Mac Daniel Climbs His Way to USA Climbing National Championship
He finished his science test and walked over to the classroom bookshelf, where he picked up a May 2011 copy of National Geographic magazine to pass the time. That moment changed his life.
Macullen "Mac" Daniel studied the cover: it was a photograph of "superclimber" Alex Honnold as he free soloed his way along the Half Dome rock wall in Yosemite National Park - without any ropes, harnesses, or protective equipment - and set a then-unheard-of record for one of the most dangerous climbs in the U.S.
"The cover photo really struck a chord with me. I was always interested in climbing as a kid: trees, things in my house," says Daniel. "I went straight to the article and read the whole entire thing."
While Daniel had always enjoyed climbing, he never made it a serious hobby until after the day in high school when he read the Yosemite feature in National Geographic. Soon after, he joined a local climbing gym and started training on a regular basis, as well as coaching other climbers.
"I would go for eight hours a day, because I was so in love with [climbing]," says Daniel.
Eventually, he began competing with Mountain Goat Climbing in Greenville, S.C., in bouldering, another form of ropeless climbing.
In bouldering competitions, participants have only four to five minutes to look at a problem, or configuration of holds along a climbing wall; figure out how to solve it; and then actually make the climb up.
"At the top, the feeling is unreal," says Daniel.
Each competition consists of several problems, so the sport requires not only quick thinking and agility, but also endurance.
The first year Daniel competed in USA Climbing, he placed eighth in the regional competition. That year, he didn't qualify for divisionals. In his second year, he placed second in regionals, fifth in divisionals, and earned his way to nationals, where he placed twenty-first.
In fall 2015, Daniel entered North Greenville University as a freshman in the outdoor leadership program, commonly referred to as "ODEL" on campus.
"I heard about the ODEL major and thought, 'That's me. That's what I need to do,'" says Daniel.
Even as a university student, Daniel continues to train in bouldering and to compete. In fact, he placed fourth in regionals and then first in divisionals this season.
He owes the divisional victory, he says, to a change in attitude.
"I wasn't worried; I was just having fun. My coach Will Snader helped a lot with that," says Daniel. "The format is such high-level stress. If you let yourself get stressed about other competitors, it'll mess you up. You can't help the other person be better or worse. It's you. You can just do the best you can do, and hopefully the training pays off."
Now, Daniel is on track to compete in the USA Climbing national championship to be held in Madison, Wis., in early February 2016, where he'll face off with other top-ranked boulderers from across the country.
The opportunity to gather with other avid climbers reminds Daniel of the reason he started climbing in the first place:
"It wasn't the sport itself. The community I read about in that [magazine] was something I longed for," says Daniel. "That's the part I still like."
But we're sure it doesn't hurt to be at the top, too.
For more information about the outdoor leadership program at NGU, visit ngu.edu/outdoor-leadership. And to follow Mac Daniel's journey, visit his website at macullendaniel.wordpress.com.
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