Matt Fultz is not your average teen. Life at East Valley Middle School in Nampa is only a cover for his emerging national talent and worldwide fame. His life as a small town adolescent includes football and track, and I imagine they keep him occupied in the Gifted and Talented Program, but this is all a diversion for Matt. His real focus is rocks and how to climb them in the most difficult way possible. He has already astounded the rock climbing community numerous times with his record-breaking climbs, creating a buzz of articles and blurbs in all the mainstream climbing Web sites and magazines, and leading people to wonder exactly how far this 14-year-old could go.
Where did this phenom come from, and how did he get started? It all began at a sporting goods store in the Midwest, with a $10 bet from his father, Steve, who thought his money was safe. Matt accepted the challenge, put on climbing gear for the first time and made it to the top of the store's wall before his mother could protest. During their visit to the store, they never saw anyone else make it to the top of the wall.
After that, it seemed natural to get him involved, and he became a member of the Indy Flash youth team in Indianapolis at the age of 11. From the beginning, he was a contender. In his first competitive season, with only months of experience, he finished second in the 13 and Under category and seventh overall in Men's Intermediate at the American Bouldering Series finals. His family moved to Idaho after that, but his interest did not wane, and he began exploring the vast world of outdoor climbing in the West.
In the last two years, he has accomplished several record-breaking climbs and has logged a win streak of 14 in a row. In May 2004, Matt became the youngest person ever to climb a V10, completing "Power Man," in Swan Falls and is currently the youngest climber to boulder a V12. He also holds the title in outdoor climbing of the youngest American to climb a 5.14b by completing "White Out," in Logan Canyon, Utah.
For those in the know, this is impressive. Those less familiar with climbing jargon may be unmoved without the proper information. To begin with, there is climbing, and then there is bouldering. Climbing is generally an outdoor sport, involving scaling vertical faces with the use of harnesses, ropes and safety equipment. Bouldering is done closer to the ground, and may or may not include safety equipment. Bouldering involves a smaller space, but presents more challenging problems and technical moves.
The Yosemite Decimal System is used to measure the difficulty of a climb and involves a scale from 1-5. At five, described as near vertical, it is broken down further with decimals, and climbs that are even more difficult will include a letter grade of a-d. An Average Joe could probably climb up to a 5.10 without too much difficulty, but beyond that, advanced training and technical skills are necessary. Bouldering is measured by the V-Scale, or Hueco Scale, which begins with the letter V, followed by a number (up to 15) indicating the level of difficulty. Comparisons of the two are heavily debated, and both measurement systems are completely subjective, so open to criticism.
Success at anything does not come without effort, and this may be where Matt is the most fascinating. He is virtually self-coached and self-motivated. He spends an average of 15-25 hours training per week, depending on upcoming events. Keep in mind that he is in school from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., and is a linebacker for his football team, which keeps him after school every day for a few hours. The homework required to maintain his honor roll status consumes an hour or two of every evening as well, and by my tally, the daylight hours are becoming short for Matt. All this at an age where most of his peers are consumed with acne and the opposite sex.
Matt spends a good deal of time training at Boise Peak Fitness. Located directly off of the connector, some of you have probably imagined what it is like inside and imagined yourself mixing up the weekly routine by stopping by and trying something new. Most of you have not, though, and let me be the first to tell you, it would be worth the side trip. It is one of the largest climbing facilities in the West, featuring over 14,000 square feet of climbing and over 150 routes, including one that will permit you to loom over the connector, silently taunting the throng dashing past. As if that weren't enough, it is also home to a cardio and weight training studio, as well as a full schedule of Yoga and Pilates classes.
Owner Pete Vanek has become very familiar with Matt since BPF opened, and is one of his greatest supporters. He likens Matt to a young Lance Armstrong--in "another atmosphere compared to other climbers," and admits that Matt's abilities are so profound that the staff is unable to put together routes that are difficult enough for him.
I met with Matt at Boise Peak Fitness for an interview and a quick demonstration, and it did not take long to realize that Matt may drive his own ambitions, but his father plays a great supporting role in the endeavor. Steve Fultz is as proud a father as I have come across, with a steady supply of his son's facts and accomplishments at the ready, but his role is greater than that. Steve belays (manages the safety ropes) for Matt at all his practices and competitions, which means that he, too, dedicates 15-25 hours per week to the sport, as well as using his vacation time to attend 14-15 competitions per year.
Matt's climbing is surprisingly artistic. The moves from one hold to another require an athleticism that few have, combined with a gracefulness that I had not expected. Clearly, balance is a necessity, and Matt's awareness of every aspect of his body is apparent as he reaches forward with his right hand while carefully countering in the opposite direction with his left foot. There are some things that cannot be taught to any athlete, that are an intrinsic understanding in the person, and Matt is blessed with these instincts. Described by Vanek as the "prototype," with "incredible power in his hands and fingers," it is easy to imagine this young man's continued success as I watch him casually navigate the most difficult routes in the gym.
I asked Matt about his future goals in the sport, and he smiled and shrugged. "I'll just do it 'til I get burnt out," he said. Stop by Boise Peak Fitness the next time you find yourself racing past on autopilot. You may be rubbing elbows with a local celebrity.
The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) is the North American rating system for climbing. The first number in the YDS designates the class of the climb
Class 1 involves hiking on trail or bikepath, walking (either uphill or along an established trail.
Class 2 usually involves cross-country trekking maybe using hands for balance, route-finding skills over terrain that may or may not have established trails.
Class 3 rated climbs involve scrambling on rocks using hands and feet and may sometimes use ropes for balance.
Class 4 is climbing on steep terrain using ropes for belaying. You could die if you fell.
Class 5 climbs involve using technical moves and protective hardware in the event of falling. Death would be likely in the event of a fall without this protective gear.
The second number in climbing ratings (used only for Class 5 climbs) denotes the difficulty of a climb beginning with 5.0 as the easiest moving to 5.14 as the most difficult.