“When I was a kid growing up in Beaverdale I used to climb everything,” says Tom Weaver, “that was in the 50s, so it’s been awhile.”
Maybe so, but this senior citizen is refusing to act his age. Instead – he’s tackling new challenges. Or should we say climbing them.
“It’s just fun and really healthy,” Tom says about rock climbing, “it’s like a new adventure - I recommend it!”
We meet with him at Climb Iowa in Grimes and get an introduction to how it all works. “They have all kinds of routes – from really easy, to ridiculous. The easiest routes here are rated at five-point-five and the more difficult go up to five-twelve, five-thirteen, five-fourteen…”
Tom starts us at a five-six. It may be one of the easer routes, but remember - we’re beginners. “I’m stuck!” Sonya wails from about halfway up the wall. Tom acts as our belayer and chief cheerleader and by the time we reach the ground we understand the rush. “If you’re a little nervous about heights that’s even better! When you get to the top, you’ve conquered that – it’s very cool.”
Three years ago, rock climbing was the furthest thing from Tom’s mind. “I was 62, working way too much, not paying attention to my nutrition and one day I had some sharp pains and shortness of breath and it gave me a wakeup call.”
“In his initial fitness test, he was unable to do even one pushup, he had a larger waist, and high body fat,” says personal trainer Dr. Neal Groteluschen. After a few months, Tom was losing weight and gaining a new perspective.
“We walked into REI to buy a mountain bike and there were people on this fifty foot tower all roped in and climbing,” he says with a smile, “I looked at my granddaughters and said – if you’ll do it, I’ll do it! That’s how I started rock climbing.”
Now he’s thirty pounds lighter and hoping to recruit other seniors to his new hobby. “I deal with soreness, but I’d rather train and gain than recline and decline!”
For now – Tom’s staying busy training us. The second climb is a tougher route, a five-seven. There are fewer holds and it takes a lot more effort. “You’re going to increase your heart rate a lot in the high intensity,” says Neal, “to me; it’s similar to doing high-intensity intervals.”
At some points it feels as if there’s no place to go but down. Resting comes in handy and competitive spirit is the only thing pushing us forward. We’ve quickly learned this is a total body workout that looks much easier than it is. Our hearts are pounding, we’re sweating and our arms and legs are killing us.
Tom’s up one more time. He’s taking on a five-nine that he’s never been able to conquer. “That’s part of the motivation,” he says, “find a climb that’s just outside your ability and you say oooooh, I almost did it!”
On this day, he reaches the top. Everyone on the ground is clapping and cheering and Tom can’t conceal his sense of accomplishment – for many reasons. “On a recent visit my granddaughters told me – ‘Papa, none of our friends have a cooler grandpa than you’.”
Tom's senior rock climbing group meets at 11am on Sundays at Climb Iowa. You will have a blast - we promise!