Park City senior qualifies for USA Climbing Nationals |

Park City senior qualifies for USA Climbing Nationals

Elsa Kerr finished first in sport climbing at a regional competition

Park City senior Elsa Kerr displays her gold medal from placing first in sport climbing at USA Climbing Youth Regionals. Kerr qualified for the USA Climbing Youth National Championships in Reno, Nevada, in July.
Courtesy of Steve and Sarah Kerr

Salt Lake City stands out as a climbing mecca, especially after USA Climbing moved its headquarters from Boulder, Colorado, to the City of the Saints.

As American climbers ramp up last-minute preparations for sport climbing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo this year, Park City resident Elsa Kerr has been tearing up the rock walls. Kerr finished in first place in sport climbing and third place in bouldering at regionals to qualify for the USA Climbing Youth National Championships in Reno, Nevada, in July.

“I’m going to have to start training a little harder,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a competition that I’ve been preparing for for the entire climbing season, and we had our regionals canceled last year, so I didn’t get to compete. I’ve been going to regional competitions for pretty much eight years. I’ve been competing and trying to get to nationals, and this year I was able to qualify.”

Kerr, who is a rising senior at Park City High, travels to Salt Lake City for training three times a week, as there aren’t any climbing gyms in Park City. Training usually involves exercises to build up core strength and plenty of climbing to build up endurance.

“We work on our endurance for sport climbing because that’s a big part of it,” Kerr said. “How much endurance you have, how long you can hold on before you fall off. We’ll do a lot of climbing to build our endurance for competitions like this.”

Previously from Tucson, Arizona, Kerr started climbing 10 years ago when she was having a hard time focusing in school. Her uncle, who is also a climber, suggested to Kerr’s mother, Sarah, that Kerr should join a climbing camp because “that’s what people do in Tucson.” The sport immediately grabbed her attention, and she’s been hooked ever since.

“I loved the sport, it drew my attention and I sort of became a part of a community,” she said. “I met a lot of other people that also climb and I had a lot of mentors in the sport and some really good coaches along the way. And I really got into it.”

Kerr also gained a valuable climbing partner as a result: Her mom.

Elsa Kerr climbs at St. George while her mother, Sarah, is belaying. Kerr has been climbing for 10 years now, and her mom gives her support.
Courtesy of Sarah Kerr

“When she started climbing, I thought, ‘Well, I have to learn so I can take her,’” Sarah said. “She was six when she first tried out for a climbing team, then I started climbing because of her.”

The Kerrs have moved around a lot, as Sarah’s husband is a former military pilot. The climbing scene in both Tucson and Salt Lake City has given them a wealth of new friends as well as comfort in their new home.

“It was actually really serendipitous because we didn’t have any friends when we first moved to Tucson, and climbing is a very inclusive sport,” Sarah said. “The communities are very tight, and people really mentor each other, so it was like we had a readymade family and friends when we started climbing, and that was really helpful. And I think that that’s what really made us feel embraced moving to Utah was that we knew we would find a climbing community here, and we did.”

The mother and daughter duo will occasionally go on climbs together. Sarah recalls the first time that the two decided to go on a multi-pitch climb, which involves multiple stops at belay stations, when Elsa was 13. The setup requires a lot of trust and rope management to prevent either climber from getting hurt.

Sarah was originally nervous about the setup and was afraid of something disastrous happening. But then she remembered how capable her daughter was and how much she knew about the sport.

“It’s really been something where you kind of learn that sometimes you have to do the thing that you’re afraid to do in order to overcome that fear, and doing it with somebody who is a child is something that other people might look at and go, ‘Oh, that’s not a good idea,’” Sarah said. “But I think people tend to clip their children’s wings, and I’m more on the other end of that. I feel like, no, we should push our kids a little bit so that they learn and they become competent and they’re safe in the world once they’re out there, and that’s how they excel.”

Elsa has also gained a trustworthy coach in her mom, someone who knows which buttons to push and when.

“She motivates me, she knows I can do it and she knows I’m a really good climber,” Elsa said. “And she helps me to be a better competitor. Not only a good climber, but she helps me to have my mind in the right space to compete.”


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