Senior Isaac Leff scales to the top: a rock-climber’s journey

Alejandra Pagano, Photo Editor

He’s only seventeen, but senior Isaac Leff is already competing and succeeding in national rock climbing events against people many years older than him.  Leff has been competing in competitions for years, including youth nationals and more recently adult national and world championships.

Leff first started rock-climbing with his father at the age of nine for a rainy Saturday activity. Originally, it was just a hobby but since he really enjoyed it, he ended up going back and joining a class, leading him to compete in his first competition. Since then, he’s continued to climb for eight years.

For Leff, going to competitions had both its highs and lows. “Nationals, it’s a super good experience. I’ve been to youth Nationals a bunch of times and it’s always a bit of a stressful experience but it’s mostly just a lot of friends competing, ” he said. 

Having been in 16 competitions–12 youth, two adults, and two championship competitions, he shared the part he treasures most. 

“The most rewarding part was improving – improving time after time. If I won my first nationals or something, it wouldn’t have felt that rewarding because it wouldn’t have taken that much work and effort.” He continued, “After failing year after year, it feels really good to finally succeed and have a good result.” 

The feeling of improvement is one of Leff’s motivations for continuing, but he also does it for his own enjoyment to get better. In stressful situations, when he sets high expectations for himself and does not perform as he had hoped, it would give him another reason to practice and try again at the next competition. In addition, he chooses to remind himself why he likes rock climbing. 

He said, “It’s not necessarily the competitions or good results but just because I really enjoy it.”

Pre-covid, Leff placed many times in many different competitions. In youth world championships he had placed sixth, at adult world championships he was thirty-seventh, youth nationals he was fifth, and at his last adult nationals which they had to turn into national team trials due to Covid-19, he had placed fourteenth. 

Rock-climbing consists of participants climbing up and down either natural rocks or artificial rock formations. The main goal is for the player to reach the top of the rocks without falling and is a physically demanding sport. In some cases, it can be considered dangerous and all participants must understand what they are doing and how the gear works for their own safety.

Before his first nationals, he was required to qualify at regionals and then go through divisionals which allowed him into nationals. To achieve this, Leff practiced 4-5 times a week depending on how he felt, and thanks to the athletic option rock climbing did not interfere with school work. Though there were times where he would miss a week for a competition, his teachers have been very understanding about missed work. 

Leff said, “Well, luckily since there’s an athletic option at the school, it counts as my extracurriculars and sports so I can go climbing after school.” He continued, “Sometimes it interferes with school a little bit if I miss like a week for a competition or something, but usually my teachers are pretty accommodating with making stuff up.”

The pandemic affected many things last year including Leff’s access to rock-climbing gyms. Eventually, it became fine to climb outside again, but by then gyms started to reopen. Even when they reopened, he had to adapt to climbing with a mask, which for him wasn’t really a problem but something he still had to get used to. Along with that, he didn’t find it hard to get back into climbing. He said, “ Honestly I was just so excited to get back into climbing that it wasn’t too much of a challenge.”

Leff continues to rock climb and will continue into college, competing more in the adult nationals and enjoying himself while doing so.