Every year, we scrub, wax and shine the Community Center during the annual maintenance period. You might see some of the more visual improvements like a fresh coat of paint, but there are other differences you may not notice at first.

Our Zenith Climbing Wall just got a face lift with a brand new arrangement of its handholds.

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During our summer tune-up, the grips are taken down and cleaned and the rock wall is vacuumed; then the paths that a climber can take up to the top are re-routed. This may sound like a simple process, but it takes quite a bit of planning and the right person for the task. The Climbing Wall Guide making it all happen is Katie Bondy. She teaches classes at the Community Center and also trains the climbing wall staff. Katie has a special love for the climbing wall that shines through in her work for the city.

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She first took up climbing when she was just 7-years-old, and quickly found it was something that not only challenged, but empowered her. Katie has spina bifida, scoliosis and leg length discrepancy that prevent her from being able to run, but not climb. “It didn’t matter that I needed to stay off my left leg, I was able to use my upper body strength to climb even though that is not the traditional way,” said Katie. ” I don’t go for speed and focus on power and technique instead.”

This type of exercise is good for her body as well. “If I’m not active then I can’t walk. I have to maintain a certain weight to keep pressure off my back and stay loose in my lower body so my legs don’t tighten up.”

Climbing continually pushes her, and she is in better shape now climbing five days a week then when she was playing college lacrosse. “There are moves you have to do where you need both of your feet, and I have to be creative to figure out how to climb using three limbs. I love the challenge of climbing, it gives me something to own and be proud of.”

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Her passion makes her an asset to the Parks and Recreation team. “I came into the department wanting to work the climbing wall. It is a place where I can teach kids and adults something new and really see the outcome of their effort,” said Katie.

Katie tells a story of one teaching opportunity that has stuck with her this summer. “About a month ago, I saw a little girl with spina bifida. She wanted to climb the wall, and the answer was simple to me. Why not let her climb? She was so excited that someone told her she could do something, and did not judge her. She was with her grandma and I asked how bad her the curve of her spine was, and I was informed that she will have to have surgery. I told her to never let anyone tell you that you can not do something because you’re different. Always try to prove them wrong. She tried to make it up the wall and got about eight feet off the ground. So, because this little girl had a special place in my heart, I climbed with her. Even though she did not make it to the top, I was only one handhold away. The smile on her face made my week.” After that day, the little girl has continued to come back to the Community Center several times a week to climb. She hasn’t reached the top yet, but is getting close.

And it is not just Katie’s attitude that makes her a hit on the climbing wall, her strategical approach comes through in her work. Her method was different this year as she constructed all four climbing levels. It was based on handhold styles. For example, the first wall is tailored toward beginners and the style of the handhold is shaped like a cup, which is easier to grip. As handholds get smaller, they require strength in different muscles and force climbers to use the natural formation of the rocks as the route becomes more advanced.

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As she began restructuring the climbing wall for a new year, you could see her mind creating a design. “I think of it is as a dance, a kind of art form. I want it to feel good as you’re climbing. I have to incorporate moves that everyone can do factoring in wing-span and skill level.” Katie even spelled out the words REC and TOP on the rock wall with handhold letters to make it more playful.

She is excited for people to try out the new course. “Everyone should try it at least once! It is cool to say that you beat the wall, conquered your fears. You will feel that excitement; it is fun!” 

And there are plenty of opportunities at Community Center to climb. Parks and Recreation is offering a climbing class just for adults for the first time this fall.  For more information on our open climb hours and programs, click on the highlighted links. So go ahead and climb on!