Chemistry student reaches for international rock climbing gold

University of Central Florida chemistry student Ashley Norton will represent the United States later this month at the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s World Youth Championships in Singapore.

This is the first time a UCF student has represented the nation at the competition being held in Singapore this year from Aug. 29-Sept. 1. She’ll be testing her skills against the best in the world in her favorite sport: rock climbing. It’s a sport that has gained such popularity worldwide that the Olympic committee is considering it for the 2020 games. 

“I think Ashley and other climbers like her are the future of competitive collegiate climbing,” said Michael Roller, the UCF Climbing Club coach until June when he left to take a job in Chicago. “When the collegiate climbing series began four years ago, most of the climbers were relatively new to the sport, having only climbed for a few years.  But in the past couple years we have seen an influx of young climbers who have been climbing for a good portion of their lives, and Ashley falls into this new category.”

Norton, 19, can tell you precisely when she fell in love with climbing. She was at a friend’s house in Westland, Mich., when she decided to climb a tree. When her father came out to look for the 4-year-old, the other kids pointed up – some 50 feet. She had scrambled up a pine tree and she didn’t need any rescuing. She came down by herself.

“I think I gave my dad a mini-heart attack that day,” Norton said laughing. “But that was the start. Ever since I can remember, I just love to climb.”

That passion has led her to train and practice for years. She’s has competed at a local, regional and national level for the past 10 years. This year, Norton placed third nationally in speed climbing and 11th in overall sport. She’ll be competing in Singapore in speed climbing. The contest there is considered the top level of competition for young people up to age 19, so it’s also her last shot at this level.

She’s a little nervous, she admits, but said her team and her family are behind her.

“My team, they are great group of people,” she said. “They are so supportive and our coach was great. And my entire family . . . my dad, I just can’t say enough about them.”

Norton has been busy since she found out she qualified in late July for the competition, and has been using social media to raise money to pay for airfare and expenses. She spent two weeks training with fellow members of the U.S. Team in Atlanta and returned to Orlando just in time for the start of the semester at UCF.  She plans to speak to her professors before she leaves for Singapore to explain her absence just a little more than a week after classes begin.

The time to train is short, but she’s determined.

“I think one of Ashley’s greatest strengths going into the speed-climbing competition is her ability to train,” Roller said. “Ashley is very self-motivated. When she has a goal, I don’t think anyone pushes her harder than she pushes herself.”

Norton, who plans on becoming a pharmacist, says she still hasn’t quite wrapped her mind around the idea of representing her country.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “This is the top. This is what everyone strives for. I can’t wait. It’s such a thrill to be able to go and represent the United States. I’m so honored.”


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