Twins, 12, reach new heights in competitive rock climbing

(SHNS photo by Meegan M. Reid /The Kitsap Sun)
Cierra Graham belays as her sister Makenna climbs during practice at...
Story by Annette Griffus
Scripps Howard News Service
April 23, 2012
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SEATTLE — Twins Cierra and Makenna Graham aren’t any different than your average 12-year-olds.

Except for one thing.

The Poulsbo, Wash., sixth-graders can scurry up an indoor rock-climbing wall faster than preteens sell out Justin Bieber concerts.

The girls began rock-climbing about two years ago -- quite by accident.

Parents Andrew and Robyn Graham and the girls were in Christchurch, New Zealand, readying for the long flight back to Seattle.

Andrew, a New Zealand native, and Robyn took the girls to an indoor rock-climbing gym to burn off some energy before the flight.

“I didn’t want to sit on a plane with them for 14 hours,” Robyn said as she watched her girls eagerly climb the bouldering wall at Vertical World Seattle last week.

The owner of the New Zealand gym asked how long the girls had been climbing. Robyn told him it was the first time, and the owner suggested that the girls join a climbing team right away.

“I didn’t even know what (competitive climbing) was until we started,” Cierra Graham said.

The Grahams now make the commute three days a week from September to July to the Seattle gym, under the direction of head coach Tyson Schoene.

The commitment has paid off.

Cierra finished third at the American Bouldering Series (ABS) U.S. Nationals in Colorado Springs, Colo., last month. She also finished third at the ABS divisionals. Makenna placed 11th at divisionals.

Bouldering is climbing without the use of ropes that are limited to short climbs over a thick crash pad.

The twins will have another shot at a regional title on May 12 in Bellevue for the Sport Climbing Series, which uses ropes.

Thanks to her third-place finish at nationals, Cierra is virtually guaranteed a spot on the U.S. national team for the Pan-American Youth Games later this year. That won’t be made official by USA Climbing until after the rope season in July, but Schoene said it’s just a matter of time.

“On paper, she’s already qualified through because of bouldering,” he said, adding Makenna has a great shot to qualify for the national team in ropes, her favorite event.

Schoene said the twins have succeeded by committing time to the sport.

“This is not one of those activities that you do a couple days a week and you’re pretty good,” he said. “This is one of those activities that you have to do this four, five, six days a week if you really want to progress quickly.”

Schoene said the twins’ support system help stack the odds in their favor.

“Makenna is a really good supporter,” Schoene said. “Cierra may have achieved higher competition placements, but she never would have done this without her sister. Plain and simple.”

As twins, Makenna and Cierra have a strong bond and rarely struggle with sibling rivalry in their climbing.

“What I see in them is that they feel for each other,” Schoene said. “Their strengths come from each other. When Cierra doesn’t do well, Makenna feels it. When Makenna doesn’t do well, Cierra feels it.

“They’re always there supporting each other and making sure they’re on top.”

Both Cierra and Makenna are motivated to keep improving.

“Whenever I go to a competition I have goals,” Cierra said, adding when she’s at divisionals she wants to qualify for regionals and qualify for nationals.

Makenna would like to join her sister on the national team -- as a teammate, rather than a supporter.

“Me personally, I’ve never been to nationals, competed at nationals,” Makenna said. “That’s my goal.” 

Annette Griffus

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