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|June 18- June 25, 2009
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Mighty ‘dyno’ mite
Bouldering started as a creative outlet for one 13-year-old who’s become the best in the U.S.
by Sam McManis
Dreadlocks and limbs flying every which way, Liam Vance slithered from hold to hold with swift, deft, decisive movements.
Then came the leap — one of skill, not faith — a 6-foot vertical jump to a hold at the far end of the wall.
Liam, with poise belying his 13 years, knew he would complete the dynamic movement — “dyno,” in bouldering argot. He had done it before at his home gym not to mention in national bouldering competitions and outdoors on “problems” (what they call boulders).
And, sure enough, he landed it with nary a quiver of doubt he might fall. His fingertips grasped the hold as if affixed with Super Glue.
His coach, Ryan West, could only smile.
“It’s crazy how far he’s hitting,” West says. “He really knows how to move his body, adjust to this or that, change momentum. And he’s got that finger strength. For most people, it takes a moment to register that connection (with the hold). He sticks there.”
West normally doesn’t approve of Liam and his training partner, Dean Braeman, doing “dynos” during workouts in this offshoot of rock climbing that involves no ropes or gear other than a chalk bag.
Yeah, there’s always a pad underneath the climbers in case they fall, but the kid just turned 13 a few days ago and maybe he should wait until he gets older.
But how are you going to stop such a free spirit?
On a “problem,” Liam seemingly has few problems. To watch him ascend and traverse is to see pure, elemental joy at play. Ask him about the adrenal rush he gets from bouldering, and Liam just shrugs and says, so softly you have to lean in to hear, “It’s really fun.”
Being one of the best in the United States in his age group only adds to the thrill.
In February, Liam earned the silver medal at the American Bouldering Series Season 10 Youth National Championships in Boulder.
He was edged out in a tiebreaker ascent in the finals by Jesse Grupper of Upper Montclair, N.J., but the performance was good enough to place Liam on the U.S. National Bouldering Team.
It’s quite an achievement for a shy, sweet-natured boy who got a grip on the sport only about four years ago.
Liam’s parents, Bill Vance and Karen Hewett, originally sought an outlet for their son’s creativity and individuality and, as a bonus, provide him some socialization as a home-schooler. They certainly weren’t looking for a pressurized, competitive atmosphere — he had tried youth soccer and didn’t like it — and bouldering provided just that.
But Liam became so proficient so fast that the next logical step would be to test himself against others in competition.
“It’s a sport where if you succeed, you’ve done it; if you fail, you’ve failed only yourself,” Hewett says. “If you were to stick Liam in karate or another sport where you’re supposed to follow a strict routine, that would be very hard for him. Ryan seems to have a lot of skill at knowing when to let go and let Liam be silly and when to focus.”
Let Liam be a kid and play, in other words?
“Exactly,” West says. “You have to guide kids into what they need to learn, but you never want to take away the joy.”
For Liam, the joy comes in the problem solving.
It’s no coincidence that, analytically inclined, he’s highly proficient in math — he takes an algebra course, mostly alongside older teens.
The two disciplines complement each other.
When Liam stares up at a boulder (outdoors) or wall (indoors), his neurons are firing with spacial calculations. You can almost see the wheels turning in his head.
“Basically,” Liam says. “I’m thinking of how to orient my body. You try to think it out before you get on the wall.”
“Visual problem solving has always been something he’s enjoyed,” she says. “He’s always been one that, even of play structures, he’d plan his moves out, move through the monkey bars, over and under. When he’d play with his Thomas the Tank trains, it wasn’t about the trains. It was about building these really complex pathways.”
(c) 2009, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.). Visit The Sacramento Bee online at http://www.sacbee.com/
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