By Shauna Farnell
Cody Stevenson was barely old enough to walk when his mother took him to a playground, looked away for a couple of minutes, then looked back to find him standing atop a rock wall.
He’s been climbing stuff ever since.
“I was the parent talking on the phone and doing work while my toddler was on top of the jungle gym,” says Cody’s mom, JoAnne Carilli-Stevenson, who serves numerous roles for USA Climbing. “The typical helicopter mothers in Boulder were like, ‘do you see where your child is?’ He was probably 2 and a half, standing on top of this rock and slide wall. A friend of mine owned Gymboree. I called her and was like, ‘my kid was on top of the playground.’”
Carilli-Stevenson enrolled her son in Gymboree, then at Boulder’s ABC Kids Climbing gym. Cody started climbing competitively at the age of 7, meeting a pack of friends who his mother refers to as the Fabulous Four. Now 14, the young group of climbers compete internationally.
“They met through USA Climbing. They go to a lot of the same local competitions, also regionals and nationals. They’re in four different schools and live in different areas, but they’re always hanging out,” Carilli-Stevenson said.
Cody also took up an interest in ice climbing at the age of 11. No matter the surface, the location or the weather, if there is a wall of any sort, the challenge of getting to the top of it makes the kid tick.
“Physically, climbing keeps my body feeling healthy. It exercises a lot of your body,” Cody says. “You’re getting one of the best possible workouts. Emotional aspects for me personally, when I’m climbing in competitions and outside, I don’t have to think about anything else except the next move.”
Cody’s tight circle of climbing buddies include Chris Deuto and Tanner Bauer, also 14.
Tanner says that climbing with and competing against his friends makes the sport worthwhile, and although he’s thrilled at the prospect of one day competing in the Olympics (climbing makes its Olympic debut in 2020), his goals “are more set on sending it outside.”
“Nothing’s ever the same in climbing. Every moment and hold is always different,” Tanner says. “You’re never going to repeat something. You can go out with a bunch of friends and meet new people who are always really nice and experience the beauty of the world.”
Chris, whose father introduced him to climbing when he was very small, climbs five days a week and hopes to compete in the Olympics some day.
“My dad’s a big climber and when he first took us, I was pretty stoked on it right away,” Chris says. “I like the lifestyle and friends the most. Also, the things I get to see are pretty awesome. I like sending it harder and harder and making personal gains.”
All three young climbers are regulars in the youth climbing event at the Mountain Games, which returns this June. They also relish the experience for its access to soon-to-be-Olympians competing in the only IFSC Climbing World Cup event in the U.S.
“You see competitive kids coming from around the country for the chance to compete on the World Cup stage,” Carilli-Stevenson says. “They’re so excited to be that close to the pro climbers. It’s a grassroots sport. There’s an affinity there … a closeness. Really, that whole weekend in Vail is magical.”
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