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North Hills Teen Reaches New Heights In Climbing World
By: Iron City Boulders
Brenden, an 18-year-old from North Hills, qualified for the USA Climbing Lead Nationals, the country's highest youth climbing competition. Nationals will take place from July 25th-30th in Chicago.
"It's the biggest goal I've had since I started climbing," says Brenden. "As soon as I realized I qualified, there were a lot of emotions."
Brenden has been climbing since 2017 along with his brother, Alec Watts, 26. "My brother went out West and saw people climbing outside," says Brenden.
Soon after, they joined a climbing gym and found themselves in the middle of Pittsburgh's growing climbing community. "He took to it like something I'd never seen before," says Alec. "It was inspiring for me. He's always been a great athlete, but when he stepped into a climbing gym, I saw a different person."
Indoor climbing of the sort Brenden competes in has seen explosive growth in recent years. According to Climbing Business Journal, 53 climbing gyms opened nationwide in 2021, continuing pre-pandemic trends. Pittsburgh has seen three climbing gyms opening since 2017. Brenden is one of a generation of young climbers who are a significant part of the sport's popularity. Competition climbing is expected to continue to grow, as the world's best climbers now compete in the Olympics.
Unlike most of his competition, Brenden is largely self-coached. He didn't join a team for his first three years of climbing. Instead, he learned from climbers around him.
"Brenden is the Pittsburgh climbing community's kid brother," says Dean Privett, owner of Iron City Boulders (https://ironcityboulders.com/
"Everyone knows who he is," says Iron City Boulders' Head Coach Ben Summay. "Everyone here is following him on Instagram. People know that he has made it to Nationals, and they want to encourage him."
That community has shown their support directly, with a GoFundMe to cover expenses for training and travel raising over $2,000 in its first weekend.
With everything he's accomplished, it's easy to forget that he's still a high school student. Shortly after qualifying for Nationals, he went with his brother to train in West Virginia. "I have to make sure I get back in time for prom," he said while planning the trip.
Nationals will be difficult for Brenden. Though he's been competing for three years, this will be his first time at this level. He'll be training extensively and working at Iron City Boulders.
"I have the resources to get better," he says. "I know people who are stronger than me. You need those people to push yourself. Being on a team, it's like family. They push you to be better, and they want you to be better."
Iron City Boulders