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SAFETY FIRST: Ruth Davenport, left, helps Kelly Ward of Elgin put on a safety harness during a women's rock climbing clinic at Eastern Oregon University on Wednesday. The clinic was at EOU's climbing wall facility at Quinn Coliseum. (Photos by Dick Mason).
SAFETY FIRST: Ruth Davenport, left, helps Kelly Ward of Elgin put on a safety harness during a women's rock climbing clinic at Eastern Oregon University on Wednesday. The clinic was at EOU's climbing wall facility at Quinn Coliseum. (Photos by Dick Mason).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

t is a barrier more phantom than real.

And one that Eastern Oregon University education professor Ruth Davenport is helping to topple.

Davenport wants women to realize that gender bias does not exist in the rock-climbing world.

Women are just as welcome and capable as men when it comes to rock climbing.

"From my experience it is not a gender-related issue,'' Davenport said.

Davenport conducted a clinic on women's rock climbing Wednesday at EOU as part of its International Women's Week activities. The clinic was conducted at EOU's climbing wall.

"I want to help get women into the sport,'' Davenport said.

She said that women are just as capable as men at excelling in rock climbing.

"It is not about strength. It is about finesse, being in tune with the rock, focus and balance,'' Davenport said.

Davenport said that her experience indicates that men and women welcome each other on climbs.

"We enjoy the sport together,'' Davenport said.

The education professor also teaches children to rock climb. She discourages her students from competing against each other.

Davenport wants to instill a sense of personal achievement rather than a sense of competition.

"I believe that it is not about competing. It is about me dancing on the rock,'' Davenport said.

Davenport said that when she started rock climbing about 10 years ago, she had a fear of heights. The fear, however, was vanquished during a rock-climbing trip with close friends.

"They made me feel safe and supported. They were not going to let me get hurt,'' Davenport said. " ... Once I recognized that I was safe and was not going to fall, I could confront my fear.''

She has found that rock climbers everywhere place a premium on safety.

"It is not about risks and showing off. It is about being safe and having a good time,'' Davenport said.

People in the La Grande area can easily learn to climb because of the availability of EOU's climbing wall. It provides a safe and secure place to climb. Climbers use gear similar to that used outdoors, including harnesses around their waists. Climbers thread a rope tied to the harness through anchors in the wall; a stationary partner holds the other end of the rope to break any falls.

Davenport likes the climbing wall because it offers a variety of routes and is spacious. She said it is much better than the climbing wall she first used in Illinois, which was a converted grain silo.

"It was an enclosed tube. It gave me a claustrophobic feeling,'' Davenport said.

The EOU climbing wall is open from 3 to 5 p.m. Sundays, 7 to 9 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

The climbing wall is open to EOU students and staff. Everyone else must have a Quinn Coliseum activity pass.

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