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Sugar House Journal

Olympic hopeful elevates status in climbing world

Dec 01, 2016 15h24 ● By Travis Barton

Nathaniel Coleman, a Murray High School graduate, was The North Face’s 2016 Young Gun Award recognizing up-and-coming climbers. (Vincent Monsaint)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Everyone aims to climb the ranks of their given passion. Nathaniel Coleman is literally doing it. 

As a competitive climber, Coleman is enjoying a successful 2016. Earlier this year, he won USA Climbing’s Bouldering Open National Championship and the Youth Bouldering National Championship in Madison, Wis. In October, he took second representing the United States at the inaugural International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) World University Championships in Shanghai, China. 

“I feel honored really to be at a level where I’m able to win these competitions,” Coleman, 19, said. He also won the collegiate national championship in bouldering in May as a member/coach of the University of Utah climbing team.

“This year has been a picture-perfect way for him to complete his youth career,” said Jeff Pedersen, CEO and co-founder of Momentum Indoor Climbing—where Coleman began training at age nine. Pedersen was one of Coleman’s first coaches. 

With the sport of climbing approved by the International Olympic Committee to be included in the 2020 Olympics games, Coleman’s success figures to see him as a prime contender to represent his country. 

Coleman said he definitely has aspirations for the Olympics. Already getting a taste of it by representing USA at international competitions around the world, Coleman said competing in China gave him a “team feeling.”

“It was cool to have that sense of team that you usually don’t get in such an individual sport,” Coleman said. “I was just excited to do well and have my team be proud of me.” 

Olympic climbing will be a combination of sport climbing, bouldering and speed climbing. As a specialized boulder climber, Coleman said many world cup climbers specialize in one discipline rather than all three. Each discipline requires different types of training. 

“It’s kind of up in the air whose gonna be best at that time, with four years to train I’m sure I’ll be able to get pretty decent at all three,” Coleman said. 

Considering his career accomplishments, his parents, coaches and competitors expect him to continue his “incredible journey” because of his talent. 

“He knows how to move his body, he knows his strength. He can execute moves that a lot of climbers can’t because of his strength and body awareness,” said Rosane Coleman, Nathaniel’s mother and Momentum competitive team manager. 

This natural talent has led to sponsorships and compensation for doing what he loves. Nathaniel has sponsorship deals with Prana clothing company, Five Ten footwear and Petzl, a climbing gear manufacturer based out of France. 

Nathaniel doesn’t earn enough money to make a living, but there remains a level to which he can make a living off of climbing. Something he realized a possibility at age 15 when he won the Youth Bouldering Nationals. 

Nathaniel said the victory motivated him to train harder and get more comfortable in the competition setting. But it was when he took fifth at the adult nationals at age 18 that he took it seriously. 

“At that point I knew this was definitely worth considering doing for the rest of my life,” Nathaniel said. “When I was 15 I knew it was a possibility, and at 18 I knew it was happening.”

“I see a lot of climbers get on a route,” Rosane said. “And then I see Nathaniel do it and he makes it look so easy that I think I could do that and then I go, ‘no never mind.’”

Introduced to climbing at age nine by his friend Palmer Larsen, Nathaniel started on the Momentum youth team. Nathaniel said once he tried it out, he loved it and has been climbing ever since. 

“It just fit my style of athleticism really well and my body type,” Nathaniel said. The challenge of the sport always gives him something to progress to, which plays a big role in his love for the sport. 

“There’s seemingly endless rock in the world, you can always find a bouldering rock that’s harder,” Nathaniel said. 

Rosane said he was a very independent and hyperactive child. 

“Once he knew what he wanted, he went for it,” Rosane said.

His affinity for the sport incorporates the mental aspect as well. Nathaniel said it appeals to him that every time he climbs, he’s faced with a puzzle. 

“You really do need to be able to work through these puzzles in your mind to be a good competition climber,” Nathaniel said. He said he’s noticed many climbers he competes against attend ivy league schools. 

Having taken third place in a state chess tournament in third grade, Nathaniel’s aptitude for general problem solving, he said, has developed his ability on the climbing wall. 

“Climbing will help with my chess, chess will help climbing and it’ll help with my schooling so it all circulates back,” Nathaniel, a computer science major, said. 

Physicality is just as essential to the sport with Nathaniel noting the importance of finger strength, bicep pulling power and core stability. He trains four days a week for anywhere from three to three and a half hours. 

Training consists of lifting weights, body weight exercise, climbing different problems back-to-back, rings gymnastics, and hanging onto a ledge with weight hanging off him. He also works mobility exercises to make sure his stretching is being applied well. 

Nathaniel recently aged out of the Momentum program, but attributes much of his success to his time there. 

“Wouldn’t be where I am climbing without Momentum. Even if I lived in a different state with a different climbing gym, I might not be climbing as well as I am today,” Nathaniel said. He added that for youth considering climbing, joining a climbing gym provides needed technical knowledge. 

“The more you get involved with climbing, the more obsessed with it you’ll become,” Nathaniel said. 

One of Nathaniel’s coaches at Momentum, Kyle O’Meara, said their climbing program helps kids prepare for life. 

“From problem solving to long-term goal setting, climbing offers young people an opportunity to develop traits that are easily transferrable to college and the workplace,” O’Meara said. 

Nathaniel’s parents have been an important part of his progress, whether it was coming to his competitions or paying for expensive climbing gear.

“[They’ve] been the most supportive people in my life for sure…even when they though it was just going to be a hobby, they were sending me to Wisconsin and Atlanta for nationals so I could pursue what I loved,” Nathaniel said. 

Rosane said he’s very humble so she’s constantly bragging about him with everything he’s done in his short life. 

“He just has a very natural ability, it’s been an incredible journey watching him get to where he’s getting,” Rosane said. 

Climbing has affected every aspect of Nathaniel’s life from the places he’s seen to his own maturation. The Murray native has competed all over the world from France and Italy to Wisconsin and Georgia. 

“What I eat, how I sleep, the things I do with my free time. Other people might be playing video games, I’m usually watching climbing videos,” Nathaniel said. “When I’m at a public event I try to remain professional instead of making fart jokes with my friends.”

Rosane said the sport has helped to focus him from the hyperactive child he was growing up. 

“When he gets on a climbing wall, it’s like nothing else exists,” Rosane said. “It’s made his life have more purpose, so that he’s able to set goals and reach them.” 

It’s an inherent connection to it that means Nathaniel will climb until he is too old and “breaking bones when [he] falls.” 

“I just feel it was what I was meant to do. I think I can achieve a lot in it. So I think it’d be a waste if I didn’t pursue this thing I was born to do,” Nathaniel said. 

The University of Utah sophomore almost didn’t attend the local university. Rosane said many suggested he take a year off to just let him climb. Nathaniel chose to go to school and get a degree in computer science that not only can he fall back on, but he hopes he can do work while traveling the world. 

“It would’ve been easy for him to just say, ‘I wanna climb,’ but he’s got goals and he wants a degree,” Rosane said.