Standout Students: Megan Copley

Sleepy Hollow sophomore excels in classroom, ascends new heights outside of it

If one could believe it, Megan Copley was once actually afraid of heights. 

A sophomore at Sleepy Hollow High School, Copley has since evolved into one most highly-acclaimed rock climbers in the Westchester/Hudson Valley region.

Shortly after discovering a sheer passion for rock climbing, Copley's insatiable thirst for adventure fended off her fears. Finding that she needed to simply "avoid looking down" as she ascended the steep climbing walls and mountains, Copley quickly eliminated her fear of heights.

She began climbing and training for indoor wall challenges on a workaday basis.

It made sense.

Copley has the right bloodline for the outdoor sport that sorely lacks the recognition that's awarded to most team-oriented, scholastic sports.  Copley's father, David Copley, was an avid rock climber during his early 20s. His adventures as a Missionary brought him to scenic, cloud-clashing venues such as the French and Swiss Alps.  

One day, David Copley discussed the prospect of Megan (who was 13 at the time) learning the technique of intense rock climbing. He wanted his daughter to share the thrill of climbing and cherish the experience of climbing some of the world's immense mountains.

Suffice to say, Megan jumped at the opportunity.

The Tarrytown native- – both figuratively and literally – has not come down from up top since. Climbing the rocks at The Cliffs Indoor Climbing And Fitness in Valhalla, Megan Copley caught lightning in a bottle. 

"It just really took off," said Susan Copley, Megan's mother and Rector at Christ Church in Tarrytown. Susan Copley previously worked as a nurse, helping children who are dealing with cancer. She has been a fixture in religious retreats, missions, and treks and was happy to see her daughter take after her husband.

 "It's been about three years, really. She was not taken to it when she was younger. Then one day she just decided, 'let's go try it, Dad.' It's been fun to watch her grow into it. She's very strong, she's very dedicated."

Copley gave up swimming to spend a significant chunk of her time at The Cliffs, where she first received a crash-course in the art of rock climbing. She's been a mainstay there ever since.

 "I fell in love with the gym, the cliff is kind of like my home there," explained Copley. "I work there, I climb there all the time, it's almost like I'm sponsored there. It's a lifestyle for me. The rock climbers kind of have their own style. Rock climbing is a way of life." 

One major misconception about rock climbing is how a competition is won.  Rock climbers are not racing to get to the top. They are instead evaluated on how efficient they complete the course. A climber's form, the body control they display, the way in which they adjust to changes on the climbing course, and their overall poise are essential areas that they are rated on.

Copley subscribes to a rigorous workout regimen featuring push-ups, pull-ups, up-hill running, and fingertip strengthening.

While she used to run long distance to train, Copley now does a considerable portion of her endurance workouts on a specialized elliptical machine. On a regular day, Copley will hit about five miles with the machine on full elevation and full resistance.

When she first started climbing, Copley remembers her fingers being littered with blisters. Through time and constant climbing, Copley says, she was able to strengthen her fingertips and widen her grip. Considering all the rock climbing she does, coupled with the fact that she's worked weekends at The Cliffs since turning 16 back in Decemeber, the chiseled Copley could likely give you a bone-crushing hand shake.

The daughter of two devout Christians, Copley placed sixth overall in the USA Rock Climbing Original Championships. She ultimately finished just one spot short of qualifying for national championships.

 The faith-first Copley is blessed with a monster work ethic. She's been bent on garnering her first-ever berth in the national championship next year. The New York region happens to be loaded with talent. This season alone, there were 3-4 climbers who qualified for the national championships.

 "Climbing, nobody really thinks of it as a sport," said Copley. "I think once it gets out there people will learn about it and there will eventually be some buzz surrounding it." 

While Copley enjoys the indoor climbing schedule that consumes her, academics are first and foremost on her agenda. The sophomore maintains an A average and is taking a challenging course load including the likes of AP European History and Chemistry Honors.  

While a trip to national championships may be the primary challenge cooking on her front burner, she's looking beyond that. She wants to be able climb some of the nation's immense mountains. She wants to take after her father and climb both the French and Swiss Alps.

"Hopefully, climbing indoors will help me develop my technique in outdoors. I'd rather do bigger, better things like climbing national mountains. When you're rock climbing indoors, it seems like you've finished a problem you've been working on before... I've heard just a lot of (mountain) climbers say climbing mountains and getting that thrill you've been seeking, those kind of things just change your life. I feel mountain climbing will have more of an impact on my life. Hopefully, climbing indoors will help me excel my rock climbing and get better."

Copley has also taken up bouldering, which is a form of mountain climbing predicated on power, strength, and technique. It is a solo form of climbing with a crash pad (also termed a bouldering mat) installed in the ground to break one's fall.

 Bouldering differs from traditional rock climbing due to the difficulty the course presents. Bouldering presents problems and routes. The climber does not use a rope and is forced to use the mind more than the body to work their way up these problematic, 20-foot walls.

 Copley sees rock climbing as an extreme, high-intensity sport though there is less mano-e-mano competition.

 In her eyes, it is more of person vs. obstacle, great outdoors sport. Copley feels that there is an enjoyable sense of team cohesion, with each person pushing the other person's development as a climber.

 "It's not just a sport it is a fun activity," said Copley.  "Everyone is really looking to help everyone else succeed. There's always a new competition, too. The handholds change, every hole can change and you can do different moves. You're always learning from every different move, there's always a new challenge, you never get bored or tired of it."


Does your student standout in academics, volunteering or extra-ciricular activities? Tell us! We're always looking to feature locals who excel at what they do best. Email nominees to sean@patch.com

Bruce Buckley April 18, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Wow! How unkind! I for one liked Mr. Smart's report a lot. It told me things I didn't know about a difficult sport. And Patch needs no defense. It provides a valuable daily report on Village happenings that's available nowhere else. Keep it up, Sean!
ASleepyBoy April 18, 2011 at 04:03 PM
While I agree that proofreading may occasionally be necessary, I do not feel that your comment was warranted...
Zach Smart April 19, 2011 at 12:51 AM
thanks for the feedback, Mr. Caldwell. Unfortunately, I cannot please everybody and I do appreciate your interest in the story and this hard-working individual. Is this the real Tommy Caldwell or a fan?
joy April 19, 2011 at 12:59 PM
Sounds like a fun sport.
Lisa D'Abre May 17, 2011 at 01:46 PM
It would be pleasing if Caldwell applied the same rigorous standards to his own narratives. Having now caught up with several of Mr. Smart's articles, each written with a unique personality evident within the fabric of fact and description, I have a new reason to log into the Patch every day. Added bonus: He's funny.


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