Texas Rock Climbing club wins first national championship

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Texas Rock Climbing president Will Butcher takes on the wall at the Texas Tech Vertical Plains competition. (Photo courtesy of Javier Morales)

The UT Tower has glowed orange to commemorate rivalry football victories, academic achievements and Texas Independence Day. For the first time, the Tower will light up to celebrate the rock climbing team’s first national championship victory.

This past Saturday, the Texas rock climbing team took first place at the National Collegiate Climbing Series in Boston and competed against roughly 30 other collegiate teams, said Will Butcher, Texas Rock Climbing club president and Plan II and finance and business honors senior.

“Our goal for the season was to do well at regionals, but we didn’t expect to win,” he said. “It was definitely exciting.”

Butcher said the team has been at UT for about three years, but it wasn’t recognized as an official UT sport club until this year. The team trained in the fall and competed in six different competitions during spring’s Collegiate Climbing Series, he said.

“I think UT is one of the largest collegiate climbing teams in the country, so we’re definitely helping to increase awareness of the sport and help get more people involved,” he said.

The team holds practices four times a week, with most members attending two to three practices during the week for several hours at a time, he said, and members range from skilled climbers to beginners.

“Most of the people on the team are getting started climbing in college,” Butcher said. “That’s one of our big things — getting people into the sport. A lot of people have been able to improve really quickly.”

Butcher, who has cultivated an interest in climbing for 10 years, said he finds the sport to be continuously challenging and engaging.

“I think what’s cool about it is that everyone can be challenged at their own level,” he said. “If you’re just starting out, you get on something at your level, and someone who’s been doing it for decades can still be challenging themselves. You continue expanding your horizons.”

Climbing ability depends on a variety of factors that come with training as well as experience, Butcher said.

“Upper body strength is good, flexibility, core strength, just a lot of the same things that make gymnasts successful also apply to climbing,” he said. “It takes some experience to figure out what’s the best way to climb the route, so it’s technique and things like that.”

Practices involve a combination of circuit training, push-ups, pull-ups and mixed cardio, team adviser Chris Burnett said, and training doesn’t lessen in the offseason.

“The real brutal training happens in the offseason to maintain endurance and build stamina,” Burnett said.

At nationals, eight members of the team engaged in a redpoint component of the competition, which involves many climbers on the walls at the same time, as well as an on-site competition with two people climbing at once, said Sarah Williams, Texas Rock Climbing vice president and Middle Eastern studies junior.

“With the on-site competition, you don’t really know what you’re climbing beforehand,” she said. “It was my first time doing on-site at a competition, and I thought it was going to be really stressful, but it was a lot of fun.”

Williams said she began climbing in college and spent up to four hours a day climbing before the national championship.

“I definitely amped up my training before nationals,” she said. “We wanted to take it seriously and have a good showing at nationals, and I think it really paid off.”

Williams was one of three climbers to qualify for on-site finals and said the experience of building up the team to earn a national title has been a rewarding experience.

“We’ve all learned things together,” she said. “It’s been really exciting watching it happen and being a part of that.”  

Printed on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 as: Texas Rock Climbing wins national title