As Austin’s population of young hipsters, yuppies, and other types of creative, boundary-pushing millennials grows, we’re seeing the rise of many new cultural trends. Artisan coffee shops and off-leash dog parks that also operate as bars and microbreweries are sprouting up everywhere. We’re now certifiably obsessed with tacos, and in the recreational sphere, adventurous Austinites of all ages are finding out that rock climbing is an actual thing and that participating in the sport can impart character and many other personal benefits.
One seventeen year-old local named Maya Madere discovered rock climbing, and most particularly, “bouldering” — low-height climbing without ropes — seven years ago, and she’s been making some serious moves in local, regional, and national bouldering competitions ever since.
During the 2015-2016 season, Madere became the youngest person to ever win the annual Granite Gripper Climbing Competition at Enchanted Rock, and she made it to the finals at the 2015 Psicobloc Masters, a prestigious climbing competition that pits climbers against one another in “deep water soloing” — high-height bouldering over a body of water (watch). She then proceeded to dominate the 2016 USA Climbing Youth National Championship in Bouldering, which qualifies her to compete at the 2016 IFSC World Youth Championships in Guangzhou, China from November 7 to 13.
Impressed? Us too, so we were thrilled when Madere, her mother Monica Flores, and local climbing legend John Myrick, Madere’s longtime coach, agreed to meet with us to discuss Madere’s accomplishments, future plans, training methods, and climbing philosophies, among other things.
“Growing up, Maya would try to climb buildings, poles, houses, fences, trees — everything,” said Flores. “I would turn my back for a second and before I knew it, she’d be on top of the playscape and all of the other parents would be shaking their heads at me.”
“Yeah, I was that kid,” Madere agreed, laughing. “In third grade, I decided I wanted to be a professional tree climber because I didn’t know rock climbing was a thing. Then, when I was ten, I walked into a climbing gym for the first time. I remember looking up at the wall and thinking, ‘This is what I’m going to do.'”
Madere soon joined Myrick’s youth climbing team at Austin Rock Gym. The group, now known as Team ATX, trains twice a week, splitting practices between North Austin Rock Gym, South Austin Rock Gym, and Crux Climbing Center. Madere attends collective workouts, but also maintains a rigorous independent training schedule, which Flores and Myrick lovingly temper to protect Madere from pushing herself too hard.
“If Maya had her way, she’d climb every day, all day, but our rule is that she’s allowed to climb for 3 hours each day for no more than 3 days straight and then she has to take a rest day,” added Flores. “She pushes it, though!”
Madere laughed, coming to her own defense. “Climbing is my one constant,” she explained. “Whenever I’m stressed or having a really bad day or a problem I don’t know how to solve, I just climb it off. It’s incredibly therapeutic and it puts everything in your life into perspective.”
During the school year, Madere sticks to indoor workouts, but when she has time to travel, she climbs outside, too. Currently, she can’t get enough of the tuff and basalt deposits at Oregon’s Smith Rock and Columbia River Gorge, and she’s fallen in love with Enchanted Rock’s quartz-encrusted granite and Hueco Tanks’ porphyritic syenite. Her favorite types of holds are “crimps,” advanced grips that suit climbers with smaller hands and builds because they test climbers’ finger strength and skill at strategically distributing their weight through body positioning.
“Because climbing requires a lot of physical strength, I think a lot of people overlook the mental side of climbing,” Madere explains. “It actually mostly comes down to technique and problem-solving. You have four points of contact — two feet and two hands — and you have to figure out what order you’re supposed to move all of them. So it’s very intuitive.”
Having shepherded Madere’s climbing development for years now, Myrick feels profoundly inspired not only by Madere’s undeniable natural talent for climbing, but also by her undiminishing dedication and passion for the sport, even in the face of injury and adversity. “You can’t coach that,” he said. “You either have the desire or you don’t. As a coach, you hope to find an athlete that has both the physical talent and the desire. A lot of times it’s one or the other, but Maya has both and that’s rare.”
Austin Rock Gym owners Troy and Erica Wilson have also followed Madere’s progress through the years and based on what they’ve seen, they believe that Madere will enjoy a long and successful future in competitive climbing if she chooses to pursue that course in her life.
“We have full faith that Maya will go far,” Erica told Austin.com. “Many times elite athletes at her level seem to lose some of the essence of climbing or tend to get inflated egos. Maya seems to have stayed true to the young lady I met in the beginning and that is definitely special. It’s definitely worth shining a light on.”
As high school graduation looms closer, Madere has her eye on a possible science-focused degree and plans to apply to six colleges — all of which boast strong climbing clubs and communities: UCI, USC, Stanford, Berkley, Colorado School of Mines, and our very own University of Texas.
But as with climbing, Madere has made it her mission to focus on one decision at a time rather than allow herself to become overwhelmed by worrying about the big picture. “When you get up on the wall, you shouldn’t be thinking about anything except the next hold, one more move,” she explained. “That’s the ideal state. Sure, there’s a fair amount of forward thinking, but you’re going to execute everything better and expend less energy if you’re always focused on just that next hold.”
“It’s a really good feeling to be up there and to be completely in control of your own fate,” she continued. “I’m the one keeping myself on the wall. It helps you to see what’s really important.”
All story photos: Rebecca L. Bennett