Juniors climb towards new ambitions


Courtesy of Conner Cruz. Cruz (left) and Troy Santiago (right) rock climb together.

For juniors Conner Cruz, Samantha Lai and Troy Santiago, being 30 feet above the ground while solely relying on their physical strength is a daily occurrence.

“Since I was little I’ve been looking for a sport I like,” Cruz said. “I’ve tried baseball, tennis and running, but athletics wasn’t fun until I tried rock climbing. At the academy I train in—Sender One—I started rock climbing and it was a fun sport for me.”

While Lai and Cruz have been competitively rock climbing since the eighth grade, Santiago recently discovered this newfound passion last December. 

“I haven’t been doing sports most of my life but rock climbing inspired me,” Santiago said. “So one day, I went rock climbing and enjoyed it. I’ve been doing it since.”

Rock climbers have two seasons: bouldering and rope. Bouldering season, which just concluded last month, is when they have to climb unharnessed on a rock wall that is merely 20 to 25 feet tall. The rope season, which starts in February and ends before summer, presents new challenges as the athletes climb with a harness on a wall that can be up to 130 feet tall. The counterpart to rope season is the speed section, as seen in the Olympics, which tests the athlete’s agility as they compete live against their opponent and race to the top.  

“Something unique about rock climbing is that every climb is different,” Lai said. “Moves and body positions can be similar but everyone is unique in their technique, so you never see two people doing the same thing. I’ve also started enjoying it more and in turn, I’ve noticed I’ve gotten stronger which has just motivated me to get better.”

Courtesy of Samantha Lai. Lai is pictured rock climbing.

Each climb they attempt varies in difficulty which is ranked on a specific scale. For the bouldering season, the Vermin scale is used to measure how challenging one’s climb is starting with V0 (V stands for Vermin). The hardest climb Lai and Cruz have accomplished is V9  while the newcomer Santiago has already scaled a V4 climb. Not only is there physical preparation for the sport, athletes have to mentally prepare themselves to think on their feet mid-climb.

“I like the diversity of climbing,” Santiago said. “You also have to rely on your brain because there are different ways that one can complete a route. There are people that use every hold, but there are some, like [Cruz], that just jump and skip half the rock wall.”

Cruz has even attempted a climb blindfolded. Cruz spends six to ten hours outside of school pursuing climbing every week and is now training for the rope season.  Santiago spends about six hours rock climbing recreationally a week. He plans to improve his skills and compete in the future. Lai practices about nine hours a week. This past month, Lai was focused on preparing for her first ever bouldering divisional competitions which were held on Feb. 19. She qualified for divisionals after placing in the regional competitions. She competed against the best in Southern California and placed 14th in divisionals. 

“My favorite part about climbing is the people,” Lai said. “My climbing family is such a big part of my life and they are all so supportive.”

Through rock climbing, both Lai and Cruz have found a second home training at the same gym. This friendship also extends to Santiago, as Cruz was the one to introduce him to this sport. 

“The great thing about climbing is the climbing community,” Cruz said. “At competitions, we are cheering for our opponents as well. Rock climbing is about working together and getting over obstacles together.”

These juniors will continue their athletic endeavors in rock climbing whether recreationally or competitively. For updates on Cruz’s journey, follow @ccruz_climbs on Instagram.