This story is part of our series, Generation 5.16: 10 Young Crushers That Could Take Rock Climbing to the Next Level. It was originally published in the December/January 2018 issue of our print edition.
Drew Ruana reached new heights in 2017: The 18-year-old hit 5’7”—up from 5’0” at the start of high school. He also nabbed a first-place win at the USA Climbing Sport and Speed Youth National Championships.
Ruana first climbed at age three. His father, Rudy, took him to Smith Rock when he was a baby. Climbing clicked: He tried soccer but didn’t like it.
“Soccer’s based on a group effort, whereas climbing is up to you—it’s 100 percent in your control,” he says. “I like that because it’s easy to see improvements and measure success.”
Drew started leading 5.12s at Smith at age seven. “He’s an absolutely beautiful, graceful climber,” says Rudy, adding, “That kid can run it out like nobody’s business.” Around age 11, Drew sent Rude Boys (5.13c) in fewer tries than Rudy. In 2014, he started working a link-up in Smith’s Aggro Gully of Repeat Offender (5.14b), Villain (5.14a), and White Wedding (5.14a).
On February 13, 2016, at age 16 and on his fiftieth to sixtieth try, Assassin (5.14d) went down—becoming Smith’s hardest. He came down in disbelief: “I felt like there was no way that could’ve been real, because I’d just been falling for so long.”
Although Ruana has been a top youth competitor for years, he still has his ups and downs. At the July 2016 USA Climbing Sport and Speed Youth National Championships in Kennesaw, Georgia, his foot slipped on the finals route. Drew waved at the audience and calmly walked outside. “I still have parents come up and say, ‘I will never forget that moment,’” says his mother, Christine.
Ruana soon upped his training, putting in up to 24 hours a week on plastic and lifting weights. Says Ruana, “By constantly analyzing my situation, I can target my strengths and weaknesses.” In July 2017, he took first in the Junior Male category at USA Climbing Sport and Speed Youth Nationals.
Now in his senior year in high school, he’s applying to the Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and UCLA. He’ll likely study engineering. Before he goes to college, though, he wants to take a year off to travel. “I want to be known as a true all-around climber,” he adds. “To be proficient in all areas of climbing.”
- Assassin (5.14d FA), Smith Rock
- Brave New World (5.14d FA), Little Si
- Just Do It (5.14c), Smith Rock
- Direct North (V14), Bishop
- First place, 2017 USA Youth Sport National Championships
- Third place, 2016 USA Youth Speed Nationals
- Third place, 2017 US Sport Climbing Nationals, Denver (earned a spot on the 2017 US Men’s National Climbing Team)
V15 and 5.15; engineering or other STEM degree.