To some people, the farther their feet are off solid ground, the less comfortable they feel. Grant Speer, on the other hand, is never more at home than when he's dozens of feet in the air contemplating his next move up a rock face.
When he was 6, Grant, now 11, and his family moved to Chattanooga in search of better climbing than was available near their home in Little Rock, Ark.
Although he has been clambering up boulders since he was 3 years old, Grant said it wasn't until the family relocated that he fell in love with climbing and all its inherent challenges.
CLAIM TO FAME
Last year, Grant Speer, 11, was ranked the seventh-best boulder climber in the country in USA Climb's 10-and-under age group. In March, he took first place in his first sport-climbing event at a regional competition. He also won first place in the youth category of Urban Rocks' 2011 Evolv summer competition series.
- School: Sixth-grader at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
- Favorite place to climb locally: Little Rock City / Stone Fort Bouldering.
- Favorite route: Jerry's Kids at Little Rock City.
- Dream climbing destination: Hueco Tanks near El Paso, Texas.
- Hobbies: Playing football, swimming, mountain biking and hiking.
- Favorite book: "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle.
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"I understood it more," Grant explained. "I started to focus more and was getting better at it.
"I like not thinking you can do something and then eventually doing it. It makes you feel good to doubt yourself and then be able to conquer that."
Grant has overcome a lot of self-doubt over the years to achieve a high degree of skill as a climber, said Becky Roban, co-owner of Urban Rocks Gym, where Grant and his family often climb.
"He dedicates a lot of time and energy and focus to climbing, which is rare for someone his age," Roban said. "He's definitely one of the best in the Southeast. In the last year, he's broken through some personal limits, and I think he's going to take off and do even better."
Last year, Grant was ranked No. 7 for his age group in USA Climbing's national series for bouldering, a subset of climbing involving shorter routes navigated without safety equipment.
This March, he also took first place regionally at his first competition for sport climbing, which tackles longer routes and allows the use of safety equipment.
No matter the style of climbing he's practicing, Grant said the key to being a successful climber is being focused and methodical.
At just 4 feet, 8 inches tall, Grant lacks the reach of taller climbers, which he said can make the sport an even more challenging and creative exercise.
With the help of his stepfather, Warren Hulsey, Grant is often forced to find novel approaches to climbing routes, mapping out alternate movements or risky jumps between handholds.
That added difficulty can be both annoying and rewarding, Grant said.
"That's frustrating sometimes because you'll try really hard on a climb and get to a move and not be able to do it," he said. "Other times, it challenges me so I'll have to jump and hopefully stick the hold."
From the moment Grant first put hands and feet on stone, his stepfather has served as his coach.
Hulsey taped out the earliest routes Grant climbed, but more importantly, Grant said, he helped him push through his most uncertain moments.
"He's taught me a lot of stuff," Grant said. "He said you have to believe you can do a climb, not give up, just trust in yourself that you can."
Although Grant can become frustrated when he's stumped by a particularly difficult climb, that sense of determination to overcome any obstacle is a key characteristic that makes him such an able climber, Hulsey said.
And when everything clicks and Grant trusts his body to know how to approach a route, he climbs with the same flowing grace of professionals such as Chris Sharma, Hulsey said.
"There are almost two people in Grant," Hulsey said. "There's the self-doubter that is unsure, the little kid that thinks it's too hard. Then, there's the kid who thinks, 'This is hard, but I'm going to do it.'
"Then, he becomes unstoppable."
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...