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Reaching new heights

Climbing is taking off, with children such as 12-year-old Safety Harbor resident McCullough Shriver helping it become the fastest-growing "extreme'' sport in the United States.

[Times photos: Toni L. Sandys]
Sarah Diamond of Vertical Ventures Climbing Camp helps Blake McEachern, 12, of Tampa, while behind them Austin Teague, 10, of Tampa, scales another wall.

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 3, 2001


Kids love to climb. Couches, rocks, trees -- it doesn't matter, as long as it gets them off the ground.

"They are naturals," Sarah Diamond, a coach at Vertical Ventures Climbing Camp in Tampa, said. "Climbing works the body and mind. Like chess, you have to use your head."

photo
McCullough Shriver, 12, of Safety Harbor scales a wall. Climbing is taking off in popularity.
Children are particularly adept at what is being heralded as the fastest-growing "extreme" sport in America. And with the fickle weather of recent weeks, it may be time to send your youngsters "indoors" to burn off summer energy before school starts.

A decade ago, there were only a handful of climbing gyms in the United States. Today there are more than 1,500.

Vertical Ventures has countless routes up the wall for beginner, intermediate and advanced. Each route is marked with a different color tape denoting the difficulty from 1 to 6.

It is not how high a climbing wall is but how difficult it is to get to the top that matters. Good climbers will sit and study the wall before starting a climb and plan where they will place each hand and foot, which is why many participants characterize climbing as a "thinking sport."

"Climbing teaches kids how to think through problems," Diamond said. "It also promotes teamwork, because you always have somebody holding the rope."

Vertical Ventures Climbing Camp is available to ages 9 through 16. During the school year, the gym holds regular classes for all ages and skill levels.

For information, call (813) 884-7625.

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