Lawrence Rock Climbing prospers in the aftermath of COVID-19

The rock climbing club; sophomore member Amir Zarandi is hovering above. Photo by Cormac Billick.

Like so many other clubs and organizations on campus, the Rock Climbing Club has found a new life in the post-pandemic environment. After suffering a two-year hiatus, first-years Cormac Billick and Anastasia Exterovich have taken it upon themselves to officially reinstate the club, and it has received an incredible reception on campus. I had the privilege to sit down for an interview with Billick to reflect on the year for the club, and during our conversation, I was introduced to a thriving and passionate community on campus that has been given an opportunity to interact and grow to an unprecedented degree. 

Billick’s rock climbing journey kicked off after he joined a competitive climbing team as a freshman in high school.  

“I climbed with the team, and I fell in love with the sport of rock climbing, pretty much,” Billick said. “Since I started, it’s become my favorite activity.”  

Billick’s love for the sport runs so deep that he considered committing to the University of Utah and climbing collegiately—however, he chose Lawrence for their academics, despite his dissatisfaction at the lack of an active climbing community on campus and in the greater Appleton area. 

Billick didn’t settle for this, however; he and Exterovich decided to rebuild the climbing community on campus from the ground up.  

“We started from scratch as far as an organization goes, [working] though the whole recognition process as if it were a new club,” Billick said. “Of course, it wasn’t like we were building the community from scratch, because there were rock climbers on campus who just did not have a club. But as far as the actual infrastructure, we did have to basically restart everything ourselves.” 

Upon the club’s reinstatement, Billick expressed that the work to get the club back on its feet was not over.  

“When we were starting out, I remember doing as much outreach as possible—just like telling all my friends, ‘Are you guys interested in rock climbing? You should join the club—it doesn’t matter if you have no experience at all,’” Billick stated with a smile. He noted that the initial marketing push led to the club gaining traction by word of mouth and on their social media.  

“After we were over the initial hump of trying to advertise this as hard as we could, people started coming in,” said Billick, who proudly reported that their email roster was 130 strong, comprised of mostly new climbers. “We had way more interest than I was expecting. A super strong reception.” 

Currently, the club lacks a physical space on campus and in the commutable area to climb. The club organizes biweekly trips (logistically modeled after Outdoor Recreation Club) to climbing walls at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh and at Odyssey Climbing in Green Bay.  

“One of the challenges we’re running into is that it’s hard to have regular meetings when we can’t be actually rock climbing,” Billick said.  

The club doesn’t share other privileges that other clubs have either, such as a formal board structure and meeting schedule; however, Billick and Exterovich have organized informal meetings with a few trusted regulars of the club to share the burdens of leadership and logistics of organizing trips. 

The rock climbing club; sophomore member Amir Zarandi is hovering above. Photo by Cormac Billick.

Despite these tribulations, Billick stressed to me his satisfaction at the current state of the club, and for the members, the future is certainly bright. He informed me of a grand project that has been confirmed for the club—the approval and installation of a training wall in the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center, available for all members of the campus to train on. It will be situated on one of the walls of the gym, and while not a full-scale climbing wall, it will feature a myriad of different holds that will light up from the control of a smartphone – allowing for thousands of possible combinations for routes for climbers to train on.  

“This will let us have regular meetings and really solidify the community because there will be a physical space where we can be,” says Billick. “I’m really stoked about that.” 

The positive feedback and approval of such a large project so early in the club’s existence is proof that the club has filled an important athletic and social niche on campus. While some may settle for this, Billick is always looking ahead.  

“We would love to have a rock climbing team at Lawrence that actually goes to competitions,” Billick said. “I’ve met a few other competition climbers here, so if we could get a team organized, we could get way more support from the school. But this is far in the future, of course.”  

With this level of ambition and passion, Billick and Exterovich have managed to create a thriving community and secure a great facility and culture for Lawrence’s posterity.