UC Davis Magazine

Rock 'n wall

Some days have Shelley Presson climbing the walls. Other days have her hanging off the sides of cliffs or mountains. But the one thing she never fails to climb is in the standings.

Presson is currently ranked third in the United States and has been listed as high as 15th internationally, a status she works hard to hang on to. "I've been ranked third or fourth for probably the last six years. So I just want to see if I can maintain that and keep a full-time job. I think it shows people that you don't have to be a full-time climber to do really well." Presson graduated from UC Davis in 1988 with a degree in international relations, a fact that her longtime climbing sponsor, PMI-Petzl, discovered a year ago. The France-based company manufactures rock-climbing equipment and was overjoyed to discover that their athletic protégé speaks French fluently. Now Presson is the company's marketing director.

Presson started climbing 13 years ago, at the ripe old age of 23, while working in a ski shop in Sacramento. "Some of the guys thought I'd be interested in rock climbing, and I said, 'What is it?' I had no idea. But they took me out, and that was it. I was hooked." Presson says her favorite part is the movement. "I'm into it for the pure gymnastics, the pure physical pleasure of the movement of climbing. That's why I love indoor climbing as well as climbing on natural rock."

As a competitive climber, Presson ascends in regional, national and even international events, which take her as far away as Moscow. She still prefers to climb outdoors (preferably in the south of France--"It's got fabulous limestone and a very high concentration of cliffs in a small area"), but she is pleased that most sport climbing competitions are held indoors. "Competitions started out being held outside. But it wasn't very good for spectators, because oftentimes cliffs are in places where you can't set up bleachers or chairs--not to mention the environmental impact of all these people coming and trampling on very pristine and sensitive areas. So now competitions are held mostly indoors on artificial walls." Indoor routes have other benefits as well. "You can really tailor the event, so that the best climber is more likely to be selected as the winner. You don't have one person climbing in the full sun if it's really hot, and you don't have one person in the shade when it's really cold. So it makes it an equal playing ground."

During a typical event, competitors are judged by how far they progress up a set route. Participants get six minutes to study the course they must follow and are then taken to isolation, where they remain until their turns are called. Presson admits that the climbing order shouldn't matter, but says, "I prefer to go a little bit later, because I'm not much of a morning person. My biorhythms work a lot better in the afternoon."

-- By Clare Homan

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