16-year-old Virginia girl dreams of climbing to the top at Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Ellie Sepulveda (ABC7)

The International Olympic Committee is adding new sports to the 2020 lineup in Tokyo, including rock climbing and a 16-year-old Virginia high schooler is working towards becoming one of the first Olympians for the sport’s debut.

Ellie Sepulveda can scale 60 foot walls like a Marvel character. It would seem like rock climbing runs in the family.

“No. Definitely not. And I’m scared of heights so, I was really surprised when she came home and said, ‘Hey, dad. I think I found my sport,’” said her father Rene Sepulveda with a smile.

When she was 11, Ellie tried the sport for the first time at summer camp and she knew it was for her.

“I’m not coordinated. I’m not good at like, ball sports, soccer, any of that stuff. Never been able to do that. I’ll whiff and miss the ball and stuff. So, I was happy that I found something that clicked for me,” she said.

Just five years later, her precision with every breath and every hold is getting the teen closer to her Olympic dreams.

“It’s a focused sport. It’s not adrenaline, it’s not all in just trying your hardest. A lot of it is staying calm,” said Ellie.

The 16-year-old is already making her mark at international events like the Climbing Worldcup in China she attended in October.

“I was in Ecuador over Thanksgiving for another climbing competition,” she said.

Getting to Tokyo in 2020 will be an uphill climb.

“It’s going to be a very, very challenging process,” said Rene Sepulveda. “Because it’s the first time at the Olympics, they’re only taking 20 men and 20 women.”

That’s 40 people total in the world. If that’s not challenge enough, Ellie is still in school. She is enrolled at George Washington University Online high school so she can train five to six days a week.

“She came up with it all on her own and we’ve been happy to support her,” said her mother Lindsay. “I used to be surprised she could get up the wall. I had no idea she could be so little and so strong.”

The climbing qualification process for the Olympics starts in April 2019 and ends in February 2020. No country is guaranteed athletes. Everyone will have to qualify through the international circuit.

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