Athletics / Community

David McGovern “busts a move”

The day is still young as you look at a craggy rock face that stretches for hundreds of vertical feet of treacherous climbing. You chalk up your hands, take a deep breath, and climb.

Have you ever experienced a moment when the only thing keeping you from falling from unimaginable heights was a small feature that your hands barely fit on to? Well, Dana Hall’s rock climbing teacher, David McGovern, has.

“I use to climb and guide over 300 days a year,” Mr. McGovern explains. Climbing is a hard sport that not only takes strength and physical fitness, but also a sharp mind and patience. A favorite line of Mr. McGovern’s is, “when in doubt, bust a move,” by which he means a “personal commitment to … training, discipline, and faith in one’s ability to create and overcome challenges.”

The hardest climb that Mr. McGovern has ever done was Liberty Ridge, Mountain Rainier in early winter. Mountain Rainer is 14, 410 feet above sea level. At that altitude in winter, there are often strong winds, many feet of snow, and a treacherous terrain. If people do not know what they are doing, they could severely injure themselves or die. His favorite climb is Yellow Spur in Eldorado Springs Canyon, Colorado, a long, beautiful direct climb to the summit and one of the more popular climbs in Eldorado.

His love of climbing started at the young age of five, and since then Mr. McGovern has been climbing everything from rocks in his backyard to the mountains and the canyons that people see on a post card. He started taking courses at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), a school for students and adults who wish to learn about the wilderness, challenge themselves to become better leaders, and live out of a backpack for weeks or months while on an expedition. Mr. McGovern first entered this program as a student, but then soon applied to be an apprentice and help lead courses. After he became an apprentice, Mr. McGovern was still interested in the possibilities that NOLS offered him and applied to be an instructor to teach other adults how to lead the NOLS trips. Having taken a NOLS course myself, I know that these programs expect nothing but the best from you. It is a demanding course that will mentally and physically challenge you, but ultimately it is one of the best foundations for exploring the wilderness. He was with the program for five years.

Mr. McGovern has led many expeditions both as a NOLS leader, and as a private guide. He has worked for private companies such as Climbing Connection and Mountain Madness, which offer climbing opportunities where people can go into the backcountry with a professional and climb mountains or the canyons. These programs accommodate climbers who have previous experience as well as those who are completely new to the sport. Mr. McGovern still continues his work as a guide as well as teaching multiple classes at Dana Hall.

Mr. McGovern has been teaching climbing classes at Dana for almost eight years. He enjoys his job and says that the Dana girls make him feel like a “rockstar.” His classes include moments of philosophy as well as climbing instruction, for he thinks that “movement of a certain type and intention produces results that are proof in themselves.” As he says, “If you can move it, you can use it.”

Callie Secor ’15 says, “Mr. McG – or Dave to me and a few others – is the greatest. I have known him forever. Rock climbing is one of the best classes because no schools have anything like our rock wall. Dave really teaches you about it. It isn’t just climbing the wall, it is many other things like trusting one another and challenging yourself and facing your fears. Just like any class or sport, there are rules and he is serious about them just like any great teacher because climbing is dangerous and things can go wrong. However, he makes it super fun and I always love hanging with him. He is the greatest!”

In addition to his classes for Dana students, Mr. McGovern also works with the BiNA Farm program, teaching climbing to children who have disabilities. He has been hosting these climbing sessions for about four years at Dana Hall’s climbing wall and notes that, “in climbing we are all special ed; some people just require a different type of attention.” Each lesson is catered specifically to that child in order to help build communication, strengthen muscles, and show kids what they can do despite their disabilities. Mr. McGovern says that climbing is a sensory sport, and that the “repetitive motion of climbing … is calming and gives the students something to focus on.” The weekend classes for the BiNA Farm children have been rewarding for Mr. McGovern, who finds it an inspirational job and “truly what Amor Caritas means; to be of service to someone else. Teaching these kids is a blessing.”

McGovern’s commitment to special needs children extends beyond these classes. He personally started the John Bullock Memorial Scholarship, in honor of a climbing friend, John Bullock, who passed away. The Scholarship is given to a child with autism and allows them to climb for free at Dana. These classes teach the children physical fitness and transference away from their parents, and Mr. McGovern says, “Watching the kids climb is truly amazing. Many of them were told that they could not walk down stairs, yet alone climb a wall.”

Mr. McGovern invites everyone to climb, and reminds 10th-graders that the Saturday classes can be an opportunity for community service hours. He points out, however, that the BiNA Farm children need consistency, so working with them is a big commitment. If you do not want to climb, simply being present with the students is enough.

Some Dana Hall students have been climbing with Mr. McGovern for years and believe that he is a great asset to Dana Hall. Emily Selland ’15 comments, “I enjoy rock climbing, but I enjoy the class more because of Mr. McG. He’s really good about encouraging climbers of every single level, and always gives us challenges when we want them and chances to relax when we were stressed with other things, he’s extremely understanding.” Hailey Rohall ’17 agrees, “He is a great teacher because he truly cares about his students and their safety. It is obvious that he loves his job and shares that love with others.”

Students planning their courses for next year may want to consider adding a climbing course for the chance to work with Dana Hall’s own climber/philosopher.

Photo credit: Haley Present

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