Interview: Alex Puccio, Momentum Climbing’s Ballerina On Boulders
Pro climber Alex Puccio is balletic on rock. She has won 13 World Cup medals in her sport since 2009. As such, Momentum Indoor Climbing in Salt Lake City, UT, has just named her assistant coach for youth and adult programs.
A native of McKinney, TX, Puccio launched her competitive climbing career at age 16. A decade later, the 26-year-old has completed some of the most difficult boulder problems in the world; on many, she has made the first female ascent.
“Alex is an industry leader,” said Jeff Pedersen, Momentum [www.momentumclimbing.com] co-founder and CEO. “We are committed to delivering meaningful indoor climbing experiences. That means enlisting the most talented people who share in our vision as we evolve the sport.”
We asked Puccio a few questions about her new job, and about her fast-growing sport.
Jim Clash: What does the position with Momentum mean to you?
Alex Puccio: Momentum’s founder, Jeff Pedersen, has played a huge role in the development of modern sport and indoor climbing. The leadership team here is made up of pioneers like Noah Bigwood, Steven Jeffery and Nancy Feagin. So there is an emphasis on how each person can contribute to the evolution of climbing through his, or her, own accomplishments. Momentum has created an amazing opportunity where I can train at a world-class facility and share my passion with the next generation. The kids I coach on the team are so psyched and motivated — they inspire me.
JC: What appeals to you about bouldering versus, say roped pitches or high-altitude mountaineering?
AP: I’ve always loved the pure power of bouldering. I feel completely fulfilled when I know I’ve worked as hard as I can and given it my absolute best in a short amount of time. Bouldering is also generally more gymnastic, while sport climbing is more about endurance. While I enjoy both, I’m definitely more at home as a power climber.
JC: Biggest thrill to date on a boulder?
AP: My first V14 “Jade” in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO. Accomplishing that was definitely one of the best moments in my climbing career. Before I made that ascent, I had a mental block and it was the test piece that erased that block.
JC: Your impression of the great climber Lynn Hill?
AP: I really admire Lynn. She is definitely a role model for me, and for many female and male climbers. She not only pushed her own boundaries, but the limits of climbing. She did that by ignoring what others thought was possible, and staying focused on her goals. Her ascent of [El Cap’s] The Nose and being the first woman to climb 5.14 are just a few accomplishments that paved the way for generations to come.
JC: What up-and-coming women in your sport are real deals and why?
AP: Almost daily you hear of another youth female competitor hitting a milestone or breaking a record. There is, however, a delicate balance between starting at a very young age and avoiding burnout as an adult. For me, the “real deal” is a prodigy whose accomplishments and enthusiasm for climbing continue into adulthood. A good example is Emily Harrington, whose career evolved from youth competitor to sport to alpine ascents. Ashima Shiraishi is certainly poised to follow that path, as is Brooke Raboutou.
JC: Is your significant other supportive of what you do?
AP: My boyfriend, Joel Zerr, is also a climber, so he has a great sense of appreciation for my accomplishments. In fact, he recently started working at Momentum as head route-setter at the Millcreek gym, where I train and coach youth and adults, so we’re a team!
JC: Advice for climbers seeking sponsorship?
AP: Sponsorship in any sport isn’t easy. Climbing is growing, but it’s still relatively small compared to other sports. You have to be a good match for a brand, not just a good athlete, because you’re building a relationship. The key is to find brands aligned with your values, where you share the same vision. That’s very much the case with Momentum. I encourage others who want to turn pro or develop sponsorship to be patient and not get discouraged. Don’t give up on your dreams, especially when it seems tough.
JC: Prefer climbing indoors or outdoors?
AP: In our sport, there are professional indoor climbers and outdoor climbers. I would say I’m a crossover. I have an equal passion for both! But being outside helps me because it’s a way to release stress from competition.
JC: What do you do for fun?
AP: Hang out with friends and relax. I’m pretty girly, so I do things like get manicures or pedicures and shop. I also enjoy massages and having my hair done.
JC: Your bucket list?
AP: A climb I still want to conquer: Boulder V15. I also want to climb in South Africa and Japan.
JC: Anything you’d like to mention we didn’t ask?
AP: Something of worth never comes easy. When things just fall into place, the reward is not as satisfying. When the battle is tough and you finally reach your goal, you appreciate it much more.