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Hanover 10-year-old a budding rock star

  • Piper Hutchins, 10, of Hanover, looks for a route up a wall at Dartmouth College's Jonathan Belden Daniels Memorial Climbing Gym on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. Hutchins recently competed in the USA Climbing Bouldering Youth National Championship in Oregon. (Valley News — Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Piper Hutchins, 10, of Hanover, recently competed in the USA Climbing Bouldering Youth National Championship in Oregon. (Valley News — Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Piper Hutchins, 10, of Hanover, works a route up a wall at Dartmouth College's Jonathan Belden Daniels Memorial Climbing Gym on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. Hutchins recently competed in the USA Climbing Bouldering Youth National Championship in Oregon. (Valley News — Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Piper Hutchins, 10, of Hanover, and her coach, Dartmouth College graduate and school climbing club co-founder Kayla Lieuw, discuss route options during a workout at Dartmouth College's Jonathan Belden Daniels Memorial Climbing Gym on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. Hutchins recently competed in the USA Climbing Bouldering Youth National Championship in Oregon. (Valley News — Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Piper Hutchins, 10, of Hanover, works her way up a wall at Dartmouth College's Jonathan Belden Daniels Memorial Climbing Gym on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. Hutchins recently competed in the USA Climbing Bouldering Youth National Championship in Oregon. (Valley News — Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 2/20/2020 9:57:39 PM
Modified: 2/20/2020 10:00:40 PM

HANOVER — Let’s be honest: If Piper Hutchins wasn’t climbing the walls here, she’d be climbing the walls at home.

Here, inside Dartmouth College’s Jonathan Belden Daniels Memorial Climbing Gym, the 10-year-old Hutchins is in her element. Walls — vertical, angled, convex, concave, dotted with all manner of hand and foot holds — surround her on all sides. Once she’s ready to ascend, they support her, challenge her, vex her, make her find another route, solve another problem.

Just two years into competitive climbing, the Ray Elementary School fifth grader recently reached the pinnacle of her chosen sport. Having advanced through a regional meet in mid-January, Hutchins participated in the USA Climbing Youth Bouldering National Championship in Redmond, Ore., on Feb. 7-9.

She’s ... well ... climbing up the ladder at the ideal time. Competitive sport climbing — of which bouldering is just one of three disciplines — will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer. Hutchins can’t wait to watch.

Someday, perhaps, someone might watch her.

“It’s unique,” Hutchins said prior to a Tuesday practice session at Daniels. “A lot of people don’t know what it is, so it’s fun to show people what it is.”

Olympic sport climbing in Tokyo will involve all three disciplines.

Half of the competitive year is dedicated to bouldering, in which climbers are given multiple four-minute opportunities to solve and attempt a route to the top of a short wall without the aid of ropes, earning points in the process. The rest of the season goes toward speed climbing (two athletes side-by-side racing up a 15-meter wall) and lead climbing (an endurance-based event with the goal of reaching the top of a wall). Athletes are tethered in the latter two disciplines.

Hutchins’ attraction to climbing grew quickly after her father, Reid, introduced it to her five years ago when the family lived in Queensbury, N.Y.

“I would go one night a week with a buddy to get a good workout,” he explained. “There were some kids there one day and we thought it would be fun, so we took her there. … She just got really into it. We would go and it would be like a thing we would do together, right? We would climb, hang out, and that was how she got into it.”

Dad served as coach at first, and the process has proven to be an education for both. As Piper continued to climb, Reid — holder of a masters degree in engineering management from Dartmouth’s Thayer School — gradually built an 8-foot wall in the basement of the family’s Hanover home.

“It’s fun, but it’s also terrible because my dad can make it harder whenever he wants,” Piper said with a grin. “When I complete something, he’ll just take off a hold or put a worse one on. But when we can’t come here, I can still climb and work on things at home.”

Piper would occasionally visit the Dartmouth wall, Quechee’s Green Mountain Rock Climbing Center or a similar facility in Concord to crawl around on larger surfaces.

Reid Hutchins got to know Matt Rube, a co-founder of Dartmouth’s indoor climbing team, through his daughter’s visits to Daniels Gym. Rube suggested fellow co-founder Kayla Lieuw — a spring psychology graduate staying locally for a gap year — as a potential private coach. Piper now has a role model and instructor with loads of national-level climbing experience herself.

“She’s very self-motivated for a 10-year-old, so that makes it really easy for me to work with her,” said Lieuw, a Potomac, Md., native who competed in 20 USA Climbing national championships from her youth through her freshman year at Dartmouth. “If I just tell her to do a workout, she just does it because she really wants to get better, which is one of the best things you can ask for.

“She’s still a 10-year-old, and she can be silly sometimes. But she’s very hard-working, very self-motivated, and it’s been great working with her.”

Competitors get four or five attempts in a bouldering meet. Called problems, athletes have a time limit — in Piper’s case, four minutes — to mentally scout a route and make multiple attempts of a problem without falling. They can earn between five and 25 points depending on their progress, and the athlete with the most points after all problems are attempted wins.

Hutchins needed a top-six finish at her January divisional meet in Connecticut to make nationals. Competing in the Female Youth D division — basically, ages 10 and younger — Hutchins scored 25 points on her first problem and ultimately amassed 59.8 points to place fifth and qualify for Oregon.

Although Piper didn’t advance out of qualifying at nationals, finishing 44th out of 49 competitors, the trip out west has only furthered her desire to work and improve. She’s won multiple bouldering competitions around the Northeast and will continue into the speed and lead climbing season to come.

“We’ve really tried to let it come from her and not really push it,” Reid Hutchins said. “We don’t want to burn her out. We want to it be fun.”

Being an Olympic event, complete with medals, might give sport climbing a similar boost as rugby received with the inclusion of a seven-a-side version of the game at Rio de Janeiro four years ago. European matches are now regular cable TV fixtures; Major League Rugby joined the American sports landscape in 2017.

Sport climbing already has a foothold in the Upper Valley. The GMRCC supports high school, middle school and youth climbing leagues at both its Quechee and Rutland locations. An attempt to boost the sport to varsity status in Vermont fell short a couple of years ago, according to Vermont Principals Association associate executive director Bob Johnson, because of a lack of indoor climbing facilities in the state. Still, the VPA remains interested.

Piper Hutchins has plenty of time to grow into her favorite sport. Once the Tokyo Games start, she’ll be in front of her television … assuming she can be torn away from scaling a wall somewhere.

Said the climber: “I think it’s going to be cool.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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