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Watch: Ann Arbor teen to compete for world rock climbing title

David Goricki
The Detroit News

In a little more than seven seconds, Max Hammer reaches glory.

That’s the time it takes the 16-year-old to scale a 15-meter rock climbing wall, which just happens to be the fastest time in the United States for his age bracket (Youth A, 16-17).

But Hammer has bigger goals in his sights.

Like the world title, which he’ll compete for this summer at the World Youth Championships from Aug. 28-Sept. 4 in Italy.

Pretty impressive for someone who didn’t start speed climbing until a little over a year ago.

“My parents got me started in gymnastics when I was a toddler,” said Hammer, who will be a junior at Ann Arbor Skyline this fall. “One day when I was in fourth grade I walked from the gymnastics building to Planet Rock which was next door and walked in. It looked so cool and I felt, ‘That’s what I need to do.’ ... It looked so interesting, I wanted to learn to climb them.”

Hammer, who also gave giving diving and wrestling a try, told his parents and they got him signed up.

Now, rock climbing has become a family affair — his father Gary, mother Lisa, 13-year-old sister Maggie and 9-year-old brother Zach have taken to the sport. Maggie and Zach also compete nationally.

“I was a gymnast at Vermont and Max’s mother was an NCAA top-10 academic Scholar athlete of the year at MIT in the late ’80s as a gymnast, so we got Max involved in the sport,” Gary Hammer said. “You put your kinds in what you know best. He was good, but didn’t love it. He got into diving, but said he liked everything about it but the water. Wrestling just wasn’t for him either.

“He absolutely loved climbing though. He found something that really felt more natural.”

Max Hammer has since competed internationally in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and New Caledonia. And, he hopes the sport makes the cut for the 2020 Olympics (it’s on the short list for inclusion).

“Climbing is becoming more popular around the world because people have a better understanding of what it is,” Hammer said. “And, now with the introduction of this new sport of speed climbing, it’s more of a fast-paced spectator sport and people can watch it, appreciate it, like ‘Wow, they’re really fast.’ ”

Hammer competes in all three disciplines of the sport — speed climbing (harness and rope), sport climbing (rope) and bouldering (no rope, 15 feet).

“But speed climbing is what I excel at, and that’s what I’ve won my championships in,” Hammer said. “It’s satisfying to go fast and see your times improving.”

Hammer trains 3-5 days a week, three hours each session at Planet Rock in Ann Arbor and Madison Heights.

So, what drives him?

“I’m impressed with how I was able to adapt to this so quickly,” he said. “I didn’t start on this official wall until about a year ago, so I’ve had to kind of catch up to everyone who has been on it for three or four years.

“I’m proud of my ability to keep calm under all the pressure of the competitions. It’s hard with speed climbing since one little slip can ruin your run.”