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Building future Olympians?

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On belay? Climbing. Climb on.

On the cusp of 2015, a fresh, new sporting event will be held in downtown Durango.

The nation’s first UIAA Youth Mixed International Climbing Competition is Tuesday and Wednesday. It’ll be on a 32-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide wall, which is being built at Buckley Park.

Mixed climbing is a genre that uses ice climbing and mountaineering equipment – two ice axes and spikes mounted on mountaineering boots – to ascend difficult and often overhanging sections of steep rock or, in this case, artificial rock.

The event is being brought to life by Marcus and Tambri Garcia, co-owners of the indoor climbing gym the Rock Lounge Durango, and is being sponsored by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation, the UIAA.

For the competition, Marcus Garcia is erecting an artificial climbing wall at the north end of the city park, and youths from all over the region, and some from overseas, will participate.

There will be three age groups: 15 and younger, 16 to 18, and 19 to 21. A total of five Durango youths, boys and girls, will be stepping up to the wall, in addition to the visiting competitors.

Climbers will race each other against the clock in speed climbing and then face the ultimate challenge in a difficulty round. On Wednesday, a citizen’s competition will be held for adventurous spectators. A children’s event also will take place.

The competition also is supported by the Association of International Olympic Committee Recognized Sports Federations, one of the bodies that develops the Olympic games. Marcus Garcia and others hope that one day, mixed climbers will compete for gold. That link makes this competition unique, he said.

“They are the international Olympic development committee, so with this whole program that we’re doing, we’re actually putting the steps forward for our future Olympians to represent the U.S. in mixed climbing, which hopefully would be in the next Olympics. So this is like the stepping stone – this is how big it is,” he said.

Mixed climbing was exhibited at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. While people are warming up to the ice stateside, in Europe and other parts of the world, kids train at climbing camps just like U.S. kids are going to baseball practice.

Marcus Garcia, a professional climber, competitor and coach, said he hopes it could become an annual event for Durango.

The city is behind it as well. Mike Kelly, Durango’s community events supervisor, said he is excited to bring a different kind of sporting competition to downtown.

“It’s a new event,” Kelly said. “We’re excited to see how it goes. It will be an interesting process for the park to have a new setup for it.”

Kelly said safety is paramount, but the Garcias have the bases covered.

“They’ve gone through all the proper steps, and we’ll make sure it’s safe with all the equipment they have, and it should be a great event,” Kelly said.

Durango’s Business Improvement District Executive Director Tim Walsworth said he is thrilled to support the distinctive spectacle. BID granted some financial support to the Garcias and hopes it pays off.

“What caught my eye about this event is it’s pretty unique,” Walsworth said. “We’re lucky downtown has all kinds of stuff for all kinds of people, locals and visitors alike, but we’ve never seen anything like this one.”

He said the timing was perfect. With the holidays and visitors to Durango, it could be an added boost to downtown’s economy.

“It’s at a time of the year when we’re typically slow, and it’s in Buckley Park, which is underutilized in the winter,” he said. “Sporting events like this typically will bring along families. That economic impact, when a whole family comes to town for a sporting event, can be huge.”

Tambri Garcia said it’s an opportunity to educate the community on how big climbing is.

“It’s a lot of hard work this year, but if we can have a successful event then we can show … that we can handle this, and we’ll be the host every year, and it will just get bigger and bigger,” she said. “I think it would be great for the economy of Durango.”

The Garcias said they promote the sport because they like to share their passion. Tambri Garcia said climbing changed her life.

“For a city girl who’s never done it, just climbing and bleeding and being out of breath, and knowing when you got to a certain point you couldn’t turn back, you had to finish it, that was big revelation for me,” she said.

After her first big climb, she saw things differently.

“The revelation that I got was that I could do anything,” she said. “I had options. That’s when I started learning who I was and what I wanted. The world was open. That’s what climbing gave to me.”

Ben Wilbur, 17, also said he likes what climbing brings him.

“There are a lot of good people, and you get to explore beautiful places,” he said. “And you get to push your personal limits. You’re just constantly improving and finding new adventures. It’s always something new and exciting.”

Marcus Garcia said that while competitions are fun, it comes down to getting outside with friends.

“In general, what I like about climbing is the people, just hanging out, just enjoying the weather. If it’s good weather, bad weather, it’s always an adventure, and (I like) the camaraderie you get from it,” he said.

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