Photo by Edgar Artiga

Rockville’s Megan Lynch loved to climb as a child, preferring to walk on the monkey bars rather than swing from them. Her father, Bill, remembers visitors coming into the family’s home and saying things like, “You do know your daughter is 20 feet up in a tree, don’t you?” After seeing Megan perched on top of a swing set when she was 9 or 10, a neighbor recommended rock climbing. Today, Lynch is one of the best competitive rock climbers in her age group in the country.

A senior at The Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington, Lynch joined the recreational climbing club at Earth Treks in Rockville when she was in fifth grade and three years later made the elite team, which includes 15 climbers ranging in age from 9 to 18. She has qualified for USA Climbing’s Bouldering Youth National Championships every year since ninth grade. 

“With soccer, she was distracted by the kids around her,” says Lynch’s mother, Patty. “With rock climbing, it’s just her and the wall.”

In bouldering, which is a form of rock climbing, athletes hoist themselves up nearly 20-foot walls without harnesses or ropes, moving from grip to grip, using only their fingers, toes, upper body and core strength, stretching their bodies along the wall and sometimes swinging to make it from one spot to another. Mats are positioned below in case a climber falls. The configuration of the handholds and footholds changes for every competition, adding to the mental and physical challenge. Each climb is like a new puzzle, Lynch says, and “every move requires maximum effort.”

Lynch trains for eight to 10 hours a week, always arriving early for practice, and often climbs with friends on her days off. “If I had to pick one thing that makes her stand out physically, it would be her crazy finger strength,” says Earth Treks coach Justin Wyse.

The sport has helped Lynch improve her focus, which had sometimes been a challenge when it came to schoolwork. “I get my homework done as soon as I can so I have less to do when I get home [from practice],” she says. Lynch goes to bed at 10 every night, and she eats junk food only twice a year, after her biggest competitions.

“Megan breathes and dreams climbing,” Wyse says. “I don’t usually see that kind of fiery passion in anybody, any age. Everything she does is to get closer to her dream of making Team USA and going to the world youth championships.”

Lynch at USA Climbing’s Bouldering Youth National Championships in February.
Photo by Peter Brigham/Courtesy of Patty Lynch

To qualify for this year’s event, which will be held in China in November, Lynch needed to finish in the top four at the USA bouldering nationals held in Madison, Wisconsin in February. All of her effort and preparation came down to 10 four-minute climbs. She just missed her goal, finishing sixth in her age group after being tied for third place going into the finals.

“Everyone is so close in skill level—anything can happen,” says Lynch, 17. She rebounded quickly from the disappointment and splurged on a mini-pizza and an Auntie Anne’s pretzel at the airport, a “giant” bag of Cheez-It crackers on the flight home, and chicken tenders and french fries for dinner.

Though many colleges don’t have competitive bouldering teams, Lynch still plans to compete after she graduates from high school in June. She’s considering taking a year off before college to concentrate on the sport; if not, she’ll attend a school with a climbing gym nearby. She’s already looking forward to the next bouldering season, which begins in September:

“I want it to be my year,” she says. “I really want to make it to that podium.”