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Maria Pilnik conquers new heights through rock climbing

Photos courtesy of Maria Pilnik
Maria Pilnik (’26) practices rock climbing at Westway Climbing Center this year. Pilnik started climbing at the age of 6 and has continued since, now training two to three times per week.

Maria Pilnik (’26) has no fear of heights. She has been scaling rock walls since the age of 6 and said she truly enjoys the heart-pounding “thrill of it all.”

Pilnik attended Pembridge Hall School and said she initially began rock climbing purely for social reasons, joining her friends in a group outside of school. As others lost interest, Pilnik said she continued because the sport became one of her favorite things to do.

Pilnik said she was drawn to the uniqueness of rock climbing as it lacks popularity compared to more popular sports.

“It just felt so cool to do this thing that nobody had ever heard of and it was even more niche, and it’s gotten bigger over time,” Pilnik said. “When you say you’re a rock climber, people think it’s cool. It’s a conversation starter.”

Over five years, Pilnik said she practiced her skills through private lessons, eventually earning a spot on a competitive team at Westway Climbing Center where she began to participate in competitions, leading her to view rock climbing as a serious extracurricular activity.

Furthermore, Pilnik said the group environment has allowed her to cultivate valuable friendships with her teammates, creating friendly competition as opposed to rivalry.

“It’s when you have a really good friend and you’re so close that you don’t mind if they do better than you,” Pilnik said.

Moreover, Pilnik said the rock-climbing community is extremely tight-knit, characterized by “everyone supporting everyone.”

“You’ll hear the rest of the squad just cheering for one person,” Pilnik said. “Even if you fall off, they’ll be there at the bottom, ready to comfort you.”

Pilnik said her determination stems from the possibility of overcoming new climbing obstacles.

“It makes it really exciting because you want to try all the challenging routes,” Pilnik said. “You want to try something they [competitors] might not be able to do, which kind of pushes you to become a better climber.”

When climbing, Pilnik said her focus is to move in “the most efficient way,” despite it requiring immense amounts of strength and overcoming extreme fatigue.

“You can physically do the moves, but by the time you’re halfway up, you’re so tired, you just can’t hold anymore,” Pilnik said.

Pilnik said finishing in second place at a Youth Climbing Series competition in 2021 made her understand the importance of concentrating on her own growth rather than comparing herself to others.

“The competition helped me realize you should just keep trying,” Pilnik said. “You shouldn’t focus on other people’s performance. You should just focus on yourself.”

While Pilnik said she dreams of rock climbing in the future, she is aware of the sport’s limitations due to the lack of popularity and social recognition.

“For such a small sport, you can’t be a rock climber primarily, it has to be your hobby,” Pilnik said. “I’ll keep going, but unfortunately, it can’t be my end game.”

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About the Contributor
Sophia Hsu, Media Team
Sophia Hsu ('26) is a member of the Media Team for The Standard in Advanced Journalism.

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