Freeport, Cape Elizabeth 10-year-olds scale new heights

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SCARBOROUGH — Hold-by-hold and competition-by-competition, two local athletes are climbing their way to the top of the youth rock-climbing scene, with a USA Climbing National Championship title within reach. 

Three months of stellar performances in local, regional and divisional competitions have earned 10-year-olds Maddie Gillis, of Freeport, and Ian Frost, of Cape Elizabeth, spots at the nationals, to be held in Redmond, Oregon, Feb. 8-10.

The pair will be representing Team Salt Pump, a climbing team for ages 7-19 at Salt Pump Climbing Co., which opened in 2015 at 36 Haigis Parkway in Scarborough.

The 23 youth athletes are split into five age brackets, where they “strengthen their technical skills, fitness, and climbing ability through structured coaching and personal training,” according to Marketing Director John Ying.

Salt Pump climbers have earned 10 top-three finishes across the USA Climbing circuit. But this will be the first time the gym will send anyone to nationals. 

USA Climbing runs from ages 10-18, so Gillis and Frost are both in the youngest division, Youth D, which covers 10- and 11-year-olds. 

Gillis, ranked fourth in her division, and Frost, who’s ranked second, will be among 40 invitees in their age bracket this weekend.

On Monday, just days before the competition, Gillis and Frost could be found bouldering at Salt Pump – a form of rock climbing performed without ropes and harnesses on small rock formations or walls – with their teammates and head coach Michaela Tracy.

Tracy, from Sheffield, England, is an international competitor. In 2017, she finished eighth in the World Cup Bouldering series. She and the athletes’ families will be accompanying Gillis and Frost to Oregon. 

This will be Tracy’s first time coaching anyone to nationals.

“They work really hard and learn very quickly,” Tracy said. “They’re both naturally athletic … (and) are not afraid to push themselves.”

Gillis started climbing at Salt Pump with her family in 2016. She also dances ballet, but said climbing has become her main sport.

“It’s good exercise and it’s fun,” she said.

Her mom, Kim, said Gillis loves partaking in a sport that she and her family can enjoy and practice together.

“It’s a skill that you can keep growing. It’s not just a mindless thing. You have to think a lot … so it’s training minds and muscles,” Kim said. “… It’s really great to see Maddie really focusing on the wall at practice, (as well as) seeing her interact with other kids and adults and carrying herself responsibly.”

Frost, who started climbing the same year, said the sport is exciting because they’re always able to “try new things” – different rock walls and climbing routes. 

On Monday, both Frost and Gillis said they were nervous about their upcoming competition, but mostly excited. Both said they’re happy to have one another to travel with and cheer for. 

Rock climbing was given an Olympic endorsement and new sense of legitimacy when it was added to the event lineup for the 2020 Olympic Games, which will be held in Tokyo. ESPN last month also announced a multi-year deal to broadcast USA Climbing competitions. 

There is no age limit to compete in the Olympic Games; it depends on the rules set by the federation that oversees each international sport. However, Time Magazine reported that the youngest known male gold medalist was Kuoso Kitamura, a resident of Japan who won the 1500m freestyle swim in 1932 at age 14. For women, it’s American Marjorie Gestring, who scored gold in 3m springboard diving in 1936 at the age of 13.

According to the International Federation of Sport Climbing, the youngest category for Youth World Championships will be Youth B, for competitors ages 14 and 15. 

Both Gillis and Frost smiled at the prospect of attempting to qualify for the Olympics once they’re old enough. Nodding enthusiastically, they said “definitely.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Teammates Ian Frost, left, of Cape Elizabeth, and Maddie Gillis of Freeport, both 10, hang around during climbing practice at Salt Pump Climbing Co. in Scarborough Feb. 4, two days before traveling to Redmond, Oregon, for the USA Climbing National Championships. 

Freeport’s Maddie Gillis, 10, will compete with Team Salt Pump teammate Ian Frost of Cape Elizabeth in the USA Climbing National Championship in Redmond, Oregon, Feb. 8-10.

Ian Frost, 10, of Cape Elizabeth, is one of two youth climbers from Salt Pump Climbing Co. in Scarborough with an eye on a USA Climbing National Championship victory this weekend.

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