CAPE ELIZABETH – Ian Frost of Cape Elizabeth and Maddie Gillis of Freeport are headed to the 2019 Bouldering Youth National Championship Feb. 8-10 in Redmond, Oregon. Thes10-year-old athletes are representing Salt Pump Climbing, a gym on Haigis Parkway in Scarborough.

Salt Pump Climbing Co. arrived in Maine three and a half years ago, at a time when the greater Portland area was still in need of a large rock climbing gym. The facility touts 10,000 square feet of climbing space. Built into the gym’s walls are more than 150 boulder problems (or paths to be taken) and 100 roped routes. The sport has gained a following around the world, and rock climbing has even become the newest sport to be added to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

To be invited to nationals the athletes had to win at local, regional and divisional levels. The competition itself is scored primarily on completion, not on speed. The runner-ups are then ranked based on the number of attempts they make. The bouldering competition is done without ropes, and the dynamic movements of the climber are faster and less precise than on a typical ascent. Athletes are not aware of the course until the moment they begin, and so they remain in a waiting and warm-up area known as “isolation” before their turn. For Frost and Gillis, this wait is often the most nerve-wracking part.

Despite this, they are both very excited about the competition. Even though they have traveled for the sport on prior occasions, this event will be an especially fun and valuable experience. To prepare for nationals, the athletes from Team Salt Pump are practicing on a wall that features potential boulder problems. Because they are blind to the course, they practice on a variety of paths.

As Gillis put it, “We do it over and over again.”

Michaela Tracy, head coach of Team Salt Pump, has climbed for much of her life. A veteran climber who has been ranked 8th on an international level, she has been a tremendous help in teaching the newest generation.


“These two have been really easy to work with,” Tracy said. “It’s been a great experience, working on these dynamic movements.”

John Ying, Salt Pump’s sales and marketing manager, understands the community that has developed through the gym. He says people offer plenty of support and are always helping each other improve.

“Be friendly with one another and celebrate each other’s successes,” he said about the community and its core philosophy.

Frost and Gillis’s families will join them at nationals, but both also have plenty of support from fellow climbers, thanks to the closeness of this group.

The young athletes look forward to continuing to develop their climbing skills and are eager to enter other high-level competitions in the future. As for advice for beginners, both had something to say. Frost recognized that relying too much on upper body strength will quickly fatigue a climber.

“You use your legs more than you think,” he said.

Gillis suggested that climbers stay calm, and that they “don’t look down.”

The competition can be viewed on the USA Climbing webcast.

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