Climbing Her Way to the Top: Ellie Sepúlveda and her Climbing Career

Don’t sleep on freshman Ellie Sepúlveda. She is quietly one of GDS’ most elite and top-tier athletes, even though most GDS students don’t know it. In fact, most people don’t fully understand the nature of her sport, rock climbing. But Ellie doesn’t let this lack of recognition discourage her. As a member of the Sportrock Alexandria climbing team, and part of GDS’ own rock climbing team, she trains for over 20 hours a week. She also competes year-round in the USA Climbing youth program, in all three categories of competition: bouldering, lead climbing, and speed climbing. Still, Ellie aims even higher: “My goal is, in a couple years, to qualify for [the] Youth National Team,” an accomplishment that would enable her to compete on an international stage. And while, as Ellie put it, “nobody quite knows how the selection [process] is going to work [for the Olympics],” participating in the first-ever climbing competition at the most coveted stage in sports is not something that is entirely out of reach for her.

Ellie has been climbing since she was 11 years old, when she first tried it at a summer camp. Climbing has taken her to many cities in the US for indoor competitions, and she has gone to South Africa to train for the past two summers. “It was in the middle of nowhere, and it was gorgeous, and we were camping- it was a lot of fun,” she continued, “A lot of climbing spots are in really weird areas, like rural West Virginia and Kentucky.” Among Ellie’s bucket-list of climbing destinations are beach-climbing in Thailand, Red Rocks (near Las Vegas), and Hueco Tanks, which Ellie described as “the middle of nowhere, Texas.”

Being as serious a climber as Ellie while attending a demanding schools is no easy task, but, Ellie said, “I’ve learned how to make do. Some days I Metro from school to get to the climbing gym, and I’ve learned how to do homework there. I can’t really mess around during a free period, I have to stay focused and actually do my work, which stinks, but like, oh well. That’s how it is. There’s some pro competitions that I really can’t go to because I don’t want to miss too much school, but in general I’ve been able to balance it pretty well.”

Climbing, according to Ellie, is a good sport to try, because, “by nature, it’s not competitive. You don’t have to compete to climb. If you start now, you can do it for the rest of your life. I’ve seen 70 year-olds climbing really hard climbs, like harder than I’ve done.” In her short tenure in the GDS climbing program, Ellie has only been outperformed by a boy once, and never by a girl. During that time, the GDS climbing team has gone undefeated. It’s not a coincidence.

By Theo Hockstader ’19

Theo Hockstader is a member of the GDS climbing team.