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    The Portrait

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    Dru Mack can’t quite catch the next hold. It’s a small one, about the size and shape of a Little Debbie snack cake, on a climbing route at Climb NuLu. With each hand on a white hold resembling chewed bubblegum, Mack flexes, holds himself steady as both feet leave the wall. He reaches for the tiny chip of white plastic but misses, a cloud of chalk dust rising from the hold as he falls to the floor, rolling onto his back. The 24-year-old has been solving climbing problems like this for half his life, hooked ever since he spent a day on the ropes with some of his dad’s mountain-biking friends at Rock Sport in an industrial part of Jeffersontown. “Addicted immediately,” Mack says. Though he is now a professional climber sponsored by brands such as Petzl, Evolv, Adidas and FrictionLabs (and receives a salary for climbing appearances), when he first started — well, in his own words: “I sucked.”

    When Mack was 15, he traveled to Red River Gorge with his mentor, Lee Smith, and attempted an ascent without clipping the rope to the first bolt, meaning he was climbing without a safety net. He committed to a jump, but his hands didn’t grip the holds. He fell, tumbling to a ledge and bouncing before hitting the ground. “I remember I brushed the sand off my shoes,” Mack says. “The next thing I knew, I was waking up from being unconscious for five minutes.” Despite the minor concussion, Mack kept returning to Red River Gorge. After graduating from South Oldham High School, he moved there for a year and half, supporting himself by working at nearby Miguel’s Pizza and subsisting “on fruit snacks, Ale-8 and pudding.”

    Mack still spends most of his climbing time outdoors, and this summer he plans on scaling rock walls in Colorado. “Climbing on a real rock and being outside — that’s kind of what I grew up doing,” he says. “That’s where I get really invested into things.”

    This originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine as the Portrait. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Mickie Winters,

    Jennifer Kiefer's picture

    About Jennifer Kiefer

    Germantown transplant. Louisville native.

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