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living in a vertical world


June 2014

Written by
Lauren Hunsberger


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“I like the feeling of catching air in the process of making the moves and the burst of energy,” Coco says. She also likes to mention her biggest climb to date, which was an outdoor climb in which she scaled 400 vertical feet up the side of a mountain using multiples ropes.

But what she doesn’t talk much about is that she is an athlete on the rise, ranking extremely well in her local division for her age. Nor does she dwell on the fact that she is already busy racking up first- and second-place titles this competition season.

She’d rather talk about the simple joys of going really high and fast.

This is only the second competition season for the young athlete. The first took her all the way to the nationals last year in Atlanta. 

Nicole MarThe secret to her early success? “I just figure it out once I get up there,” says Coco. Her mother, Gail, laughs a little at this because she knows that Coco trains hard, going to the indoor climbing gym Vertical World two to three times a week for up to three hours at a time. She is part of the Vertical World team, which regularly ranks as one of the top three teams at nationals (there are both individual and team rankings). 

Coco has been officially climbing since she was in kindergarten, when she first took an indoor rock climbing class at the Bellevue Club. Coco says her penchant for scaling things, however, started much earlier.

“I used to climb things inside the house when I was younger. I climbed out of my crib before I was 2 years old and over my child gate. I also used to climb furniture, shimmy up the walls in doorways in our house, climb on the outside of the car,” Coco says. 

“Parks these days have small climbing walls, and Coco loved those as well, so it seemed like a natural progression. She is truly a climber at heart and often seems fearless,” Gail adds.

But it’s more than a lack of fear that gets Coco moving. She has an obvious affinity for setting and reaching concrete goals, which has helped her excel at the gut-checking sport.

“I like climbing because it can be an individual thing. I can set my own goals to climb a certain problem or route and try to accomplish that,” Coco says. “When you’re up on the wall, it’s just you there and you have to figure out where to put your feet and hands. I like that challenge.”

Like many sports, there are multiple seasons and different disciplines within the sport. Coco’s specialty at the moment is speed climbing, which is indoors. But as she continues to improve her skills, she hopes to get outdoors more and more. 

“It’s easier to climb outdoors because there are a lot more options than with the set routes indoors. There are a bunch more places to hold on,” Coco says. “You can use whatever nature gives you.” 

Gail explains how the transition from indoor to outdoor is one that they are taking seriously. “Safety is a huge thing when you’re outdoor climbing,” Gail says. “This is one of the many reasons we have yet to do that many outdoor climbs because we are still learning, so her outdoor climbs have been with guides, coaches or experienced mentors.” 

Climbing photoThat’s right, Gail says, despite Coco’s passion and impressive performances thus far, the whole family is still very much in the learning phase, which means the climbing world could see big things come out of this fearless young girl in the upcoming years.

After an impressive showing in regionals in May, Coco will be competing in divisionals in June. There, she will be climbing for a spot at nationals. 

But aside from the accolades, Coco has already gained a lot from the sport, including physical strength, confidence, a passion and a sense of identity. She also notes that she loves being a part of the climbing community, and that she has already met great climbers of all ages who share her passion and have helped her progress in the sport.

But one of the most unexpected outcomes is that the whole family has started climbing. “We now climb as a whole family when we go on vacation,” Coco says, who sites places like Joshua Tree, Smith Rock and Red Rock as places where she would like to climb in the future. “I also want to try ice climbing in Colorado and expand on other disciplines of climbing.” 

Follow in Coco’s Footsteps

Want to try your hand at climbing? Head to one of the spots below for beginner classes. And if you’re a little nervous, Coco has some reassuring words of wisdom: “One of my friends sometimes does it with me, and I tell her if she falls, it’s just a mat. It doesn’t hurt.”

Stone Gardens

15600 NE 8th Street

2839 NW Market Street

Vertical World

15036 B NE 95th Street

2330 W Commodore Way

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