Northern Illawarra teenager Leah Jeffries is our newest sporting sensation.
The 14 year old Wombarra resident and Smiths Hill High School student has made the Australian climbing team following strong performances in all three disciplines at the recent National Sport Climbing Championships in Melbourne.
Leah will now travel to Innsbruck in Austria later this year to compete at the World Youth Championships.
What makes Leah’s achievements doubly-exciting is Sports Climbing is a new Olympic event at Tokyo in 2020, and she’s well placed to claim a spot.
The Olympic event sees climbers compete in three separate disciplines. There’s ‘Lead’, where climbers attach ropes as they climb. You have to make it to the top- and be first there-to win. Bouldering sees climbers set a series of ‘puzzles’ which they have to complete- with no ropes- but they do have mats in case they fall. The third event is Speed, which, as the name suggests, sees the climbers scamper up the wall to reach the top as quickly as possible.
Leah has always been a climber, so to get her down from backyard trees, when she was 10 and a student at Austinmer Public School, her dad Chris took her to Wollongong’s Hang Dog, where her talent was quickly identified.
Just 12 months after taking up the sport, Leah brought home a bronze medal from her first-ever National competition!
Now, thanks to Chris, who does most of the running around, Leah trains five times a week including two visits to Hang Dog, and three trips to climbing centres at Villawood and Alexandria, as well as competitions on weekends and outdoor climbs at every opportunity.
“She loves it,” says mum Joanne. “She’s always had great balance and strength, and no fear of heights, and thinks nothing of climbing seven or eight stories high. She can’t get enough!”
Jo says it’s too early to think about a spot in the Olympic team, but at 17, Leah will be in the prime age range. “She’d love to represent Australia,” says Jo, “so is definitely working towards it. In the meantime, she’s training hard to do well in Austria later this year.”
The sport is one of Australia’s most rapidly-growing, with a second climbing gym opening in Wollongong this month.