PEPPERELL -- As an eight-year-old at her older sister's birthday party, Chloe LaBerge of Pepperell, first discovered her love of rock climbing.
Last weekend, Chloe placed second at the national climbing competition in Atlanta, Ga.
"This is her best finish," said Beth LaBerge on her daughter's silver medal finish. "It used to be three, but now it is four days of competition. She has made it to the finals in six of her nine trips to nationals. She has always been a really strong climber."
Climbing is similar to track, where there are multiple events in which athletes can participate.
Chloe competes in all of the events including difficulty, where climbers set roots in the wall on their way to the top. As the climber scales the wall, the holds get tougher. Athletes that compete in the difficulty event have to possess a lot of endurance to support themselves on very small pieces of stone on rocks that are often over 50 feet in height.
"It is sort of like solving a puzzle where there might be various rocks, but you have to choose which ones you can climb," said Beth. "There are balance problems, there's roots where they climb upside-down through the ceilings, so they have to be able to hang on by their feet and not just their hands."
Chloe's mother recalls how her daughter first got her start in the sport of climbing.
"She has an older sister, who is also a very strong athlete," Beth said.
Beth succumbed to her daughter's wishes and signed her up for a couple of additional lessons. That is when the coach discovered her talent.
In the fall, Chloe's parents put her on a competitive climbing team, but she was very young.
At only eight-years-old, Chloe was the youngest member of her U11 climbing team. Chloe showed her parents that she was driven to be successful in the sport by sacrificing something most kids would not think to do.
"We put her on the team that fall and the coaches were like, well, she is really young," said Beth.
"They were like 'I don't know if she is going to like the team.' She skipped trick-or-treating her first Halloween because she wanted to be on the team so bad, which is a lot for an eight-year-old to give up -- her favorite holiday."
It is a good thing that Chloe chose not to parade around in her Halloween costume collecting candy from the neighbors. She qualified for nationals in her first year of competitive climbing, and she has not looked back.
Chloe has been named to the USA Women's Climbing team four times, three of which she accepted. In those three tours with the USA national team, Chloe traveled to Canada, Chile and Ecuador to compete in the PanAmerican Games, which occur every other year.
She was a silver medalist at the 2011 PanAmerican Games in Ecuador, and in 2012 she placed fourth. Chloe trains for three to four hours, five days a week, with her coach, Aleksey Shuruyev, at her home gym, the Boston Rock Gym in Woburn.
Chloe is not afraid to lift in the "cage" at North Middlesex Regional High School, where she currently holds the school record for wide-grip pull-ups."They kind of put up with her in there," joked Beth about her daughter lifting with the baseball and football team. "Nobody takes her seriously. Most of the kids don't know she is an athlete."
Chloe has been working in rock climbing gyms since she was nine-years-old, and Beth remembers a funny incident that happened to her daughter while working as a belayer --The belayer is the person who feeds the rope to the climber.
"She was working on April Fools Day and three big guys came in," said Beth, "an uncle and two nephews. She was the only one in the gym with her manager. They were like 'April Fools, she is our belayer, no way.' The manager was like: 'She is one of the best climbers in the country; she will teach you what you need to do.' Sure enough, three hours later, they gave her a $50 tip."
Chloe is currently working as a camp counselor in Rumney, N.H., where she is also training for her trip to the world championships next month in Vancouver.