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Our Towns: Bow teen finds calling at Concord's Evolution Rock + Fitness

  • Drew Zabielski, right, and his coach Nadya Vorotnikova, left, joke around before climbing practice at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.  Zabielski, 13, is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire. <br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Drew Zabielski, right, and his coach Nadya Vorotnikova, left, joke around before climbing practice at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Zabielski, 13, is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Drew Zabielski, 13, climbs a wall at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Zabielski is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire. <br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Drew Zabielski, 13, climbs a wall at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Zabielski is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • A route on the bouldering wall named after Drew Zabielski is seen at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Zabielski is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire. <br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    A route on the bouldering wall named after Drew Zabielski is seen at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Zabielski is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Drew Zabielski, left, and Matthew Schwartz, right, look to their coach Nadya Vorotnikova, not pictured, for instructions during climbing practice at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Zabielski is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire. <br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Drew Zabielski, left, and Matthew Schwartz, right, look to their coach Nadya Vorotnikova, not pictured, for instructions during climbing practice at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Zabielski is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Drew Zabielski, right, and his coach Nadya Vorotnikova, left, joke around before climbing practice at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.  Zabielski, 13, is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire. <br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • Drew Zabielski, 13, climbs a wall at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Zabielski is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire. <br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • A route on the bouldering wall named after Drew Zabielski is seen at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Zabielski is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire. <br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • Drew Zabielski, left, and Matthew Schwartz, right, look to their coach Nadya Vorotnikova, not pictured, for instructions during climbing practice at Evolution Rock in Concord on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Zabielski is the number one climber in his age group in New Hampshire. <br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

At any time on a given day, Drew Zabielski can likely be found in one of three places: his home in Bow, a seventh-grade classroom at Bow Memorial School or Evolution Rock + Fitness, a state-of-the-art rock climbing facility in Concord.

He was at Evolution Rock the morning of May 11, when he competed in USA Climbing’s regional competition for youth climbers in eastern New England. And he will be there nearly every day this week as he prepares for this weekend’s divisional competition in Watertown, Mass.

Although the 13-year-old expressed disgust at waking up early on a Saturday to drive to the competition, his father, Darin, said Drew’s reaction when he found out he qualified for divisionals more accurately demonstrated his emotions.

“For the next 20 minutes he jumped around the house,” Darin said. “So I think he’s a little excited.”

Drew’s ascent to the list of the region’s top climbers happened quickly. He began rock climbing in early February after hearing about Evolution Rock from his cousin. Before that, Drew struggled to find a sport he

could participate in and enjoy.

“Since I’m small, people can’t usually check me or else I’ll go flying,” he said. “Like in soccer, if people hit me, I’m like one of those paper airplanes you throw that go six feet in the air. I always got hurt.”

But his small stature was not the only hindrance to Drew’s athletic abilities. In November 2010, Drew was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. After his diagnosis, Darin said the family worked to interest Drew in “life sports,” such as golfing and skiing, as opposed to team sports that focus on youth.

Rock climbing fit in perfectly as an activity that Drew can remain active with for the duration of his lifetime, Darin said.

“For people with diabetes, the worst thing for them is a sedentary lifestyle, and this is anything but,” he said. “If that’s something Drew is able to maintain, it will keep him healthier that much longer.”

When Drew discovered his love for climbing in February, he joined Evolution Rock’s youth team, a group of 10 avid climbers ages 9-19 that practices two to three times per week. He began climbing competitively in the “difficulty climbing” category, which judges climbers based on how high they climb.

After participating in several local competitions, he placed as one of the top seven climbers for the 12- to 13-year-old age bracket at regionals in May, winning him a spot in this weekend’s divisionals. The top six competitors at divisionals, which will include climbers from the northern half of the East Coast, will move on to nationals, which will take place in July.

Nadya Vorotnikova and Sydney McNair, Drew’s co-coaches and athletic trainers, said Drew’s natural aptitude for the sport was apparent when he advanced quickly to climbing courses of higher grades or difficulty levels.

“Most kids have difficulty with the height and techniques, but he seemed to pick up on it quicker,” Vorotnikova said. “He jumped from grade to grade . . . over his first few weeks, which is not very common.”

Darin attributes a part of Drew’s success to the coaches, both of whom are accomplished climbers themselves. Vorotnikova won youth nationals twice and McNair competed in two youth world championships.

“Right here in our own backyard we have two high-quality climbers,” Darin said. “To find that in your backyard in New Hampshire is extremely rare.”

In addition to Drew’s coaches, Darin said he has been impressed by the atmosphere of rock climbing as well.

He recalled a competition where he was cheering for Drew as he scaled the wall and heard another man begin to cheer. Assuming it was the father of one of Drew’s teammates, Darin looked over and saw a parent from an opposing team cheering for his son instead.

“The atmosphere is so wonderful,” Darin said. “You just don’t find that (in other sports). People usually want to tear you down.”

Drew’s newfound climbing skills have brought success in other areas of his life as well. Last quarter he made honor roll at Bow Memorial School for the first time, Darin said.

Drew’s mother, Kate Lanahan, said she has witnessed a huge boost in Drew’s motivation and focus since he joined the sport. Drew concentrates on homework more intensely than before, she said, so he can get to climbing practice more quickly.

But motivation is not the only factor behind Drew’s academic improvement, Darin said.

“Some of it is motivation, but some of it is because these two (Vorotnikova and McNair) are big on responsibility,” he said. “They’re real tough about that with the kids. They tell them they’ve got to step up and take responsibility for themselves.”

Vorotnikova said Drew has had an equal impact on her as the coaches have had on him. She and McNair are trained to help athletes who have diabetes, but Vorotnikova said Drew manages his condition on his own very well. He keeps track of his blood sugar levels himself and carefully watches for signs that his levels are low.

“He’s a total inspiration for us,” Vorotnikova said. “It’s been amazing to watch him progress, and it’s amazing he qualified for divisionals after only climbing for a few months. . . . I’m incredibly proud of how he’s been climbing.”

Although he has high aspirations for his future in rock climbing, Drew has only one goal for this weekend’s divisional competition.

“Have fun,” he said. “That’s what I did for regionals, and I made divisionals, so it worked out well for me. Maybe it’ll happen again.”

(Mel Flanagan can be reached at 369-3321 or mflanagan
@cmonitor.com)

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