Warren teen finds her niche as rock climber

By: Jason Carmel Davis, | Warren Weekly | Published January 25, 2017

WARREN — What started out as a fun daddy-daughter date has turned into a full-blown passion for 14-year-old Warren resident Olivia Diaz.

Diaz, a freshman at Arts Academy in the Woods in Fraser, and her father, William, one day in October 2015 took a trip to the Planet Rock climbing Gym in Madison Heights to try out rock climbing. Olivia joined the gym’s climbing club that November and was exposed to climbing techniques, exercises and other activities.

She showed so much promise that in February 2016, Olivia received an invitation to try out for the gym’s beginner youth team. Six months later, Olivia earned a promotion to the gym’s competition team, which competes at a national level.

“I’ve always wanted to learn how to climb, so my dad took me for an introductory lesson. It’s something that was just a lot of fun to me when I started,” Olivia said. “You feel a great sense of accomplishment when you climb a wall and finish a problem.”

The “problem” is the route that climbers take to scale the wall. Each wall is different, with holes for climbing being placed in various spots. In the competition, climbers get four minutes to scale the wall as high as they can. Points are awarded based on the time a climber finishes in and how successful they are in scaling the wall.

Olivia did so well in events last fall that she earned a spot in the 2016 USA Climbing Bouldering divisional tournament, held Jan. 14 in Chicago. Olivia, who placed sixth at a fall event in Ohio and third at a competition in Michigan, took ninth in her group. The top six competitors advanced to the national championships, set for next month in Utah.

“It was exciting to be a part of a big competition like that,” said Olivia, who speaks proudly of climbing an 80-foot-high wall at a site in Kentucky. “Seeing all the different types of problems that everybody had to try to work out was really cool.”

Scaling the walls can also be scary. Each site has mats on the floor for protection, but climbers don’t use a rope or harness for protection.

“It’s scary when I get higher, sure,” Olivia said, “but I try to stay focused on what my next move is up the wall and how to approach it. I get a little scared, but it’s all about finishing the problem.”

William Diaz said he enjoys watching his daughter compete. He said his heart rate increases, though, the higher Olivia gets up the wall.

“I enjoy watching her … use her creativity and physical strength to solve the climbing problems,” William said. “But I’m also holding my breath when she gets near the top or if she slips.”

Becca Saag, Olivia’s coach at Planet Rock, said the 14-year-old is climbing at a high level given the limited amount of time she’s been a part of the team.

Saag said Olivia does a great job of holding her own against more experienced climbers.

“She’s competing against, and keeping up with, girls who have been competing at a national level since they were 10 years old,” Saag said. “I’m excited to see what she does in the future.”

The future is what Olivia is focused on.

She came so close to qualifying for the national championships that that’s all she can think about.

“My goal is to get to (the national championships) next year,” Olivia said. “That’s something that would really mean a lot to me.”