Junior Cassandra Willey shows dedication to an unusual sport

November 13, 2018

Most teenage girls run track or play volleyball to stay fit. Maybe some have gym memberships for a more intense workout. But, for junior Cassandra Willey, these activities are just too mundane.  

Cassandra rock climbs at Approach Climbing Gym. She’s been climbing since last summer and goes two or three times a week. 

“It scares a lot of people but something about it intrigued me,” she says, “There’s a 16-inch mat, so … you don’t feel anything if you fall – except when you fall hard.” It’s certainly not a common recreational activity. Most people wouldn’t consider climbing a wall for fun. But Cassandra assures that, once a newcomer gets into it, they get really into it: 

“It’s just addicting.” 

Rock climbing is a fairly male dominated sport, though the popularity and success of female climbers, such as stuntwoman Jessie Graff, is growing. Cassandra, who often brings friends to the gym as guests, confirms this. 

“The guys seem not be very good at it. They want to use their muscles and do pull-ups all the way up the wall,” she says. “It burns different muscles. Like weightlifters can come in there and be completely destroyed the first five minutes of climbing.” 

Though she is fully accepted at Approach, the results of her past-time leave some people frazzled. 

“People will shake my hands and be like ‘I don’t think that’s right, for a girl to have calloused hands’,” Cassandra says. 

Approach Climbing Gym, along with being a recreational gym, has a competition team that travels, sometimes across the county. But, for Cassandra, it’s not about competing: 

“The whole thing about competition though is you don’t get paid to do it. You have to pay to do it and you have to pay for travel and everything.” 

It’s already an expensive activity. Cassandra bought her own climbing shoes and equipment with her own money, as well as her annual membership, which is $500.
“You’ll go in the first time and you’ll wear a rental pair of shoes and you’re not going to enjoy your experience,” she says. She compares it to ice skating; some people will go in a few times a year and rent equipment, but for those who use it as a continuing hobby or for exercise, it becomes more logical to buy your own. At Approach, it’s $27 for a day pass and a rental gear package. 

“Everybody that goes to that gym has put a lot of money into it,” she says. “It’s probably just as expensive as a premium gym membership.” 

So why would any busy teenager subject themselves to this? For Cassandra, it’s more of a mental exercise than a physical one. 

“It’s a good atmosphere at the gym,” she says. “It’s really fun to go – it’s not like you’re working out. It’s completing a route, completing a problem every time you go on the wall.” The walls are changed up a couple times a month to keep climbers from becoming bored with the same routes. 

Cassandra finds her rest periods to be nearly meditative. “The gym is very respectful: you don’t have your phone dinger on, you don’t have loud music,” she says.  

The best part for her? 

“It’s a relaxer. As much as it stresses you out currently, while you’re trying a problem, being away and going by myself is one of the most relaxing things. You can do your own things. You can be more aware of yourself. You’re in school all the time, thinking about other things. And then you’re at working having to think about customers. And you never get time to think about yourself.”  


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