At only 16 years old, Drew Ruana has a resume that’s comparable to some of the world’s strongest climbers. His commitment to climbing, training, and his future is something we can all learn from. Drew has also been on fire recently—sending his first V13 and his first V14 in the same day.
Read on to hear about what he attributes his success to, his love for climbing, and his big dreams for the future. We couldn’t be more honored to share his story with you in this week’s Climber Spotlight:
How did you get into climbing? Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.
I’ve been climbing for quite a while now. I guess I started around 3 years old, but I didn’t seriously start climbing/competing until I was around 9. When I was very young, my dad constantly brought me on weekend trips to Smith Rock, and he would bring me to the gym when he climbed with his buddies. Although I wasn’t super into it at the time, it exposed me to indoor/outdoor climbing and sparked a lifelong passion for it.
Has it been hard for you to balance school, a social life, and your love of rock climbing?
Progressively, it’s been getting harder and harder to balance climbing, a social life, and my school studies. I first noticed the shift last year, during my freshman year of high school. I’ve had to start doing more schoolwork to maintain straight A’s … there was a greater workload than what I was used to. So I wind up doing homework and studying on the car ride to practice to stay caught up, which is important because I want to go to a great university like Stanford.
Most of my social life involves my climbing friends, so at least those two overlap a bit. It’s definitely possible to balance all three, but it’s hard. Next year will be even harder as school gets more challenging …
You recently took a trip to Bishop where you crushed all of the classics and also sent your first V13 and your first V14 in the same day! Did you do something different before or during that trip that you attribute to your success? What do you think caused you to feel so strong?
Thanks! I think there were two things that helped me send my proj’s down at Bishop last Christmas break:
- One was that my training program was ‘amped up.’ Big shout out to my coaches Tyson Schoene, Alex Fritz, Matt Denton, and Meg Coyne; I think they all prepared me perfectly for my trip.
- The second was that my body is finally growing. Even though I’m 16, I just now reached 5’6″ and am starting to build muscle mass. I probably grew at least 4 inches taller since my last trip down there the year prior.
These factors combined made a perfect combo down in Bishop where I was tall enough, strong enough, and trained enough. Without any of those it probably wouldn’t have been as productive as it turned out to be.
In the past you’ve mostly focused on sport climbing and competition climbing—what made you want to take a trip to Bishop and go bouldering? Do you have a favorite kind of climbing?
I’ve mainly focused on sport climbing, primarily because it was the only choice of outdoor climbing I was offered. My parents vastly prefer rope climbing to bouldering, so we would always go to local sport climbing areas, and maybe once every 5-6 weeks we would take a family trip to Smith Rock.
I’ve been wanting to be more involved in outdoor bouldering for a long time, but when you are at the mercy of others’ transportation, your options are somewhat limited. The trip to Bishop to climb with my friends has been a Christmas present from my mom for the past couple of years now. I would say that I like all aspects of climbing equally, but I don’t have enough experience with all of them to decide which one I like best.
If you woke up tomorrow and suddenly could not climb, what would you do? Do you have any other hobbies/passions that feed you in the same way that climbing does?
Ooh, that’s a tough one. I don’t know what I would do if I suddenly could not climb. I’m so used to waking up, going to school, coming home, and then going to practice. I think if I couldn’t climb, I would put more energy into academics, find another sport, or do more community service.
Tell us about one of your proudest moments in your climbing career.
I think one of my proudest moments was when I clipped the chains of Just Do It (5.14c/8c+) at Smith Rock. It was by far my hardest route, and when I first tried it, I thought it was way above my limit.
The day before I sent, I spent a long time hangdogging and falling on the crux moves, and generally just getting super frustrated. The next day was my fourth day on; my skin was thrashed, my body was sore, I was pretty tired from doing the uphill hike over the backside. When I started the climb, it was freezing and the wind was so strong that the quickdraws were horizontal to the wall in some spots.
Somehow, I climbed perfectly through all the cruxes and didn’t lose composure, which has been and is still a large problem in my climbing. Clipping the chains and finishing the route when I didn’t think I would be able to for a long time was pretty amazing.
Watch Drew achieve the youngest ascent of the mega classic, Just Do It:
Tell us about a not-so-proud moment in your climbing career.
One of the things I’ve always struggled with is masking my emotions when I felt like I didn’t perform to the best of my abilities. When I was younger, I would get really upset about how I did in either competition or outdoor climbs. I would often have to remove myself from the situation and get re-composed.
I was always told that it was fine to feel the way I did, but I couldn’t show it in public. Now that I’m older, it’s easier for me to handle the disappointments gracefully. I can totally sympathize with all the kids who have ever felt like I did.
Related: Redefining Success in Rock Climbing
What is the best climbing-related advice you’ve ever received?
Definitely the best climbing-related advice I’ve received is from my coach, Tyson Schoene. It’s so simple, yet so complex.
Trust the training.
It applies every time I have a good climb, or a bad comp performance … pretty much anytime I step on and off the wall. To me it means a lot because it backs me up. When you trust your training, you acknowledge all the work you put in. Even if it isn’t showing, it’s still there. All the preparation hasn’t disappeared because of one route that you didn’t feel strong on.
Don’t stress about feeling down on one week, just because you felt super strong a month before and you aren’t climbing the same now as you feel you should. The training is all there; it just needs to be the right moment to show.
If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner climber, what would it be?
Act like a beginner! If you have no experience at all, or are just trying to learn, a lot of people have really good suggestions and advice about everything from training to diet to specific beta. Don’t be stubborn; they’re just trying to help.
Turning down advice can severely compromise growth as a climber. If you have a beginner mindset, you can absorb a ton of advice that will help you get better.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I just want to emphasize the importance of climbing in the world. Through competitions and popular outdoor climbing areas, I’ve had the chance to meet so many amazing people, experience new cultures, and partake in experiences that far outweigh anything else I’d do in my hometown.
Climbing bonds people and sets impressions. I have awesome friends from around the world that I never would’ve met without climbing. Get out there and climb some rocks!
We send a huge thank you to Drew for taking the time to share his story! We’re stoked to continue to watch you blossom and wish you the best of luck in all of your climbing and academic endeavors!