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Climbing Walls Offer Fun, Fitness

On the climbing wall at Rolling Valley Elementary School, Sussie Owusu, 6, was a natural. Going foothold to foothold, which resembled rocks, Sussie was confident.

"I like climbing, nobody taught me," she said.

For 7-year-old Annabeth Lawless, it was a matter of confidence. She remembered being scared at first.

"It helped me know that I won't fall," she said. "Then I got better at it."

The climbing walls are the newest craze in elementary school gyms. Made of plastic and wood, the walls give students use a variety of skills while getting in shape. Gary Simmons, the physical education teacher at Rolling Valley, looked at the advantages. The old ropes, dangling from the ceiling, were the old method of climbing. They weren't used at all this year.

"It's fun, good for physical fitness on the upper body, and less risk — they're not climbing up," Simmons said.

Although the county is not funding the walls, at least not entirely, the wall at Rolling Valley was paid for by a school fundraiser, PTA funds and some money the principal, Gayle Andrews came up with from her individual school budget.

"I kicked in $1,000," she said.

Other county schools in the quest to get their own wall including Crestwood Elementary in Springfield. Crestwood principal Patricia Zissios was looking forward to getting their wall, which was priced at $4,698.

"We got the PTA to fund it since it's not a thing the school would fund. The county doesn't have that kind of money," Zissios said.

Crestwood physical education teacher Wendy Wojcik looked at the advantages as well.

"It will help build confidence," she said, looking at what they have now, a plain pull up bar for students.

"It makes it more exciting," she said. "It's more appealing than just a pull up bar. It makes it more fun."

ALL THE CLIMBING WALLS in the Fairfax County schools are made by the Everlast Climbing Industries, a company out of St. Paul, Minn. The company use words such as "strength, endurance, balance, fitness, flexibility ..." to push its product, claiming in a brochure "Indoor rock climbing is one of the most innovative physical activities today. In our opinion, there's no better way to develop and enhance physical, social and emotional skills."

Although there is a pad under the climbers that doubles as a protecting cover when the walls are not in use, the climbers don't get very high so a fall is minimal. There is a red line the climbers do not step beyond.

Everlast Climbing Industries' brochure shows climbers going all the way up to the ceiling using safety ropes and pulleys. Rolling Valley does not have that feature.

One student was in tears after bumping his head on one of the footholds that day though.

The footholds are in a variety of colors which are utilized for different climbing challenges. Then there is a backpack the students can wear while climbing and hoops they have to grab and put around cones, all while clutching the rocky crag-shaped footholds.

Teacher Susanna Horner was monitoring the students on the wall with Andrews.

"It's a real challenge to them," Horner said. "It's a big draw. Our bag [backpack] is a lot of fun. We told the kids there was a snake in it."

Andrews looked at it as something the students could use later in life as well.

"P.E. is trying to encompass skills kids can use in their lives," she said.

Rolling Valley installed its 28-foot wall in September and the school plans on adding another 20-feet in the near future with more PTA funds. Andrews noted the interest from other schools.

"A lot of schools are interested, they come see it," she said.

There are also climbing walls at some area sports stores and climbing clubs. Eddie Bauer in Tysons Corner has a wall open to customers, with a rope for safety.