Not even a fractured vertebra could stop 16-year-old Kieran Hadley from pursuing his passion for rock climbing.
Hadley, who was injured in a fall last year, competed last month at the youth nationals for sport climbing near Atlanta. He finished 43rd out of 50 competitors in his age group. Sport climbing uses permanent anchors in the wall for climber safety.
It was his first time on the national stage but he hopes to compete at a high level for years to come. He’ll attend The Climbing Academy — a school that combines academics and climbing — for the fall semester in Wyoming, Utah and Spain and has his long-term sights set on the Olympics, which are expected to include sport climbing for the first time in 2020.
“I’ll just keep competing as long as I can,” he said, “and when I can’t compete, I’ll do it for fun. ... It’s a good way to get outside and also to challenge yourself and push yourself to the limit.”
Hadley began rock climbing at the YMCA when he was 9. His parents, Shasta and Erik, and younger brother, Declan, have gotten into the sport recreationally as a result.
Competitions usually are held on indoor walls but the family enjoys exploring outdoor climbing areas.
“The thing I like most about outdoor climbing,” Shasta said, “is you have to kind of confront that part of yourself that holds you back. But also, outdoor climbing is like a puzzle.”
She finds Kieran’s commitment to the sport “inspiring.”
Memories of the fall remain a challenge for Hadley in competition.
“I’ve been a little more nervous since then when I get up to hard parts and the last piece of protection (his attachment to the wall) is below me,” he said. “That affects me more than a lot of other people.”
Hadley reached nationals through a regional competition in Salt Lake City and a divisional event in Bozeman, Mont., where he finished fifth. He also finished seventh at divisionals in bouldering, a climbing event on shorter walls that Hadley compares to a sprint race.