Sportrock staff claim that it’s the first time any president has ever visited a climbing gym, and that it has shined a spotlight on their 35,000 square-foot operation. On a recent weekday evening, every parking spot was taken outside their location at 5308 Eisenhower Avenue. Inside the massive gym, masked and unmasked climbers hung out, lifted weights, belayed, and worked their ways to the top of the tallest climbing walls in the Mid-Atlantic.
“I think what the President did was put Sportrock in the public consciousness for people who had never heard of climbing before,” Sportrock’s marketing manager Jeff Shor told ALXnow. “It’s definitely elevated our spotlight.”
Biden visited the gym to celebrate the lifting of COVID-19 regulations across Virginia, although some measures are still in place at both the Alexandria and Sterling locations. All climbers are currently required to wear face masks on Mondays after noon, and on weekends in the morning.
It’s a far cry from where the gym had come from at this point last year, having recently reopened to dramatically reduced capacity after a three-month shutdown. SportRock, which offers private instruction and a number of fitness classes, was also forced to switch in-person practices to a virtual format.
The eased restrictions are a welcome relief for 16-year-old Abigail Humber. The Arlington resident has been climbing at the gym since she was eight years old, and works with Taylor Reed, the director of the Sportrock Performance Institute, which is a 9,000 square-foot climbing facility connected to the main gym.
“I come here pretty much every day for training,” Humber said. “I am, homeschooled and I spend all of my time climbing. And so yes, I am the ultimate climbing nerd, especially combined with Taylor, who’s also a huge climbing nerd. We geek out together in the gym all the time about rock climbing, and it’s honestly the best. I just want to keep doing this for as long as I can, and if that means being a professional climber, then that’s what I want to do, because climbing is what I love, and climbing is what keeps me wanting to get up every morning.”
Some of Reed’s students regularly commute to the gym from North Carolina, like 19-year-old Charlie Osborne and 13-year-old Tessa Huang.
Osborne is a USA Climbing competitive climber in bouldering and lead climbing. He’s been climbing for 13 years, and has Olympic aspirations, and says he trains in Alexandria specifically because of Reed.
“He’s very technically focused, when it comes to climbing so he helps me realize all my weaknesses and strengths and how I can better myself in those certain areas to apply it to the wall,” Osborne said. “Before I usually started training with him, I was super strength focused, and I’d have all this all these abilities, but I didn’t know how to use them properly.”
Reed said that climbing boosts self esteem, and that the gym is full of athletes of all ages intent of solving puzzles with their bodies.
“These kids are kind of insane when it comes to how climbing has consumed them,” Reed said. “But you get this this interesting dynamic between youth and adults in the climbing gym where they’re all planning on the same problems and trying to share information about getting to the top of the wall. And that’s the element that allows for an inspiring community.”
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