Former Merrimack women's soccer standout Susan Plante (1986-89) took an interesting path after her soccer days in North Andover were over. Plante decided to try out a new and more adventurous sport, rock climbing.
After graduation in 1990, Plante went on and became a Psychiatric Nurse Practinioner. Five years ago Plante decided to try something new and exciting in her life so she took to the rocks.
"Rock climbing is the hardest sport I have ever done," said Plante. "I have always been a natural athlete who could pick up a sport rather quickly but I have been climbing for five years now, and am just now starting to get it."
Plante is being coached by the famous Ward Smith, a New England Pioneer of climbing. Over the past five years, her rock climbing journeys have taken her around the world and she loves every second of it.
"Internationally I have climbed in Greece, Mexico and Canada so far," stated Plante. "I have upcoming trips to Spain and Puerto Rico coming this year. Domestically my playgrounds are Rumney, New Hampshire, the Adirondacks, the Gunks, New York, Utah, Nevada, Ragged Mt, Connecticut, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the wonderful local climbing out here in my Western Massachusetts backyard."
Not many people understand the challenges associated with rock climbing, but for Plante there is one main challenge that keeps proving to be hard each and every day.
"The biggest challenge of rock climbing for me is the constant training it takes to stay in top shape, and being forced into sometimes life threatening situations where losing your mental focus can spell the difference between life and death," said Plante. "But I do believe it is a great way to relax and enjoy the weekend."
The sport of rock climbing takes much more than Plante can even put into words as you need the technique of a gymnast, the critical knowledge of a physics major, and the fearless, relentless pursuit of perfection that only a small amount of athletes will ever have.
"Climbing pushes every button you have, and then some, and leaves you hungry for more," said the former Warrior.
The sport allows for multiple amazing experiences along with scary ones, both very memorable.
"The coolest place I have climbed so far is in Kalymnos, an island of Greece," said Plante. "There is nothing on the island except endless amounts of perfect limestone rock. The features of the rock, stalactites, tufas and massive pockets, are straight out of Jurassic Park. The hospitality of the Greek people was amazing, and I got to meet and climb with some of the best climbers from all over the world."
The scary moments will stick with you forever, especially since most bad memories of rock climbing result in severe injury.
"Last October I was climbing a two pitch climb called Black Magic in Red Rocks, Nevada," remembers Plante. "When my partner and I started out it was 80 degrees and sunny outside. Once we got over the roof of the first pitch it was a complete blizzard, we couldn't see and we froze instantly since we were dressed for the heat. We were up there in the blinding snow and fierce wind trying to build a man made anchor to lower off of, but our fingers were frozen. It took over an hour to get down to the ground, where it was scorching hot. I now respect the changing weather conditions of canyon and desert climbing."
Playing soccer at Merrimack helped Plante a lot for her future in rock climbing, especially the lessons she learned from head coach Gabe Mejail.
"Merrimack prepared me for climbing by demanding perfection, accountability and teamwork," stated Plante. "Gabe never settled for anything less than the best, and that approach to sports was infectious. He never gave up, and fought to the bitter end no matter what. He made me hungry for my own athletic success while realizing that it would only come with dedication and a fierce, competitive drive while simultaneously having the power to be patient as well. Nothing was ever taken for granted on our team and we approached everything in unity, and that gave us power."
Plante was a part of four Northeast-10 regular season championship teams, most ever by a Merrimack women's soccer player, and two nationally ranked teams during her playing career at Merrimack. Plante was the goaltender for the 1986 team which allowed the fewest goals against in school history with 13.
Plante is one of the best goaltenders in school history, evident by her name being all over the school record books. She holds many career records including wins (57), save percentage (.942), saves (907), goals against average (0.66) and minutes (7,580). Some of the season records that she holds are save percentage (.969), goals against average (0.42), minutes (2,220) and consecutive shutout minutes (774).
According to Plante, "what happens on the cliff stays on the cliff," but the memories are something that will last forever.
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