Young Bellingham rock climbers compete at elite level

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 23, 2014 

Two 13-year-old rock climbers - Corbin Miley and Carmen Souza - from Bellingham sat in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Feb. 28 with dozens of the best bouldering athletes in the United States.

But Miley and Souza weren't just onlookers - they were part of the American Bouldering Series Youth National Championships and the journey wasn't easy.

Both Miley and Souza had to dedicate hours upon hours to get to the top competition in the U.S., but both say it was worth it.

"All the driving, the time commitment, it affects you," Miley said in a phone interview. "But it's worth the commitment because I love the sport."

The time it takes to practice, travel and prepare isn't small for Miley. He's in Bellingham's new Vital Climbing Gym, which is open 24 hours a day, as much as he can be, but he also tries to train in another gym at least once a week to get a feel for as many different routes as possible. Sometimes the gyms he goes to are several hours away.

"We do it so he can learn new routs and new problems, which is important to doing well in competition," his mother, Joannah Miley, said in a phone interview. "It was pleasant in a lot of ways. We got to spend a lot of time together. It's a fun sport to watch and it's been fun to hang out with Corbin."

The training paid off, too. Corbin took third in his age bracket out of 39 climbers. The top four typically make the USA Climbing team, Corbin said. However, world competitors must be 14 years of age. Corbin fell a year short.

"It was a little bit of disappointment," Corbin said. "Now I just know I have to train a little harder. I look forward to compete at that level within the year."

For Souza, who competes for the Whatcom Family YMCA team, the trip to nationals was motivation. Even though she took 26th out of 37 in her bracket, the event was rewarding, although a bit shocking.

"That whole event was just, 'Wow,'" Peggy Souza, Carmen's mother, said in a phone interview.

Just competing with the elite climbers in the nation was an experience to remember.

"It was exciting," Carmen said in a phone interview. "It was scary. It was exciting to see all the top climbers, but I didn't know what to expect. I trained on things I thought I needed to work on and I thought I was strong. Then I got to nationals and I was not at all."

But competing with and against the elite climbers is just one step for two. Carmen and Corbin both want to pursue careers in the field.

"That's what I want. That's my dream job," Carmen said.

Corbin, who competes for Team Vital, has even laid out a plan to get to his goal and he talks about it with determination, unafraid to pursue the dream even though he admits it will be difficult.

"My ultimate goal would be to make a living out of it, but that will be hard," Corbin said. "You just have to stay competing so that sponsors notice you and then you start being in advertisements. You have to climb outside and put up hard climbs. That gets you popular within the climbing world. You can make a living out of that."

It sounds like a great job, especially considering Corbin, Carmen and their parents all agreed the climbing community is so friendly.

Climbers have their own unique community that's supportive and competitive. They will help each other on routes, discussing the ins and outs of how to get up the wall the quickest and it's helped Corbin in more than just climbing.

"I think he just has more confidence," Joannah Miley said. "Obviously, we are very proud of him, proud of his dedication, proud of his sportsmanship. The climbing community is very positive and being a good sportsman is part of that."

Even Corbin has noticed the difference between other sports and climbing.

"I used to play hockey and soccer and the teams and individuals aren't as friendly," Corbin said. "Even at competitions, I see people competing that are good friends."

The rewards stretch even further than the emotional side of the sport. Both parents spoke highly of the strength their kids have gained from the sport.

Climbing up the rock requires you to use your arms to lift your entire body, and the repetition has given the pair of 13-year-olds an unusual amount of physical prowess for such a young age.

"The great thing about a girl in this sport is she's so strong," Peggy Souza said. "I don't have to worry about her as much."

Not only does the sport require muscles, it's also a sport that uses the brain and that's part of the reason Corbin has such a passion for the sport.

"I fell in love with it the first time," Corbin said. "It's a physical and mental sport. You have to be physically fit to get up the rock and you have to know how to get up it."

Carmen and Corbin have excelled in both aspects of the sport, both are some of the top youth climbers in the nation, and there seems to be no stopping them in pushing even harder to achieve their dreams.

"We never have a problem getting him to train. He does that all on his own," Joannah Miley said of Corbin. "It's more of a problem getting him to take a day off."

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