Speed-climbing to the Top | God's World News

Speed-climbing to the Top

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    Emma Hunt trains at Stone Summit in Kennesaw, Georgia. (Bekah McCallum)
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    Emma (left) competes at the 2024 IFSC Climbing World Cup in Utah. (Daniel Gajda)
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    Emma (center) holds a first place award at the 2024 Climbing World Cup in Utah. (Daniel Gajda)
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    Emma started climbing with her dad, Keith. (Jennifer Hunt)
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    Emma competes in the women’s speed climbing qualifications during the 2022 climbing World Cup in Utah. (AP/Rick Bowmer)
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Emma Hunt wedges her feet into curved rock climbing shoes with gray Velcro straps. She’s at Stone Summit in Kennesaw, Georgia. The 21-year-old spends more than 25 hours every week at this climbing gym. Her summer break is going to look quite different this year. In a few days, she’ll head to Paris to compete in the 2024 Olympic Games.

Emma is a speed climber. There are three categories of Olympic rock climbing: lead, bouldering, and speed. Boulder athletes climb without a rope. Lead climbers use a safety harness. Those athletes aren’t shown the rock formation before competitions. Speed climbing is unique. It relies more on timing.

At Stone Summit, many of the 20 red handholds look like starfish. The 11 slate-colored footholds resemble smooth, round pebbles. The colors of the holds might look different in Paris, but the route will be the same. Near the base of the wall, timing systems that Emma calls “paddles” are affixed. Climbers stand on those until the buzzer sounds, just like athletes in track and swimming wait at a fixed starting point.

Most days, Emma spends 30 minutes just warming up for her climb. But her 49.2-foot upward progress on the Olympic speed wall will last far less than a half a minute. Her all-time record is 6.30 seconds to reach the top.

Emma has climbed for most of her life. When she was five years old, her dad let her try climbing a portable rock wall at a mall. But going to the Olympics wasn’t on her radar until just a few years ago.

Rock climbing had its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games (which actually took place in 2021). Athletes then competed in lead, bouldering, and speed. At the time, Emma wasn’t confident that she could handle all three styles. But now speed athletes can compete in just their own category. That’s what it took. Emma was “locked in.”

The path to the Olympics hasn’t been easy. As a teen, Emma regularly overtrained. She also wrestled with thoughts of having to constantly improve to perfect her time. Today, she focuses more on perseverance than perfection. “And so I’ve had races or I’ve slipped . . . but the other girl fell,” she explains. “So I won the race because I stayed on [the wall], and I kept going even when I wanted to cry.”

Emma tries not to worry about being watched by millions of people. And she knows the excitement of the Olympics won’t last forever. On the day she gets back from Paris, her fall semester begins again.

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. — James 1:25

by Bekah McCallum in Duluth, Georgia

Why? By being teachable and disciplined, persevering through challenge, people can make great use of God-given talents.

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