Interview: Balancing School and Climbing with Francesca Metcalf

Francesca Metcalf sending Blacksmith (V9) in Little Rock City. [Photo] Andrew Silva

Francesca Metcalf sending Blacksmith (V9) in Little Rock City. [Photo] Andrew Silva

We caught up with the infamous Francesca Metcalf, a 20 year old crusher from Boston currently studying at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She’s been at it for 15 years and is trying to find that perfect balance between climbing and school. She is majoring in environmental engineering and hopes to someday work at a clean energy company. When she’s not going cross-eyed staring at textbooks, you will likely find her climbing at Little Rock City and Rock Town.

Climberism: Are you planning on competing anytime soon?

Francesca: No big world cups or anything any time soon. I would love to keep competing, at least nationally, for a while and then once I graduate college I would really like too train and get strong enough to go to Europe and do the World Cup circuit there.

What is your hardest send?

My hardest send is Ten Ten (V10) in Hueco.

Do you think it’s difficult to train while being in college compared to high school?

Yes absolutely. I mean you just don’t have the time that you really need to be able to completely dedicate yourself to the sport and fortunately school has to always come first for me. If I’m choosing between training or going studying or something, it has to take priority.

Where do you train when you are at school?

I train at Stone Summits; it’s like 20 minutes away from campus.

So you don’t have a gym on campus?

We do have a gym but it’s pretty small and Stone Summit is right down the street.

How often do you typically train when you are at college?

It depends on the time of the semester. I know I took three weeks off around finals time, but it’s usually about three times a week. Compared to high school, it was like five times a week for four hours.

Yea, you’d leave right from school?

Yea I miss that.

Francesca Metcalf working The Orb (V8) in Little Rock City. [Photo] Andrew Silva

Francesca Metcalf working The Orb (V8) in Little Rock City. [Photo] Andrew Silva

I read somewhere that you competed in a collegiate climbing series? What are the competitions like?

It’s where college students from all over the nation can compete in climbing against each other. I think it’s a good thing because with climbing being so difficult too really keep up with when you’re in school, I use the motivation to actually get out and compete. You don’t feel bad because you’re weak and you’re not competing against all these adults who dedicate their whole lives to climbing. It’s a pretty chill atmosphere. It’s not super serious yet, it’s a very new series. The comps are more like you go, you hang out, and you just climb some boulder problems and meet people from your area and stuff.

Do you think that this eventually could evolve into a varsity sport at a University where climbers could potentially get a climbing scholarship?

Yes, I think it would be so awesome if that could happen. I mean, even though the CCS series is very new, in its third year, they’ve had nationals and it’s already getting pretty big. They had to keep people from registering because the comp filled up. So obviously it’s a growing sport and it’s very popular for college kids. I think if it keeps growing the way it does, it could defiantly become something that schools take more seriously and go out and find people to do it.

What would you say your favorite climbing problem is?

My favorite climbing problem is Blacksmith at Little Rock City. It’s a V9. It was one of my first real projects that I’ve ever done. It’s nice and crimpy, my style.

So have you experienced any Southern culture shock?

A little bit, I had spent some time in Atlanta before I moved to Georgia so I knew what to expect but a lot more fast food. The people tend to be a lot chiller, so I like it. I like it down there even though it is very different. Also there isn’t any snow.

Do you have a lot of Waffle Houses?

Yes, there’s one on campus, I try to go there all the time.

I love Waffle House. I wish they were in New England. Is there anything that you really miss about living in Boston?

The one awesome thing I miss about living in Boston is that there are like 10 gyms within an hour from my house. I really miss that. Stone Summit is an awesome gym but if you get bored of the problems, there is no other place you can go unless you can drive two hours to go outside which doesn’t really happen much in the week days. I miss that and I miss my family and my friends. I kinda built like a climbing community around myself growing up, so I miss all of them.

So how does your family influence your climbing?

We’re a full climbing family. Climbing has never been something that I just did by myself; it’s kinda been a way for my sisters and I to hang out. We have something in common that we can do together and my parents are also very involved so it kinda just brings our whole family together. So it makes comps and everything a lot more fun by having them all there.

Do you think training with them pushed you to work harder?

Yes defiantly (laughs). We do get a little bit competitive when we climb together. If I see one of my sisters starting to get stronger than I am or something, then it can be a little bit more motivation to try hard. And I mean again, I just have so much fun with them when we climb, it just makes training or just climbing more fun and easy so you don’t even realize that you’re trying hard.

Did you here about of the deep water solo competition that happened in Utah?

Yea, I did hear about that. It sounded really cool.

What are your thoughts about the competition? Where do you think competition climbing is headed after this?

I don’t know. I mean obviously it’s a growing sport and we wanted to go to the Olympics, which isn’t happening. Hopefully we’ll get there at some point. But it seems like competitions are getting crazier as time goes on. I don’t really know what’s going to come next, but hopefully something awesome.

Do you think that this is the type of competition that climbing needs to maybe get back in the x-games maybe get some more media attention?

It can visually be like a very showy thing. People would be excited to watch it and stuff so I mean it defiantly won’t hurt to have something like this.

What competition are you most proud of?

My second place finish at the Adult ABS nationals in 2011 or the summer that I competed in the World Championship in Arco, Italy. I somehow got first in qualifiers and was ahead of some crazy good climbers like Melissa la Neve and Akiyo Noguchi. I ended up getting 19th out of 20 in semi’s, which wasn’t great but knowing that sometimes I actually have a chance against some of the best climbers in the world was a pretty awesome feeling.