The initial idea wasn’t to adopt an extreme sport. Pamela and Bob Firth simply wanted to remain strongly connected with their sons, Benjamin and Noah, as they got older.
The parents believed one successful way to do this was to take part in activities their two boys both enjoyed doing and, ultimately, turn whatever that was into something the entire family could frequently participate in.
“We have, as parents, always tried to support and encourage our children’s passions,” Pamela stated.
Well, the sons certainly had something they were enthusiastic about – rock climbing.
Many parents would offer support and encouragement while safely standing on terra firma. Pamela and Bob went another direction. They put on a helmet, slipped into their harnesses, secured their locking carabiners, chalked up and started ascending themselves.
It’s been about six years since the Olympia couple first tried their hand at the sport and, if the initial plan was to keep connected with their sons through a shared activity, they’ve accomplished that.
“As a child, I grew up in an era where being a skilled athlete in a school P.E. class was given high priority. These individuals were selected to be captains and were asked to choose their teammates,” Pamela said. “If you leaned toward the arts or academic endeavors and were not perceived as athletic, you were often chosen last. This resulted in a long-term belief that you were not good at any sports and discouraged one from participation in long-term healthy physical activity.
“My growing involvement in rock climbing has significantly reversed that thought process. My experience in rock climbing has consistently provided environments of amazing support, encouragement and fun no matter what age of person you are climbing with and no matter what environment (indoor or outdoor) you are climbing.”
Pamela and Bob were first introduced to the sport after Benjamin, their oldest son, began climbing locally at the Warehouse Rock Gym in 2011.
The climbing bug bit Pamela and youngest son, Noah, soon after and he went on to join Olympia’s Cirque Climbing Team during his time as a student at Olympia High School where he graduated from this past June.
While Benjamin would ultimately join the climbing team at Western Washington University where he eventually served as team coach for two years, Pamela’s involvement was sporadic, although always entertaining, in the early days.
But the fuse had been lit and it was only a matter of time before the once casual family hobby expended into something more involved.
“I climbed more seriously beginning around 2013, pretty much indoors only,” Pamela said. “Early involvement manifested itself as more frequent climbing and attendance to all-women’s climbing events. During these initial years, Bob’s primary role was as the family cheerleader and moral supporter.”
Bob had been a staunch competitor in the Washington State Senior Games since 2001, participating in both swimming and track and field events.
As the popularity of indoor rock climbing increased not only within his family, but on a large scale across the Pacific Northwest in general, Bob inquired as to why it wasn’t an event in the annual games for individuals 50 years and above.
Working with Washington State Senior Games president Jack Kiley and then-Warehouse Rock Gym operations director Sierra Blakely, Pamela and Bob were able to add indoor rock climbing to the agenda.
The addition also convinced Bob he no longer wanted to remain stationary on the ground.
“As the family enthusiasm grew, Bob began to climb in 2014,” Pamela said. “He participated in the Senior Games rock climbing competition as a new beginner that year and has ever since, with intermittent climbing indoors throughout the year.”
Pamela and Bob are certainly not alone in recently taking on the sport. Once believed to be dominated by a younger demographic, rock climbing has seen a boom over the last few years among all age groups.
“I do believe the interest is growing with this age group, but just as the sport is growing infectiously throughout all age groups,” Pamela said. “Climbing gyms are cropping up everywhere, even in smaller town locations throughout the country.”
One such one new place for indoor climbing is the Cirque Climbing Gym in Lacey which hosted this year’s senior games rock climbing – a competition where Pamela and Bob served as the primary organizers this year.
“People strive to improve their own personal techniques or level of routes they wish to achieve. But while doing so, climbers consistently interact and advise each other. Coming out of a gym with a new friend is a common experience,” Pamela said. “The climbing experience not only provides this level of emotional comfort and support, but you get the benefit of increasing physical health.
“As a person over 50, you are surrounded by climbers of all ages with a ‘can do’ attitude which spills over in to a youthful vitality. And, of course, for Bob and I the greatest joy of our participation in this sport is the ongoing involvement (and) connection in playing with our sons (and you) can’t beat that.”