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That wall at the Y is definitely something to try.

Byline: Sarah L. Hamby

SOUTHBRIDGE - For more than 10 years, the indoor rock climbing wall at the Tri-Community YMCA in Southbridge has been a high point in the lives of many local fitness and climbing enthusiasts.

A decade or so ago, through the hard work and dedication of Sarah Hardy, a member of the YMCA's board of directors, the climbing wall went up inside the gym at the Y. Associate Executive Director Glenn Juchno said Ms. Hardy, through fundraising efforts in the community, solicited enough money from local businesses to have the climbing wall installed. The Southbridge High School art department also contributed and is responsible for the art decorating the wall.

Now the 24-foot wall serves as a fun way for children to get exercise, helps local Boy and Girl Scout troops to earn their fitness patches, and gives area rock climbers a place to stay in shape over the winter months. And parents can even sign up their children to have a birthday party there with a rock-climbing theme. "It's really cool," Mr. Juchno said. "They spend an hour on the climbing wall and then an hour in the party room. ... It's a popular theme with the kids."

Reminded of the fun and fitness of the climbing wall, Mr. Juchno, who was one of the first to climb it, said he might soon climb it again - he's been at the Southbridge facility since the wall was installed and has not climbed it since.

Birthday parties take place on weekends and need to be prearranged with YMCA staff. Call for dates available; the starting rate is $145.

If there's no party in your future, but you still want to touch the ceiling in the gym at the YMCA, or just see how high you can climb, Tuesday and Friday nights are open climb nights. From 7 to 9 p.m., YMCA members are encouraged to climb the wall under the watchful eyes of trained volunteers. (Not a member? While most people at the Tri-Community YMCA - which serves Southbridge, Sturbridge and Charlton - are members, families can purchase a pass for $15, which will allows them to use all of the Y's facilities for the day.)

On a recent Tuesday night, the wall's open climb was bringing several people to new heights. Children of all ages and a few adults waited their turn while the pounding of basketballs echoed through the gym. One man not only climbed to the top of the wall, but performed all manner of acrobatics, much to the amusement of the children below.

Keith Haake, 25, of Southbridge, is a National Guard hopeful who's been training on the indoor climbing wall for three or four years now. Hard at work on getting his GED in order to enlist in the military, Mr. Haake also dreams of becoming a local firefighter, for which he believes his constant workouts on the YMCA wall will come in handy.

On the floor, Trinity Catholic Academy physical education teacher and YMCA staff member Maura Power held the ropes for a new climber, 13-year-old Kritz Gonzalez of Southbridge. Rock climbing commands and status reports passed between the two easily - "Ready to climb," "On belay," "Climbing," "Climb on." Communication between the belayer and the climber is extremely important.

This was only the second time that the young climber had been to the wall, though she and her family are frequent visitors to the Y. During her first climbing attempt, she said, she was scared to climb the wall at all, but through encouragement from her brothers she made it about halfway up. "You're not gonna fall," promised one of her older brothers. Not only did she not fall, but she returned the next week to try again and to see if she could climb even higher. Stars taped to the wall mark progression, and this time Kritz aimed for one several feet higher than the high point of her previous climb.

Not only did the determined teenager - fearless, harnessed and helmeted - reach the goal she had set for herself, she made it to the top of the wall. No longer afraid and beaming with the thrill of success, she was congratulated by Ms. Power and by the other climbers. "I just like it," she said. "It's fun."

If your children already have you climbing the walls and you're not sure you want to do it for fun, the YMCA offers instructional classes on Tuesday evenings before open wall begins. From 6:30 to 7:15 p.m., trained staff and volunteers run an eight-week cycle of wall climbing instruction. Trained by an outside agency, the instructors are "outdoor climbing types who have a passion for the sport and have transferred that passion to the indoors," Mr. Juchno said.

"There's knots involved," he explained. "They teach them belaying techniques ... so not only do they get to climb the wall, they get to learn to belay someone on the wall, but also the safety aspects." Different routes can also be marked off on the wall and handholds and footholds are movable, allowing for the creation of easier or more difficult climbing, depending on the experience of the climber or the desired challenge.

"It's a great exercise," said Recreation Director Sue Casine.

All ages are welcome to climb the wall, and on any given open climb night one might find half a dozen to 30 YMCA members, age 8 to 80, climbing the wall.

In December, Ms. Power's Girl POWER group from the Trinity Catholic Academy brought mothers and grandmothers, and all scaled the wall at their own ability level.

"It's just fun," said Ms. Power, who's also been working at the wall since its inception. "It's nice. It's open gym. ... I'm a people person."

Families from outside the Southbridge area come to climb the wall, as well. As her 10-year-old brother, Elijah, climbed down the wall, 8-year-old Jacqueline Dufour, from Woodstock, explained the lure: "It's fun to climb, and I like climbing. ... I'm a monkey!"

What: Indoor rock climbing wall

Where: The Tri-Community YMCA, 43 Everett St., Southbridge. This branch of the Y serves Southbridge, Sturbridge and Charlton

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays (Friday night is Family Night)

How much: Membership to the YMCA is required, or pay $15 for a family day pass

Who to call: Recreation Director Sue Casine (508) 765-5464

ART: PHOTOS

PHOTOG: RICH DUGAS

CUTLINE: (1) Carla Rodriguez, 7, of Southbridge looks before she steps onto another protrusion inside the Tir-Community YMCA in Southbridge as she scales the giant rock wall. (2) Five-year-old Joshua Ricci of Eastford, Conn., gets a push from his mother, LeighAnn, as he climbs the rock wall at the Tri-Community YMCA. (3) While Kevin Brody of Woodstock inches steadily higher above them, Y staffer Maura Power prepares to tether 13-year-old Kritza Gonzalez of Southbridge for her climb.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 26, 2009
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