As a 20-something year old man falls five feet down onto the gym mat with a heavy thud, senior Zoe Scofield glances over with a laugh.
“Oh yeah, you’re not supposed to fall like that,” Scofield said. “You need to fall with your hands in, so they don’t get hurt.”
Since Scofield began rock climbing her freshman year, she’s become all too familiar with the do’s and don’ts of climbing: do keep your chest close to the wall and point your toes. Don’t straighten your arms while you climb – it wastes energy.
She’s learned these tricks over the years as a competitive rock climber at RoKC, an indoor rock climbing gym located in North KCK that opened in April 2016. Before this, Scofield climbed at The Cave Bouldering Gym – a closer location to her house, but “more intense,” as Scofield described it. Climbing isn’t about competing to Scofield; it’s about the relationships she’s made, and the community it’s blessed her with.
Scofield met her boyfriend, Cooper, through rock climbing, and she’s grown closer with her sister as the two of them climb together. She’s become closer with her friends, offering up her free day pass to those who haven’t already purchased the $63-a-month gym membership.
Senior Emma Chalk, one of the many climbers Scofield has recruited, even purchased her own monthly membership and joins Scofield about once a week at RoKC. Together, Scofield and Chalk warm up with sets of jumping jacks, push ups, pull ups and stretches before heading to the wall.
“Can we just play ping pong instead of doing pull ups?” Chalk says as she glances over longingly at the empty ping pong table just feet away from the warm up area.
But Scofield persists, reminding Chalk of the importance of warming up those rarely-used muscles rock climbing requires. It’s this kind of commitment that has made Scofield a V5 climber. Rock climbing routes are ranked on a level from V0 through V9, V9 being the hardest. Chalk considers herself a V3 climber. Routes are ranked based on how far apart the holds are, the type of holds, how long the route is and how inclined the wall is.
Scofield eases her way up a V3 to start. She follows the path of the wall as if she has done the route a million times, smoothly twisting and turning her way to the top. The whole thing takes less than five minutes, but her lungs are already pounding. When she finally jumps off the eight foot high wall, her feet land squarely on the mat.
“She makes it look so easy,” Chalk jokes to a fellow observer as Scofield ascends the V3. “She’s like, ‘It’s fine, just put your foot behind your head and climb.’”
Scofield’s flexibility and strength came with four visits to the gym a week, three with her team of nine and once on her own. She spends hours hanging out at RoKC, bringing her dinner to go and eating alongside the employees at the front desk.
“If I fall and break something while I climb after eating this greasy food, it’s all your fault,” Scofield jokes to the employee behind the counter.
It’s these kinds of relationships that make climbing so enjoyable to Scofield. It’s about the accomplishment of achieving a new route. It’s about the experiences it’s brought her. It’s not about the competitions, those just came along with it.
“I didn’t really want to do the competitions,” Scofield said. “But my mom was like, ‘You may as well if you’re going to be training so much,’ and they’re a good way to build more strength.”
Rock Climbing competitions follow two formats: one is to complete as many routes as possible in three hours, the other is to make it as far up a never-before-seen route in four minutes. Scofield competes about once a month during the fall and spring seasons. There are a few regional competitions, but most competitions take Scofield out of state.
“The rock climbing community here is really small,” Scofield said. “But that probably has to do with the lack of mountains here.”
Scofield, who began climbing just four years ago, competes against climbers who started when they were as young as 4 years old. But that “late start” hasn’t deterred her success. She usually finishes in the top five of competitions, even tying for first last year.
But the awards aren’t what motivates Scofield to keep climbing higher and higher. It’s seeing her sister climbing right next to her and knowing her boyfriend’s waiting at the bottom to congratulate her. She’s found a new family to eat dinner with, and she’s learned the right way to fall down and get back up.