Whether as a coach or first-responder, senior Nicolas Aguilar has a passion for helping others

When touring college campuses there are lots of details that might sell a prospective student on a specific school. One student might love the campus housing accommodations while another finds the laboratory facilities to die for. For senior Nicolas Aguilar, part of what helped him decide on Lees-McRae was rocks.

“I started climbing my junior year of high school with one of my friends there. I came and toured campus, saw that there were a bunch of rocks on campus and that there was a climbing team, and that’s kind of what sold me on the school,” Aguilar, an Outdoor Recreation Management (ORM) and Wilderness Medicine and Rescue double-major, said.

In addition to being heavily involved in his two academic programs, Aguilar is on the college’s club climbing team, for which he also serves as the captain and coach. Aguilar said that when he was a sophomore the climbing team’s coach stepped away from the position. Not wanting to let the team dissolve Aguilar made the decision to step up and lead the team, a responsibility he has held for the two years since.

“My love for climbing in general made me think it would be something cool to do. The team is also super special to me because it was one of the first places that I found a group of friends and a home here on campus,” Aguilar said. “I wanted to continue that as a place for people to come and find a home and find a group of people who are like-minded, as well as a space where they can push themselves and improve and be better climbers.”

This role has also been a space for Aguilar to push himself. While he said some of the responsibilities of leading the team have been daunting at times, the experience and self-confidence he has gained in his abilities as a climber and a leader have been invaluable. The experience has even changed Aguilar’s goals for his future.

As a freshman Aguilar had dreams of opening his own climbing gym, but through his experience his priorities have shifted, instilling in him a desire to help others realize their full potential both on and off the rock wall. Giving back to the community has become a trend throughout Aguilar’s undergraduate career whether by serving as a volunteer first-responder with the local fire department and rescue squad, or by leading Scouts in local Merit Badge College events.

“Helping people in some way would be something that I am interested in. I have enjoyed doing the climbing team and helping people and seeing that lightbulb moment whenever they unlock a cool move,” he said. “I would love to continue working here as the climbing coach. I’ve kind of already started doing that. Beyond leading practices and things like that I have helped recruit a couple students to come to Lees-McRae to be on the climbing team, and I would love to continue to do that because I want to see the climbing program continue to grow and become something more.”

Regardless of whether he continues to be involved in the climbing team following graduation, Aguilar hopes that the strong foundation he has helped lay will give the team what it needs to continue being successful for years to come. In addition, he hopes that more students have the opportunity to experience the joy of climbing he has found here on campus, both on the rock wall in the Arthur Student Recreation Center and on the natural outdoor bouldering and climbing areas he has helped identify across South Campus.

Aguilar’s dreams for the team’s success don’t just come from all the hard work he has put into it, but also from his love for the sport, what it has taught him about himself and his abilities, and his desire to share the joy of a sport he loves with others.

“The understanding of how I move over a certain section of rock and really understanding the finite movements is a really cool experience for me. Micro-analyzing these certain things and being incredibly decisive and only thinking about those movements in the moment is really freeing. I don’t have the time or capacity to think about other things that may be bothering me, which is something I really enjoy about climbing. It’s kind of an escape because I have to focus so much,” he said.

His experiences on the climbing team, volunteering in the community, and making the most out of the countless training and certification opportunities offered by his academic programs have given Aguilar a strong sense of self-confidence and a greater understanding of his professional capabilities. Looking forward, Aguilar plans to stay in the area to pursue a career that allows him to help others and exercise the skills he has gained throughout his time in the ORM and Wilderness Medicine and Rescue programs.

“All these things that I do have taught me resilience in one form or another,” Aguilar said. “I would say that looking back on my time at Lees-McRae I would be like, ‘wow, you were super tough to deal with some of the things that you dealt with and to come out the other side and be an improved person and still want to help and stay in the area.’”

By Maya JarrellApril 19, 2024