Alexandria teen climbing to new heights as she aims to make 2020 Olympic Games

A Virginia teenager is aiming high in order to reach the Olympics. Ever since it was announced that climbing would be part of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, she has been training harder than ever and her efforts are taking her around the world.

Ellie Sepulveda can scale a 50-foot wall in a matter of seconds, but this Alexandria teenager has a new goal to grasp.

"You have to be able to do well enough internationally to qualify and then there are only two people per country, but I'm going to train my hardest," the 16-year-old said.

Sepulveda already competes in both the youth and adult circuits worldwide. She has traveled to several states with the U.S. national team. She has also traveled to Equador, and most recently China - winning the speed climbing event there in October.

"Climbing - it started out being majority male, but girls are starting to pick up the pace, really close the gap and really push the sport," said Sepulveda.

While the training looks grueling, this teenager seems beyond her years. She says she is actually drawn to the sport for the serenity.

"It's about movement and just staying focused on your breathing in your head," the aspiring teenager said. "It's actually like meditation if you're doing it right. It's really calming. When you really learn a lot of life lessons like perseverance, trying hard and really committing to something, it's applicable to everything in life."

She trains more than 20 hours a week.

"Last year, I was in ninth grade and it was really hard for me to balance everything so I switched to George Washington University Online High School so that I can work my school schedule around my climbing," said Sepulveda.

While her father is afraid of heights, this talented teenager is unfazed by it.

"Climbing, it can be scary obviously if you're afraid of heights, but the more you do it, you realize there are ropes here," she said. "I have taken 30 to 40 foot falls sometimes. I can take really big falls and it's safe generally, but there are times you are scared for sure."

Sepulveda first tried the sport at age 11 during summer camp. She has come a long way in just five years.

"She will come in any chance that she gets to climb and just practice at it," said Taylor Foster, the junior team head coach at Sportrock Climbing Center in Alexandria.

He says the 2020 Olympics will be a trial event, but insiders expect climbing to stick. There are three categories: Sport or lead climbing (with ropes), bouldering (no ropes involved) and speed climbing.

"That is what she has been really committing to, especially this past year," Foster said.

Only 20 athletes worldwide will qualify for the sport's first Olympic Games. While 2020 is an aggressive goal, Sepulveda plans to give it a shot and the people here think there is a very good chance you may be hearing her name by 2024.

"Time is going to tell I guess, but I am going to train my hardest no matter what," she said.