George Kopf moved from California when his wife, Anne Cheng, became an English professor at Princeton University two years ago. He works remotely from his Princeton Township home as a database administrator for Merced Systems, a Silicon Valley-based firm that provides solutions for call center and customer service businesses.
Kopf’s father worked in sales for General Electric for 25 years and his mother was a real estate guru who formed her own real estate school. Kopf received his bachelor’s degree in information systems from the University of Maryland and his MBA from Maryland in 1994. As he told U.S. 1’s Scott Morgan, “I’ve been an athlete all my life.” Here is how that athleticism currently is engaged:
I’ve poked around with triathlons, run 10Ks, a marathon, played beach volleyball. One day, about 12 years ago, a coworker mentioned rock climbing. I kept bugging him to take me, and he finally gave in and took me to a little crag called Carderock in Maryland. The next day I went out and bought the equipment.
It was love at first sight. Within a year I was asking people to teach me how to lead climbs. I read books, started taking trips — Joshua Tree, California; Seneca Rocks, West Virginia; Yosemite; Red Rock Canyon, Nevada; New River Gorge, West Virginia.
Now every weekend I’m in the rock gym or on a rock. There’s a maxim in climbing — you climb to train and you train to climb. Gyms are good for strength and balance, and I’m at the rock gym two or three times a week working on the agonist (pulling) movements.
What’s it like? Grab hold of a chin-up bar, palms out, and pull up all the way. Then, without lowering yourself, slide your chin over your left hand. Then your right. Then your left. Then your right. I go to a regular gym to work on the antagonist (pushing) movements. I often go all the way down and stand back up on one leg. You frequently will have to move your entire body weight with one leg when you’re climbing.
Nothing beats being on the rock, though. It’s all about getting out there, getting up high, and being safe. You always have to be safe. Climbing starts to get really complicated and a little bit dangerous. If you do it wrong, it’s very dangerous. I once helped carry one guy off who had a broken skull, a broken wrist, and puncture wounds in his abdomen.
I hear stories like that all the time. Most accidents are the result of a momentary lack of attention, especially on the way down. People tend to relax, or even rush on the way down. But you want to go slow so you don’t make any mistakes. Especially when you’re rappelling. You don’t want to slide so fast that friction overheats your rope, and you have to be careful not to rappel off the end of it.
Safety is always first. I’ve never been hurt, which I think is a testament to my focus on safety. You want to avoid what are called “epics” — bad trips that come from lack of experience or preparation. I’ve been on epics where I started climbing at 8 a.m. and didn’t get back until 2 a.m. In the pouring rain.
I focus my thinking on how not to screw up — I’ve been six feet off the ground with my partner talking to me and been so focused that I couldn’t hear him. I become very stoic on a rock. If I thought about it, I’d probably panic. After all, imagine standing on a two-inch ledge with a 30-foot fall below you and no good place to put your hands. And every time you inhale, your chest pushes you away from the wall and threatens to knock you off balance. Your muscles are saying “We can’t do this anymore,” and turn you into a quivering mass of angst and fear and panic.
The only way out is to calm yourself. You have to tell yourself, “I’m going to pull this off.” It’s crucial to know that your best performance is when you’re calm. It’s kind of an emotional retardation. When your plane shifts from horizontal to vertical and your core muscles are maxed out just to sustain your position, focus and calm are everything — and it takes everything you’ve got.
I’m at the point where I’m jazzed by whatever I come across. Just getting out there on a real rock makes me happy. I’ve done the sustained climbs, gotten off route, gotten lost, had epics, been on three-hour hikes just to get to and from a climb. But climbing is so addictive. I’ve met “full-time climbers” who bus tables part time just so they can spend their days off climbing. That’s all they want to do. I know how they feel. Yet, when you’re on the rock, you don’t necessarily notice the beauty around you. The thrill comes later. When you’re climbing, it’s all about focus and safety. It’s about getting to the next belay (cleat that holds the rope) and making sure your partner is safe. Later in the parking lot is when it suddenly sinks in. You look back and think, “Wow! That was great!”
Rockville Climbing Center, 200 Whitehead Road, Hamilton 08619; 609-631-7625; fax, 609-631-7582. Clay Tyson, manager. www.rockvilleclimbing.com.