Once Joe Rymsza climbs out of bed, he often likes to climb the walls. Actually, just one wall — a custom-built climbing wall in the basement of his home in Northern Virginia.
“It’s become a good way of training and getting your mind in a certain place,” he says. That’s important in the high-energy, high-tech world where Rymsza circulates as president and CEO of Reston-based Vettro Inc. The company, which has offices around North America and in Great Britain, specializes in customized, mobile software applications for devices such as BlackBerries used by on-the-go executives.
Rymsza’s climbing wall — 15 feet wide and 10 feet high with 45- to 50-degree overhangs — answers an important question for an executive who flies thousands of miles a year and wants to make the most of his time. “It was one of my ideas to deal with [the question of] how do you stay in shape to be able to get out on the rocks on a limited basis?” he says.
Rymsza has been rock climbing throughout the country. He plans to visit Mount Rainier and the Grand Tetons later this year. But climbing is only one of his outdoor passions, which include kayaking, hiking, running, mountain biking and fishing. They provide an outlet for him, his wife, Lisa, and their two children at his Great Falls area home.
“It’s a suburban and an urban environment, but you can go a mile and a half on your bikes and you’re really in a different world,” says Rymsza, 40. The Potomac River, the rocks and the network of trails feed his need for big spaces, long workouts and being in touch with nature.
A veteran of the New York and Chicago marathons as well as mountain bike endurance races, Rymsza preaches the benefits of outdoor recreation to others in his business circles. “For me, as with many people, it’s a way to get a release from the day-to-day activities in the office and to think about things in a different way,” he says.
Active outdoor recreation — biking, hiking, camping and other activities — contributes about $730 billion annually to the national economy, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. That figure does not include more than $30 billion spent on boats and other big-ticket items. Sales of outdoor gear and money spent on trips total about $289 billion.
In the eight-state South Atlantic region that includes Virginia and Washington, D.C., the total economic impact is $67.6 million (no figure for Virginia alone was available).
About 5.2 million Americans older than 6 participated in bouldering or climbing in indoor gyms in 2006, according to the association. Traditional outdoor climbing, including mountaineering and ice climbing, drew about 1.9 million participants. (Bouldering is a subset of climbing involving short, quick climbs up boulders instead of high, steep rock faces. Ice climbing involves climbing the ice faces of mountains and glaciers.)
Indoor climbing is enjoying growth, according to USA Climbing, the governing body for competitive sport and speed climbing and bouldering events. Membership has grown steadily during the past five years, and participation in sanctioned events has risen from 21,000 people in the 2002-03 season to about 47,000 in 2005-06. More than three-quarters of USA Climbing members are 21 or younger.
Places to climb
From Belle Isle to Wintergreen, from Great Falls to Mountain Lake, Virginia abounds in outdoor climbing opportunities. And just across the line in West
Virginia, Seneca Rocks, about 70 miles northwest of Harrisonburg, beckons as a climbing mecca.
Indoor climbing gyms in Virginia include:
• Peak Experiences in Midlothian, (804) 897-6800, http://www.peakexperiences.com.
• Sport Rock Climbing Centers in Alexandria, (703) 212-7625, and Sterling, (571) 434-7625, http://www.sportrock.com.
• Lifetime Fitness Climbing Wall in Centreville, (703) 266-6200, http://www.lifetimefitness.com.
• Rocky Top REC in Charlottesville, (434) 984-1626, http://www.rockytoprec.com.
• Virginia Beach Rock Gym in Virginia Beach, (757) 499-8347, http://www.vbrg.com.