All this week, check back for our series of profiles on local athletes competing at the Go Pro Mountain Games this weekend.
If you go
What: Go Pro Mountain Games
When: June 6-9
More info: http://mountaingames.com/summer
Walking into CATS gym in Boulder brings back thousands of memories for Boulder climber Angie Payne.
When she was still living outside Cincinnati growing up, she traveled to Boulder for training camps at CATS. In Boulder, she saw someone smoking weed for the first time outside the Boulder International Hostel, where her group of kid climbers stayed. At the same training camp, she convinced her mom that an Eminem CD was a good idea and watched "American Pie" for the first time.
Another memory: The CATS bouldering walls still bear 10 or so holds from the climbing wall that her dad helped build in her childhood garage.
"I still climb on them," Payne said, standing to point out each hold. "I know which ones they are. This green one -- that's one of them. This huge one here. I recognize them when I climb on them. I can't find them all when I just sit here. They're scattered about."
Payne, 28, moved to Boulder as a fresh-faced, 19-year-old gym rat who hadn't though much about climbing outdoors before she got here and saw the Flatirons. Now, she's older, wiser and starting to feel seasoned as she watches 15-year-olds like Megan Mascarenas compete in adult bouldering nationals finals.
This week Payne heads to the Go Pro Mountain Games in Vail for the only bouldering world cup event in the U.S. It's a competition she's been attending since 2006.
She's coming to terms with getting older by putting more balance back into her life. Payne, who graduated from the University of Colorado in 2010, started working at a Longmont doctor's office this winter, which is part of her larger plan to become a physician's assistant.
"I'm not delusional," she said. "I'm not trying to be negative, I think I still have many years of being strong, but when I'm 45, I'm not going to be climbing at this level. I don't expect to be."
Working full-time gives Payne something to think about other than climbing when she's not training. She tried the whole full-time-professional-climber-thing a few years ago, and realized that she put too much pressure on herself because all she did was climb or think about climbing.
Payne started her climbing career as a sport climber in a Cincinnati gym after playing tackle football in 2nd and 3rd grade. She was the only girl on the team. Her foray into football was a hint at Payne's streak of doing not-so-mainstream things later in life.
She sang in her school's chorus and climbed on ropes for five years before making the switch to bouldering at age 16. Payne says she's a better boulderer because of her sport climbing days, which taught her technique before she gained power.
Before her first climbing competition at Miami University of Ohio, her dad promised to build her a climbing wall if she won. So Payne won, and then spent the rest of her childhood doing laps across the wall in their suburban garage.
Not many people left Ohio from her graduating class, but Payne wanted to go to school where she could climb, too. Boulder seemed like a natural fit.
"If you saw anybody in Ohio with a climbing sticker on their car, you either wanted to stop and ask them who they were, or you knew who they were," Payne said. "It was a really small community, so coming here was really different in that way. For the first couple of weeks I was like 'Oh my gosh, climbing sticker! Oh yeah, we're in Colorado now. So pretty much everybody climbs.'"
She spent most Friday nights in college at the gym rather than partying -- something she regrets a little bit in hindsight. She was homesick, and climbing more seemed like a good coping mechanism, though eventually it took its toll on her, mentally and physically. That was the beginning of Payne's quest for climbing-work-life stability.
At this year's bouldering nationals, Payne finished 5th, one place behind 15-year-old phenom Megan Mascarenas. Payne's won three national titles and has racked up countless accolades, but seeing just how good Mascarenas and other young climbers are got Payne thinking about her age.
"I've noticed it over the past few years, but this was the first time when a person in finals competing with me was not born when I did my first competition," she said. "That hit home to me. I was psyched that I'm still keeping up, but yeah, it just made me feel like I've been doing this for a long time."
Her friend and fellow Boulder climber Alex Johnson, 23, said as a girl, she looked up to Payne. Now they're close friends, even though their climbing styles are "completely opposite," Johnson said.
Payne is very slow, controlled and strong, Johnson said, while her own style is dynamic and flowy.
"She was actually one of my first climbing heroes," Johnson said. "I was like 11, I think, and she was 16, 17 maybe. So there was that age gap where I was like 'Woah Angie Payne.' Now I consider her one of my best friends."
Climbing coach Kris Peters said Payne is still a role model for the kids he coaches. Because she's been on the scene for a while, people know her and recognize her climbing style, Peters said, and that's a good thing.
"I'll have athletes say, 'I want to be as strong as Angie,'" Peters said. "As you get older your body doesn't respond as well as when you're 15 or 17. She really takes good care of her body. I think she's a great example for the sport."
She works hard, but also tries to keep the balance by not being too tough on herself when she's disappointed with results.
After her 5th place finish at national this year, Payne dug in on some Ben & Jerry's ice cream for breakfast the next day. Her preference? Cherry Garcia and Cookie Dough.
"Sometimes you just have to eat two pints of Ben & Jerry's," she said, laughing. "I usually let myself go a little bit after a competition. I always celebrate, even if it's a poor performance."
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.