You’d never guess that Will Howard has a fear of heights. He scampers spiderlike up and across walls and under overhangs at the Portland Rock Gym (PRG). He reaches great heights.
“My enjoyment of this is greater than my fear,” says Howard, a Portland Adventist Academy (PAA) senior and rock climbing club member. “It’s made me more confident, and it’s as satisfying as solving a difficult puzzle, so I feel like my mind is stronger.”
Rock climbing is a long-loved tradition of PAA students, staff and alumni. Thanks to a special donation in 1997, PAA opened a membership with the PRG and started a climbing club. “We climbed there every year until 2005,” says Mark Smith, club sponsor and teacher. “That’s when we held our grand opening of our on-campus gym.”
PAA’s climbing gym was recently removed to accommodate campus development of a new school, but PAA’s support of the sport remains strong. The academy's academic standards committee recently included rock climbing in its physical education courses, and the school plans to reconstruct the gym when phase one of PAA’s building project is complete. Meanwhile, the close proximity of the PRG is vital to the program.
Climbing supports PAA’s core values, especially those related to overall health and well-being. “Any activity that involves movement is part of healthy lifestyle,” says Smith. “Climbing exercises the legs, core and upper body, along with a cardio component as well.”
And the sport benefits more than the body. “But I believe the primary benefit of climbing has to do with mental health,” says Smith. “Those who have the most to gain from climbing are probably those who have the most fear. It builds self-confidence, problem-solving skills, focus and stick-to-itiveness.”
“I feel like my brain gets a workout,” says Randy Le, PAA junior. “It’s hard, but I really like it.”
Climbing builds strong friendship, trust and accountability. “There are many PAA students who don’t play team sports or aren’t in a music group like band or choir,” says Smith. “So climbing provides an opportunity to build leadership and social skills.”
“I feel my son is in good hands,” says Sharon Howard. “Will has been provided with increasingly difficult challenges as well as the opportunity to lead on climbs. His opportunities at the gym and the trips to Smith Rock State Park parallel his participation in Pathfinder Teen Leadership Training with the Oregon Conference. He has helped lead in both Pathfinder teen rock climbing events and in PAA's junior challenge with mentoring, encouraging and teaching others who are learning these skills.”
“Rock climbing, mountain climbing and hiking are activities that be enjoyed for a lifetime,” says Smith. “They carry us on a journey into God's second book: the book of nature. They draw us away from technologies and structures made by man to a simpler and more focused place that is made by God. Through climbing at PAA, I hope to instill a lifetime desire in students to seek places where God is more easily experienced.”