Central Rock Climbing Gym Provides an Outlet For WESS Students

 Junior Jackie Lovci climbs a V2 bolder at the UWS's Central Rock Gym.

Junior Jackie Lovci climbs a V2 bolder at the UWS’s Central Rock Gym.

Elizabeth Alton

Jackie Lovci surveys the boulder in front of her, mentally mapping different paths to the top. Out of the array of multicolor grips on the wall, she makes note of the white ones that together mark the path of a V2 bolder. She rubs her hands together and some chalk residue flakes off; she’s ready to try and climb the bolder.

Lovci, a junior, was a member of WESS’s rock climbing club last year. Since the start of quarantine in March, her once daily dose of rock climbing has been relegated to a few trips with her sister over the past ten months. 

Just two blocks from WESS is the Central Rock Gym. Last year, WESS formed a partnership with the gym, which gave students in the rock climbing club the opportunity to climb three days a week before school. 

Marianna Telerman, the Middle School’s Physical Education teacher, was the club’s advisor. 

I think the parents [association] wanted a physical club,” Telerman said. “I volunteered to be a chaperone and also enjoyed to see students learn and grow a passion for this sport.  We became a mini family… Before COVID we were planning a club trip for outdoor climbing.

The club provided students with the physical and mental benefits of rock climbing and the social aspects of a club.

“It’s a super supportive environment,” Lovci said. “Normally there will be like 20 people crowded around a problem and we’ll be trying to figure it out; it’s fun that way.”

Junior Madden Schuffler enjoyed using the club as both an outlet to hang out with friends, and to get some physical activity before the start of the school day. 

“It was really nice because I always felt a lot better before school,” Schuffler said. “It was really fun to climb with friends, because that’s basically what the club was, a lot of climbing with friends, and hanging out and working on our bolder problems together.” 

Sophomore Ryan Kim also got a lot out of the social aspect of the club.

“It’s really fun to do with your friends and have something to share with a whole bunch of different people that in normal circumstances you wouldn’t normally get a chance to hang out with,” Kim said. 

Like with many sports, rock climbing also provides an ideal atmosphere to learn and grow. 

The gym is now using a liquid chalk with disinfectant aspects as a safety precaution during COVID.

“The most achieved you feel is after you do a course you think on the ground, ‘Oh I’m never going to be able to do this’ and then you try for a little bit and and go up on different routes, and when you actually solve it for real, and you actually get it done, that’s the most achieving feeling you can have: when you do something you thought you couldn’t do before,” Kim said.

The gym closed in early March, just before the lockdown, and reopened in September. Since it’s reopened, the gym has remained a place for the club members to practice their skills. Sam Schmidt, a climber herself, has been an employee at the Central Rock Gym since the location first opened just over two years ago. She’s seen first hand climbers’ excitement as they return to the gym.

“I’ve had a few members come up to me and talk about how you know being at home they felt cooped up especially without climbing, like you can’t really replace climbing with running,” Schmidt said. “When they came back into it they felt humbled, because they felt their grade go down, but also really grateful to come back into it.”

The gym has added extra cleaning precautions in order to stay safe.

An empty corner of the rock climbing gym.

“High contact areas are cleaned way more frequently than normal,” Schmidt said. “Places like the cubbies and the lockers are cleaned more on a 15 minute basis because we have to keep with the turnaround of customers. Bathrooms are cleaned more. On top of that we try to keep our capacity at 50 or less, which is less than 33% capacity.”

While the rock climbing club itself has been discontinued since the start of lockdown, a few WESS climbers have continued to go to the gym to practice their crafts.

“It’s been open for I’d say maybe 3 or 4 months by now and I’ve tried to go at least once a week,” Schuffler said. “This is the only thing that’s open for me to be able to do as an activity and as an exercise and get out of the house.”

All of this said, the gym is an enclosed space, and due to safety reasons, not all of the climbers have been able to get there.

“I see my Grandparents often and there’s also a baby in my cousin’s house which I’m sometimes over at,” Kim said. “For safety reasons, I’ve chosen to wait until New York City dies down a little bit more before I start going into any gyms and stuff like that.” 

Winter is fast approaching and the fear of another wave of COVID is growing, but as of now, the gym is open.

“Rock climbing is not a sport where you’re really close to people anyway, so it’s a good way to continue to do stuff and be near people, especially because it’s cold now,” Lovci said. 

As the pandemic constinues, the rock climbing club remains on pause, but hopefully with a vaccine in sight, people will be able to congregate in schools and places like the gym soon.