him actually competing, so we’re kind of figuring everything out as we go,” said Colin’s mom, Lindsay Emmerson. “We’ve learned a lot about indoor rock climbing this year, including that it’s a new Olympic sport as of next year in Tokyo.”

Colin Emmerson, an incoming 5th grader, qualified for the USA Climbing Youth Speed Climbing National Championship.

In order to qualify for the National Championship, Colin had to place well in regional and divisional competitions. Until that point, he’d only competed in the sport category, which emphasizes difficulty and problem-solving routes. “We had a hunch that he would be good at speed climbing, so we signed him up and he did very well,” said Lindsay. Colin set his personal record in the divisional race, completing the course in 13.36 seconds.


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