SALT LAKE CITY — When 10-year-old Conner Bailey makes his way to the top of the climbing wall, he looks below to see just how far he's come. As he works his way back down, he heads right back up, realizing he still has a long way to go — but he's eager for the challenge.
For eight years, rock climbing has been a way of life for the now fourth grader. According to his mom, Tessie Bailey, his start at such an early age was in large part due to necessity.
"We adopted Conner when he was 2 years old, and he had some medical issues, particularly low birth weight and curvature of the spine," Tessie Bailey said. "We put him climbing as part of his therapy, and he really took to it. Not only has his spine stayed stable, but Conner has really taken to the sport."
In fact, this school year, Conner has competed in four bouldering competitions, including one in Montana where he got first place in the under 11 age group. In order to hone his craft, Conner spends 15 hours each week at the gym and even has a rock climbing wall at home to practice on.
According to his mom, Conner has been self-driven, but that the balance of school and training began to take its toll.
"Conner would be at school all day and come home really draggy," she said. "It was taking a toll on him, and it was hard to watch. Conner also has dysgraphia, which makes writing and speech a challenge."
Help came unexpectedly when school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic began. According to Conner's mom, when the shift to online learning happened, she was initially concerned, but she soon found that this is just what her son needed to be able to restore balance in his life.
"We were living in Texas when Hurricane Harvey hit, and Conner lost his entire first grade year," Tessie Bailey said. "I was really concerned that with school closures, that he would be set back again academically, but Conner actually really took to the online format."
Rather than staying with his current school, however, Conner's parents decided to enroll him in an already established online public school called Utah Connections Academy.
"We didn't realize how distracted Conner was in a traditional school setting until he was out of that setting, and we are really grateful that we have found something that is working for him," Tessie Bailey said. "He has been able to become an active learner, and now has time to be active in rock climbing. As his parents, our goal is to work toward proficiency in school and sports, and moving to online learning has made that possible. It's been great!"
Conner agreed with his mom, saying that he has really loved being able to spend more time at the rock climbing gym, as well as learn new things in an environment that works for him.
"I have been able to keep up on my school work, and I am learning a lot," Conner said. I like being able to go to the gym during the day because I love rock climbing. My favorite parts about climbing are meeting new people and seeing progress in myself."
And as far as progress goes, things are looking up. Conner climbs with the Utah Momentum climbing team and is slated to compete in regionals sometime in the coming months. He says his goal in climbing is to climb a grad V9 on the bouldering scale, as well as a 360 and front flip this year, as the accomplished fourth grader is also on the Solitude Devo Ski Team.