Temple Climbing Club finds its way during COVID

The University sport club has still been able to find walls and gyms during a challenging year.

Story by Sam Cohn

In a normal year, the Temple Climbing Club will meet up four times per week to climb or work out together.

This past year has been anything but normal while the coronavirus has seemingly shut down all team activities for the club. But that hasn’t stopped participants from finding walls or gyms.

“I climb with three of my close friends,” club vice president Becky Payenski said. “And we often run into other groups of friends at gyms who were climbing club members. It seems like everyone is still climbing in some way.”

Payenski, now a junior biology major, added that in the past year, she’s climbed at Tufas Boulder Lounge and The Cliffs, which are both local climbing gyms in Philadelphia. She’s also gone to a few outdoor spots like the Red River Gorge in Wolfe County, Kentucky, Safe Harbor in South Central Pennsylvania and Wissahickon Valley Park in Philadelphia.

In a message from Temple’s Campus Recreation in mid-December, the administration imposed a moratorium of all Sport Club activities through the beginning of the spring semester.

“By that point in the semester the weather, typically, is beginning to improve and will provide us the opportunity to utilize outdoor facilities more regularly,” the release said.

A majority of the Climbing Club’s activities take place in Temple’s Student Training and Recreation Complex (STAR). Payenski said that because top roping is such a social activity and Temple’s rock wall is on the smaller side, they have been restricted from hosting any on-campus practices for most of the last year. 

It wasn’t until about two weeks ago that some of the team have been fortunate enough to congregate for outdoor workouts once per week without any climbing involved.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked our clubs to follow the four pillars of health — wearing a face covering, social distancing, health checks and hand hygiene,” Campus Recreation assistant programming director Peter Vincent said. “Our clubs are to follow these pillars if they want to train together.”

Before the start of the pandemic, the team got together on Mondays and Tuesdays at STAR’s climbing wall where they would both top rope and boulder. Wednesdays were for workouts and Thursdays were their day to go off campus, usually to Tufas in North Philly.

Those groups were consistently at least 20 members with a waitlist for more members, according to Payenski.

On top of that, the club organizes one climbing and camping trip each semester, a few outdoor climbing day trips, and will attend local competitions at nearby gyms or other universities. 

To make all of that happen, the club needs some money, hich it gets none of from Campus Rec or the University. The club will collect dues for each member and fundraise for events that will in turn pay for any expenses, according to Vincent.

To make money, the club needs to constantly recruit new members. 

Full members pay $60 per semester while half members pay $40. The difference being the former gets discounted prices for competitions and other trips due to greater participation.

The Climbing Club saw its roster numbers up in the 70s in terms of paying members with around 40 of them consistently showing up. A little over one year removed from the start of the pandemic, the team has felt the effects, now down to less than 20 members, according to Payenski.

She added interest has been minimal because of the restrictions.

“Climbing club has changed from something I participated in almost daily,” Payenski said, “to something I no longer participate in at all.”

She’s been a part of the climbing club and on the executive board since her freshman year at Temple. It’s allowed her to form her core group of friends as well as work on her craft, becoming a better climber.

“It’s a great place to meet new people and pick up a new hobby and exercise,” Payenski said. “Now that I have formed my friend group and I’m an experienced climber I don’t feel the need to be in TCC. I love the sport, but I find that the current gym I go to plus my outdoor trips have a lot more to offer me.”

She’s also in the process of applying to veterinary schools, so juggling classes, research work and job applications take up a considerable amount of time.

Payenski has hit something of an inflection point in her schooling and climbing career. As she’s gotten deeper into her major courses, it’s become more difficult for her to balance both. Nonetheless, it’s become a predominant portion of her social life.

It’s been easy for members to check out of the club this semester simply because of the lack of activity. But Payenski is most interested in how things turn out come Fall 2021 to see if the club sees an uptick in participation after a year of a declining retention rate. 

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