Nate Emery is laser-focused on his next move in the sport climbing semifinals at the USA Climbing national competition.
Nate Emery is laser-focused on his next move in the sport climbing semifinals at the USA Climbing national competition. (Photos by Jerrold Emery)

It’s been a grueling climb for Nate Emery to achieve the heights he’s reached in the five years he’s done competitive climbing.

Nate Emery has an important day coming up in his young life. His bar mitzvah will be in January at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.

But he’s had a celebration of another sort this summer.

One of the nation’s best competitive rock climbers in his age group, the 12-year-old from Farmington Hills participated in the USA Climbing nationals last month in Reno, Nev., and was thrilled to finish in the top 20 in the sport climbing and bouldering disciplines.

“My big goal for this summer was to make it to nationals. Then my next big goal was to get to the semifinals at nationals in sport climbing and bouldering. I achieved both goals,” he said.

Nate finished 14th in sport climbing and 17th in bouldering at the nationals among about 80 competitors in each discipline despite being one of the youngest competitors in the Male Youth C group.

It was Nate’s third trip to the USA Climbing nationals. He also went to Bend, Ore., in February 2019 and Philadelphia in July 2019 when bouldering and sport climbing had separate national competitions.

There were no USA Climbing national competitions last summer. The COVID-19 pandemic took care of that.

The pandemic also shut down gyms across the country for much of last year, including Planet Rock in Madison Heights, Nate’s home base.

Planet Rock (where Nate’s bar mitzvah party will be held) was closed from mid-March until the end of September in 2020.

There were Planet Rock climbing team Zoom workouts and a small climbing wall was put up outside the gym, but it wasn’t the same as having full-fledged workouts and practice.

Nate Emery hangs out in his home climbing gym.
Nate Emery hangs out in his home climbing gym.
Home Workouts

Luckily, Nate was able to put in the work he needed at home, where a climbing gym was built in his dad’s former home office.

“We actually started to build the climbing gym before the pandemic,” said his dad, Jerrold Emery. “The gym was expanded during the pandemic and now is essentially a full climbing gym. The room is 250 square feet with 350 feet of climbing areas. I have a new home office in what was a spare bedroom.”

Nate was asked if his home climbing gym has been a help.

“Massively,” he said. “I wouldn’t have done so well at nationals without it.”

Nate competed in seven USA Climbing COVID-safe, video-recorded regional qualifying events in Indiana and Ohio after the start of the pandemic — finishing in first place in all of them — before he finally had an in-person competition in June in Morgantown, West Virgina.

He placed first in sport climbing and third in bouldering in the regional in West Virginia and qualified for USA Climbing nationals in both disciplines (the top four finishers moved on).

Now that the USA Climbing nationals are behind him, Nate will spend time at Camp Tamarack then head to the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia for eight days of recreational and practice climbing.

It’s been a grueling climb for Nate to achieve the heights he’s reached in the five years he’s done competitive climbing.

But the soon-to-be seventh-grader at Power Middle School in Farmington Hills has loved every minute of it and is looking forward to putting in more work.

“I love climbing more than ever. It’s challenging and fun,” said the muscular 4-foot-10, 90-pounder who has a popular Instagram account with videos of his climbs.

Nate’s parents, Jerrold and Carolyn Emery, are fully on board with their son’s passion, and not solely because of the fitness and dedication that’s required to be a nationally known competitive climber.

“Nate has made friends from all over the country through climbing,” Jerrold said.

Jerrold calls climbing a community sport, where competition and camaraderie — even among the parents — are equally as important. There are no stereotypical sniping parents.

“We’re all proud of our kids and love to share their successes,” Jerrold said. “Climbing families see each other at competitions, and we meet up when our kids do recreational climbing at outdoor sites.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not in contact with another climbing dad just to say hello and see how things are going.”

Climbing is an Olympic sport for the first time this year. The competition is Aug. 3-6 at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Forty climbers from 19 nations are expected to compete. 

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