Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Santa Cruz native heads to the Olympics

Natalia Grossman grew up in Santa Cruz near the local climbing gym, Pacific Edge.
Jess Glassberg
Natalia Grossman grew up in Santa Cruz near the local climbing gym, Pacific Edge.

As people in Santa Cruz tune in to the Olympics later this summer, they can cheer on a local.

Santa Cruz isn’t a world-class rock climbing destination, but Natalia Grossman still managed to become one of the best climbers in the world.

Later this summer, the 23-year-old Santa Cruz native will climb in Paris at the 2024 Olympic Games. She grew up near the boardwalk. a couple of blocks from the local climbing gym.

“I stumbled upon the climbing gym when I was four years old just walking around the neighborhood with my parents,” she said.

The gym had an age restriction, but her parents said if she still remembered it two years later at six years old, she could go back and start climbing there.

“Of course I remembered it,” she said. “I went back and started doing it, loving it right away. It kind of just progressed from there.”

She climbed at the local gym Pacific Edge from the age of six until she moved to Colorado at fourteen.

“So for most of my youth and the whole start of my climbing career, even though it didn't feel like a career back then,” Grossman said with a laugh.

She started training in Berkeley with a team called Zero Gravity when she was about ten years old.

She still climbed in Santa Cruz a few times a week. But despite all the time she put into it, Grossman says she never pictured a career as a professional climber until two or three years ago.

“2021 was my first year doing the whole international World Cup circuit. I went to four World Cups that year and ended up on the podium of all of them and winning my first World Cup,” she said. “And then later on, winning the World Championships later that year… didn't even see it coming, like, at all. It kind of all happened so fast.”

Natalia Grossman started climbing when she was six years old in Santa Cruz.
Pho Metheus
Natalia Grossman started climbing when she was six years old in Santa Cruz.

Grossman graduated from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 2022 and eventually wants to become a therapist. But for now, she’s fully focused on climbing. She feels lucky to be able to call it her job.

“I think what draws me is that every time I go climbing, I can do something new and different,” said Grossman.”It's so hard for climbers in the US and just climbers in general. It's a fairly new sport and there's not a ton of money in the sport. So I'd say there are very few of us who can make a living off of it. And I'm really grateful that I'm able to do so.”

Grossman qualified for the US Olympic team by winning gold at the Pan American Games in Santiago last October. The moment she found out, she felt shock.

“I don't even remember it. I feel like I kind of, like, blacked out for a second,” she said with a laugh. “But then I remember after, going to hug my mom, going to hug my physio and my coach and my friends and family.”

Climbing was introduced to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. Climbers compete in a combined discipline. They climb shorter routes above padding, which is called bouldering, and longer routes, where they’re harnessed in and clipping a rope to the wall as they go, which is called sport climbing. This year, speed climbing—where climbers race each other up a standard route—is a separate discipline.

The Olympics are a bit different than other climbing competitions. The scoring is unique, climbers can’t just focus on one discipline, and it’s a huge world stage. But Grossman is treating it like any other big competition. Her physical and mental training hasn’t really changed.

“It's still climbing. I'm still trying to become the best climber I can be, and that's always been my goal,” Grossman said. “Maybe focusing a bit more on, like, dynamic style, coordination moves, which we've seen a lot in the past year. And mentally, just continuing to work with my sport psych, continuing to journal, having strong relationships with my coaches, with my parents, close friends, just people who I can talk to and help me mentally,” she adds.

Grossman is currently recovering from an LCL sprain that she got at the World Cup a few weeks ago, but she’s feeling optimistic about Paris and the rest of the season.

“I've watched the Olympics my whole life,” she said. “I’m really excited to just see what it's about in person.”

Erin joined KAZU as a digital journalist and photographer in 2023.