As a child, Jolie Abadir’s parents often found their daughter by looking up.
“She was literally always climbing trees in our yard,” mother Victoria Abadir recalled. “She would climb up the door frames. She’d climb onto the roof.”
In other words, the urge to climb has been in Jolie, 14, from a young age. An East Lampeter Township resident and rising ninth-grader at The Stone Independent School in Lancaster, Jolie only recently discovered she could turn those climbing urges into a passion.
More recently, she placed 43rd in her age group in the “lead” climbing event at the USA Climbing 2021 Youth Nationals.
Lead climbing is one of three categories of climbs that is making its debut at the Olympic Games this week. It requires climbers to scale a wall that features a variety of overhangs (testing arm strength) and slabs (testing leg strength), with holds that vary in shape, size and difficulty. Those holds are numbered in ascending order to measure the climber’s progress and score. The climber wears a harness and clips into bolts along the way in order to secure a rope should the climber fall.
“I love the problem-solving and the physical aspect of it,” Jolie said.
Jolie has not yet had any spills off a rock wall. As a matter of fact, the only major injury she’s had to this point has been a concussion. But that came from her time as a figure skater from age 7-10, when she trained at Lancaster Ice Rink, often practicing at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays before class.
She did so alongside her older brother, Nile Abadir, a Lancaster Country Day student who now specializes in tennis, more recently going undefeated in his sophomore campaign en route to the Lancaster-Lebanon League, District Three and PIAA Class 2A crowns.
“(Jolie) loved the spins and the jumps when figure skating,” Victoria Abadir said. “But not the makeup and the outfits.”
Climbing is a sport that’s been growing in recent years due to indoor facilities popping up at a rapid pace. One of those is at Spooky Nook in Manheim, where Jolie tried out for a climbing team at age 10.
“That was my first time climbing,” Jolie said. “I fell in love with it.”
Jolie learned the basics of climbing from ages 10 to 12 while training and competing for Spooky Nook. She has since been doing so for Philadelphia Rock Gym.
“She’s special, to be honest,” Philadelphia Rock Gym coach Tom Meehan said. “She’s a strong climber.”
Meehan initially worked with Jolie on her footwork.
“Once we figured that out,” he said. “It helped improve her positioning.”
There are a few different ways in which the difficulty of climbing a route can be measured. For the purpose of this story, we’ll use the V scale, which is currently rated from V0 up to V17.
“When she (Jolie) started with me she was inconsistently climbing in the V3 to V5 range,” Meehan said. “Now she is climbing upwards of the 7 to 9 range. Outdoors it’s probably 7 or 8, it depends on the style of climb.”
Chet Roy agrees with that assessment. Roy, a Warwick alum, has been training Jolie on outdoor climbs for about the last 18 months.
“Climbing is more complex than it appears,” Roy said. “I try to teach core. ... Today’s competition has gotten more Parkour, but good climbers are moving your core around.”
Roy and Jolie mostly climb on large boulders scattered throughout Mount Gretna in Lebanon County.
“It’s way different outside,” Jolie said. “You don’t have the holds pointed out to you with colorful tape.”
Roy is responsible for having established more than 100 climbing routes throughout Mt. Gretna over the last 20-plus years. He’s also known the Abadir family for about that long. He first invited Jolie to climb outdoors around late December 2019, when Roy was also busy building an indoor climbing wall in the basement of the Abadir’s home.
Roy doesn’t specialize in coaching. But Jolie is the second climber in the last few years he’s taken under his wing in teaching the craft. They’ve bonded in that climbing has given them a way to channel their energy and focus.
“I’ve had to slow her down already,” Roy said. “I used to have the same problem in wanting to throw myself at a rock over and over again. I’ve gotten better at learning to rest, let your body recover, then continue to climb. She’s gotten better at being in the moment. Of not thinking too far ahead. Focusing on the next one or two moves, really being present.”
There’s also the aspect of dealing with the moments of fear that may come when hanging on a rock at dizzying heights.
“Everyone gets scared,” Roy said. “When you’re scared, your brain stops working. ... Sometimes you get to a point where you can’t climb down. You can only climb up. ... Stop thinking about the fall and just climb. But we try not to get into that situation.”
Jolie plans to continue juggling both indoor and outdoor climbing. How far does she hope to go in the sport?
“As far as I can,” she said. “I don’t plan to stop climbing. I’ll climb as far as I can climb."