Twenty-five years ago, six Portland Adventist Academy students formed the school's first rock climbing club. Led by Mark Smith, PAA teacher and renowned and avid climber at the forefront of the sport, the club has quickly became one of the most popular on campus.
With many indoor climbing gyms in the Portland, Oregon area, PAA students are blessed to have a place to climb up to three times a week. In addition to weekly meet ups, the club travels annually to Smith Rock State Park for an outdoor climbing experience.
This non-competitive sport has been a foundation for deepening relationships between students and staff. "I love the way we all work together to help someone complete their goal," said MacKenzie Hall, a sophomore. "Rock climbing club feels like a family where we can openly talk with each other and get some good exercise."
"As a co-sponsor and amateur climber, the club has provided an opportunity for me to connect with, and even learn from students," said Nathalia Parra, English teacher. "Students have skills and experience they can use to teach me. The bonds and connections that grow are the true main core of this club."
Over the last 25 years, hundreds of students have joined the club for friendship and exercise. "But the highest purpose of the club," he said, "is opening opportunities for character development, including facing and overcoming personal fears and limitations in order to realize everything God wants for our lives. Rock climbing during the teen years is an amazing opportunity to build self-confidence, awareness and reliance on God at a formative time in life. Climbing changed my life, and it’s gratifying to see climbing transform the lives of students at PAA.”
The variety of skills developed through the club have served many of its members. Several have gone on to obtain credentials as nationally certified climbing instructors, and more than half of Walla Walla University's Climbing Wall staff are PAA graduates who achieved their level of experiences through PAA's club.
What began for many as leisure and simple exercise has become a catalyst of success for these students. Parents feel the blessings of the climbing club as well and are grateful for such opportunities.
“Rock climbing has provided Liz with the opportunity to really discover what she is capable of, and to push herself to new heights — both literally and figuratively," said Lynnette Struntz, a proud parent. "Liz loves to compete, and one of the many great elements of rock climbing is that you get to compete against yourself. Each week Liz pushes herself to beat last week’s best climb. Through this endeavor, she strengthens her problem-solving skills and endurance”
What started with just six climbers, the PAA Rock Climbing Club has grown to twenty-six coed members in its 25th anniversary year. It has impacted so many lives as they have witnessed a little glimpse of heaven on earth — growing and encouraging each other as we climb to our eternal home.