Bodies in Motion: PRCA-Cooling Cabin Fever & Empowering Kids

Parents, do you ever feel like your kids are climbing the walls, especially in the cold winter months? It’s common to spend more time cooped up inside once the snow starts to fly, though of course there are plenty of fun ways to get outside, such as skiing, snowshoeing, or building a snowman. A new way you could consider getting the kiddos out and moving is trying the sport of ice climbing—yep, an organized way to “climb the walls”!

The Pictured Rocks Climbing Academy, or PRCA for short, is a Michigan non-profit that provides low-cost rock and ice climbing opportunities to Upper Peninsula youth ages 7-18. They are based in Marquette and rock climb in the Marquette area in summer, and ice climb around Munising in the winter. The PRCA was established in 2016 when world-renowned alpinist Conrad Anker noticed no local kids were ice climbing at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. At that year’s annual Michigan Ice Festival, money was fundraised to start the PRCA.

Since then, the PRCA has gone full steam ahead with all things climbing! The PRCA prides itself on providing not only climbing opportunities to those who might not otherwise have them, but also fostering community and stewardship for its members. From guided outdoor rock and ice climbing, volunteer opportunities at local events, weekly indoor group climbs during the school year, yoga, attending climbing festivals in the Midwest, and more, the PRCA provides unique experiences to UP youth. No gear or experience is required to climb with the PRCA, and membership costs are low, with scholarships available to those who need one.

For many, climbing is much more than just a sport—it’s a lifelong pursuit that connects them with wild places, a strong community, and opportunities to constantly learn. Climbing pushes you to trust yourself and those around you, constantly learn and adapt, and widen your comfort zone. Climbing also promotes positive mental and physical health, such as improved strength and balance, and higher feelings of self-sufficiency. The PRCA is run by volunteers with years of climbing experience who teach these values and experiences to UP youth. 

With climbing’s rising popularity, thanks to more gyms opening across the country and the sport being featured for the first time in the Olympics, it’s important to understand the mentorship aspect the sport has compared to other outdoor pursuits. Climbing is inherently dangerous, and historically was taught almost strictly through mentorship. These days people can get started climbing in the gym, through online videos, etc. While it’s great to have these more widely accessible resources available, without mentorship it’s possible to have gaps in knowledge and safety. The PRCA helps serve as a bridge for this mentorship gap.

Safety is the number one concern of the PRCA. All guided rock and ice outings are facilitated by Michigan Ice Fest Guides. These guides have taken and passed one or more guiding courses and assessments run by the internationally recognized and accredited American Mountain Guides Association. The PRCA teaches youth many things—climbing movement, gear use, anchor systems, belaying, and more—all adjusted to the age and experience level of the climbers participating. 

So, parents, if your kids are interested in a new way to recreate outside, face fears of heights, be more active in community stewardship, or just want to try something new, check out the Pictured Rocks Climbing Academy. 

To get involved with the PRCA, reach out through their website’s “Contact Us” page. If you’re over eighteen and would like to volunteer, don’t hesitate to reach out as well! 

Website: picturedrocksclimbingacademy.org
Facebook/Instagram: @picturedrocksclimbingacademy

Laura Slavsky (she/her) grew up in Marquette, MI and began climbing in 2014. She has guided ice climbing clinics at Michigan Ice Fest, is a Community Ambassador for the national climbing non-profit Access Fund, and has volunteered with the Pictured Rocks Climbing Academy since 2019.

Excerpted from the Winter 2021-22 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Bodies in Motion: Balancing Act, by Kevin McGrath

I’m watching the Super Bowl and the running back takes the hand-off, racing to the right side where he sharply cuts upfield through the hole that his lineman opened for him. As he emerges from the hole, it quickly closes with a linebacker exploding into him. He astonishingly spins out of the tackler’s arms, keeping his footing and darting another five yards out of bounds, getting a key first down for his team.

Two nights later, I’m watching my favorite hockey team, the Detroit Red Wings, on TV when Dylan Larkin catches a crisp pass on his stick, leaning hard into the defenseman who is all over him, all the while firing a bullet at the opposing team’s net.

The next night, I’m at my Marquette City basketball game. At age fifty-nine, I play on a team with mostly 35 to 38-year-olds. We’re playing against the youngest team in the league, whose players average 28 years. We get a turnover and start a break-away during which a quick pass comes my way. It’s slightly deflected, causing me to spin my upper torso while running in the other direction. I lose my footing and fall hard to the ground as the ball bounces off my arm and out of bounds.

All of these situations have something in common, something that most of us take for granted – balance! As Wikipedia explains, “In biomechanics, balance is the ability to maintain the line of gravity (vertical line to the center of mass) of the body within the base of support with minimal postural support.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balance_(ability))

Many factors come into play to achieve good balance, which requires the coordination of input from multiple sensory systems. These systems include but are not limited to sense organs, as well as pressure and vibratory senses, skin, joints, plus visual senses that all work in unity, detecting changes in spatial orientation in relation to the base of support, whether the body moves or the base is altered in some way. Environmental factors such as surface and lighting conditions, ear infections, alcohol, some medications, and other drug use also impact balance.

As important as balance is, most people take it for granted. Have you ever misjudged the height of a curb while walking down the street, or caught your shoe on a raised crack in the sidewalk? There are various levels of stability, and while as an athlete, my ability to stay upright is pretty good, I’m still quite impressed by some of the people I see paddle boarding, snowboarding, surfing, downhill skiing or acrobatic skateboarding. Nonetheless, as with muscle tone, our balance typically declines with age. For example, my elderly aunt misjudged the second step going up to my brother’s house, lost her balance, and fell of the porch, breaking her hip.

As a lifelong athlete and a former coach, it is clear to me that my balance isn’t what it used to be. I also realize there are a slew of ways to improve it. One favorite that comes to mind is the dot drill. I place four dots forming a square on the floor, roughly three feet apart with another dot in the middle of them all. I begin by standing on the middle dot and then jumping with both feet to the upper right dot and back to the middle, then to the lower right dot and back to middle, followed by the lower left dot and returning to the middle, then up to the upper left dot and back to the middle. I repeat this clockwise sequence three times, followed by the same movements in a counter-clockwise sequence three times. Once I’m able to do that confidently without pause, I work toward doing it with a one-legged hop, changing legs when I change direction from clockwise to counterclockwise.

Zumba, yoga, tai chi or any other fitness class with trained professionals able to assist you in realizing your goals can also help you make great strides in improving your balance. Key here is finding what works best for you, whether done at home or with a group.

For me, quality of life is essential, and that doesn’t happen by doing nothing. In order to improve, you must practice. That’s a good reminder to me. While we may automatically pay more attention to having a healthier diet, or working on muscle tone as we age, it’s extremely important to work on balance improvement too. Our quality of life lies in the balance.

Kevin McGrath believes that life is a balancing act, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. He can be found stumbling his way through it.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.