20 Questions: Zach Lerner, Rock Climber

Zach Lerner is a nice guy. Pretty quiet.

He’s also a world class climber who’s been sponsored since the age of 15, won Nationals in both sport climbing and bouldering in high school, is a member of the US Climbing team, and is currently working on a V15.

He’s also really smart. Zach is a PhD student in biomedical engineering at Colorado State in Fort Collins. And as impressive as that is, his specific field is also extremely cool.

He also just got engaged to a fantastic girl, Andrea Trujillo.

And that’s still not the whole story.

Zach isn’t one of the most famous athletes in mountain sports (self promotion isn’t really his thing), but as you’ll see, this Revolution / HippyTree / Madrock athlete is one of the most interesting.

(Here’s a video of Zach climbing Memory is Parallax, V14, in Estes Park, Colorado)

1) BLISTER: Please state your full name, height, weight, age, and astrological sign.

Zach: Zachary Forest Lerner. 5’9”, 150 lbs. 25 years old. Sagittarius. Apparently, it’s not my fault that I’m both unromantic and unemotional. This is great. Looks like science just helped me win every future fight with my fiancée, Andrea!

2) BLISTER: You grew up in Lemont, PA, and started climbing when you were 12 years old. But how did you get introduced to the sport?

Zach: I started climbing after seeing 30 seconds of the opening scenes of an IMAX movie about Everest.

3) BLISTER: So you saw 30 seconds of not mountaineering but sport climbing or bouldering, and you thought, “Fun”. And then you went home and told your folks you wanted to do that, and they happened to know a guy who climbed around on rocks?

Zach: Yeah, exactly. There was 30 seconds of someone climbing a tower coming out of the ocean, and I was absolutely hooked from that instant.

But the reason I KEPT climbing was because of unbelievably great mentors. It’s one of those scenarios where you wonder what you’d be doing if you didn’t meet a few key individuals in your life. I’m the climber (and person) I am today because of Brad, a local hardman, who invited me to train on the wall in his garage most nights of the week.

Zach Lerner bouldering, Blister Gear Review.
Zach Lerner on Body Count, V12 (Flash). Magic Wood, Switzerland.

4) BLISTER: So was climbing enough of a thing in central Pennsylvania that people knew about it and did it? Or was Brad just an outlier who built a little wall? Was there a little climbing community? Were friends of yours climbing? Only older folks? Were you the only kid getting on the wall?

(Maybe climbing is getting to be mainstream enough that in a few years, it might not be interesting to ask questions about how people got started—in the way that it’s not really interesting to ask football players how they got into football. But for now, at least, I still think it’s interesting to hear how people found the sport and got into it.)

Zach: Climbing was not and is still not a known sport in PA. Interestingly, about the time I started climbing, Brad’s wall was featured in the local newspaper. That kind of speaks to the novelty of something like climbing in PA. So before I met Brad, I was climbing on the 18’ vertical “wall” at the local YMCA. There was a community there, but it was mostly beginners. I finally met Brad out at the local bouldering area one day. Lemont is a small town.

And I think climbing will always be somewhat obscure, so I agree that it’s interesting to hear how people got into it.

5)  BLISTER: I’ve also heard a little bit about your first climbing wall, which is a great story. Would you say a bit about that?

Bouldering barn Zach Lerner, Blister Gear Review.
The Barn, PA.

Zach: Yeah, I quickly realized that while Brad’s garage wall was great, we needed to expand in order to keep improving. I tried for weeks to find a place to build a huge bouldering wall, looking everywhere. The best spot turned out to be an old, dilapidated barn. It needed some love, but turned out perfectly.

6) BLISTER: And people are still climbing there?

Zach: Oh yeah, the barn is still up and running! Luckily, there was a climber willing to take on custodial duties after I left. It’s nice to have a place to climb when I go visit. It’s certainly a trip back in time. I spent A LOT of time hanging out in that place by myself.

Fun fact—during the wall construction, we found a Playboy magazine and a bag of pot dating back to 1970-something hidden in the rafters!



7) BLISTER: When did you starting climbing in competitions?

Zach: I started training for comps back in PA during high school. During my senior year, I placed first at sport climbing nationals and bouldering nationals for my age group. Just goes to show you that the climbing wall where you train can be crappy (by certain people’s standards), and you can still perform well.

8) BLISTER: For college, you attended Northern Arizona University, right? How much of your decision to attend NAU had to do with climbing?

Zach: I decided to go to NAU for a number of reasons. But the two main reasons were that I got an internship as a mechanical engineer at a medical device company, and also the outside climbing is awesome.

9) BLISTER: Do you ever get on ropes these days?

I grew up sport climbing along the east coast (Rumney, NRG, RRG, etc.).  Now that I live in Colorado, where the sport climbing sucks, I only boulder.  (To any Rifle-loving-nay-sayers, if the NRG was in Colorado, Rifle would be a ghost crag.)

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