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French climber rocks capital's fitness scene by opening gym

Update: October, 30/2014 - 10:33
Bold bouldering: People learn to boulder at VietClimb on An Duong Street. — Photos courtesy Jean Verly

by Bach Lien

HA NOI (VNS) — Jean Verly has become a fixture in Viet Nam's rock climbing scene. In 2011 he created VietClimb, one of the first rock climbing gyms. Three years later, VietClimb has become the rendezvous for Vietnamese and foreigners who want to get fit enjoying the novel sport.

The 30-year-old Frenchman said the absence of climbing gyms in Ha Noi left a niche for him to fill.

"There are a lot of climbing gyms in France, but not so in Viet Nam. I wanted to introduce a new activity and healthy hobby to people here. I'm happy I get to work with my passion and share it with others," he said.

"I felt that there was a demand and an opportunity to develop rock climbing and make it a trendy sport in Viet Nam," he added.

The 200sq.m indoor climbing wall is located down an alley in An Duong street near West Lake. Gym members travel once or twice a week to Huu Lung in Lang Son Province, Ha Long Bay, or to Thay Pagoda in Ha Noi where they face natural challenges.

Born and raised in Paris, Verly began rock climbing at the age of 12. Since then, he has climbed Mont blanc in France (4,810m), Mount Fuji in Japan (3,700m) and Fanxipan in Viet Nam (more than 3,143m).

Social climber: Passionate about rock climbing since his childhood, Jean Verly wants to share it with others.

"There are climbs to satisfy every level of experience, from beginners to those pushing their limits," he said.

In France, the graded difficulty of a climb goes from level three to eight. Verly said, at his best, he can tackle a level Seven ‘B' climb.

"This sport encourages everyone to push their limits and to climb the most difficult routes," said Verly.

In Viet Nam, Verly can share his passion with others, but also get in touch with his Vietnamese ancestry. His mother, who was from Viet Nam, died when he was born, so he grew up knowing her through stories his French father told. The images of Viet Nam in his mind were foggy dreams.

Those images materialised during his first trip to Viet Nam in 2005. "I was curious to discover my mother's country and to find out what I want to do after I finished my studies," he said.

At that time, he worked at the French Cultural Centre in Ha Noi. Six months later, he returned to France. Then, in 2007, he made the momentous decision to move back to Viet Nam. He has stayed put ever since.

He gave up several jobs, including one at the French embassy, to devote his time to his passion, rock climbing.

Though he admits he feels "more French than Vietnamese," he enjoys his life in Viet Nam - eating pho, drinking tao meo wine, chatting with friends at a bia hoi and exploring new regions of the country on his old motorbike.

He is impressed by the beauty of the city and the kindness of Ha Noi people, and hopes to give back what he can. "It's so nice to be able to make progress in such an environment of contrasts."

Sensitive to the life of unlucky children in Viet Nam, Jean Verly takes part in the Tac Ke (Gecko) project through which he hosts youths from the Nguyen Viet Xuan orphanage at Vietclimb.

"The purpose of the Tac Ke project is to work with different disadvantaged children through sport. Rock climbing in particular can be used as a tool to help integrate these kids into society," he said. — VNS

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