S14_POV_RockClimberIn the fast-growing sport of rock climbing, Josh Levin, E’17, has won 18 national and international championships, even though he is only 20 years old.
In Thailand two summers ago, he scrambled 50 feet up a vertical rock face without any equipment, dangling high above the ocean in a climb he says was “really fun—and really terrifying.” Last year, in Boston’s Dark Horse “bouldering” competition—which required mounting a 15-foot artificial wall without equipment—he dazzled a cheering audience by suddenly flipping 180 degrees to face outward, supporting his entire body with just two fingers.    

“In rock climbing, you need a balance of strength, technique, endurance, core, and the mental capacity to hold it together on a very tough climb,” he says.

Born to Climb

Levin, who recently founded a rock-climbing team at Northeastern, started early. As a toddler in Sunnyvale, Calif., he shimmied up a light pole in his neighborhood; at age 4, he tried his first rock wall and reached the top in seconds. A few years later, he caught the eye of a coach at a rock-climbing gym, and started competing by age 7.

Last fall, he completed one of the toughest climbs in America. Livin’ Astro, at the edge of the White Mountains in Rumney, N.H., is a wildly intimidating rock face that overhangs at a 45-degree angle and provides the climber with precious few handholds. It requires several expert moves, such as pushing off from a one-fingered hold to leap to another part of the rock. Fewer than a dozen climbers have mastered it.

One of the things Levin loves most about rock climbing is the democratic nature of his sport.

“Climbing is completely blind to age, race, gender, height—pretty much everything,” he says. “Whether you’re very short or very tall, male or female, as long as you have the physical ability and are willing to try hard, that’s all that matters.”

At age 9, Levin won his first Youth National Championship and for 10 consecutive years, he captured the Youth National Speed Championship, a kind of mad dash up a formidable rock face. He holds the current U.S. Speed Record in the male junior category.

Building a Reputation

In 2012, Levin traveled to Chile and won the Youth Pan American Overall Championship. In his career, he has represented the U.S. at five World Cups and seven World Championships.

But that’s not all. His versatility is a big part of his formidable reputation. Levin has won awards in each of the three core competition types: bouldering (no equipment), sport climbing (with ropes and equipment, but at greater heights), and speed climbing. After graduation, he plans to join the professional circuit.

“It’s not something you’re going to retire on, but it’s definitely what I want to do, and it’ll be a good experience,” says the mechanical engineering major. “And my engineering degree will allow me to have multiple options in case I get injured climbing.”