Staff Spotlight: Demery Coppola

Where are you from, and how long have you worked at Petra Cliffs?

I’m from Connecticut, and have moved all around the state, but I currently live in Guilford. I’ve worked at Petra since April of 2019, so just over a year now.

What is your role at the gym? 

I started working just behind the desk, but as anyone who has been to Petra knows it’s really easy to go all in! I have taught some womens’ clinics (mostly indoor and one ice clinic with Andrea during the Smuggs Ice Bash), some one on one clinics, coached Comp team and Rec team for a season each, Friday Night Kids Club, LGBTQIA+ nights with OGE (great times with great people!), and of course plenty of birthday parties.

Are you in school? 

I am still in school, about to head into my final undergrad year at Saint Mikes! My majors are Environmental Science and Political Science, and I am definitely looking to get more into the access and responsibility side of climbing eventually. So naturally I’m a CRAG VT member, (as everyone who is taking the time to read this should also be), and once I’m done with school I’d love to go to more of their meetings. I am beyond pumped to get to be involved with the next Climbing Festival in Bolton again as well!

Are you a guide/ Do you want to be a guide? 

I don’t really consider myself a climbing guide yet, because I don’t have my SPI (I was supposed to get it this summer, but am waiting it out until all of this craziness is over). I do have a few American Canoe Association certifications to guide kayaking (whitewater and coastal) and canoeing, and lead trips through the Saint Mikes Adventure Sports Center as the lead guide frequently in the summer and fall seasons. I am definitely aiming to be a climbing guide for all seasons in the near future, and have been really lucky with the mentors I’ve had both at Saint Mikes and Petra! I always ask a million questions, and the first interaction I had with Tim was actually during a spring break climbing trip for Saint Mikes. I badgered him pretty relentlessly to squeeze out as much information from him as I could, and he fired questions right back for me to think through.

A huge part of me wanting to be a guide is because of how patient and understanding (while simultaneously keeping it fun) Tim was during that trip. I have learned so much from the guides I get to spend time around and I want to eventually get to be that person for other people! Oftentimes with Saint Mikes trips I’m bringing people outside in a different context than they’ve ever experienced, and getting to be the person who molds that experience is a really special responsibility. I’m also going into my second year as the Climbing Coordinator for Saint Mikes, and I love being able to help younger instructors work on their confidence and teaching styles. With Saint Mikes, I’ve only gotten to work with folks my age, and Petra has opened that age range all the way up from 3 year olds to 70 year olds. That’s my ultimate goal with becoming a guide, being able to work with all ages, backgrounds, and experience levels, to share my knowledge and see what I can learn from them too.

Favorite trip you’ve been on? 

I’d like to share two stories, because one connects to the story I mentioned above of me meeting Tim. At the conclusion of our trip, we packed up camp and headed to a restaurant to review everything we did that trip before going to the airport. One of the questions Tim asked was, “What do you do if you get to the top of a climb and see ram’s horns?” My sun-baked-all-week-dehydrated brain immediately said, “assert dominance and yell” because I was picturing an actual ram (I had never heard of anchors referred to as ram’s horns at that point, only as pigtails…) Of course, you shouldn’t ever do that anyway, so we all laughed for quite a while as everyone was super confused (including me) on why I thought that would be a good idea in any context. Sometimes I just think about how confident and ridiculous that answer was and laugh to myself because I still can’t believe Tim hired me after that.

My actual favorite trip I’ve gone on was a sea kayaking trip out of Knubble Bay in Maine. It was November, and rained the entire time. The coast of Maine is one of my favorite places to kayak, because there are so many water features to play around with and practice skills, not to mention how beautiful it is. One of the goals of the trip was to refine teaching basics of sea kayaking, and using tennis balls as a teaching tool is pretty common because they float and are good for games. In my demonstration I accidentally lost the bag the balls were in, which didn’t belong to me. After the lesson was over and I realized, I told him and he definitely ripped into me a bit, and joked that when I graduate he’d hold that over me in years to come (lightheartedly, but I still felt pretty bad). The next day we all got up and ready for the day ahead, another rainy and cold one, in our gear still soaked from the day before. As we were getting ready to launch, the bag washed up on shore and I got to return it to him! It was such a crazy coincidence, even though it was just a mesh bag, and it sticks out in my mind because it feels almost too lucky

What is a fun fact about you that many of our members don't know? 

Another way I feel too lucky sometimes are my “fun facts” haha. I’ve never gotten stung by a bee, never broken a bone, and never sprained anything. It’s pretty shocking because I’ve never really been an especially careful person, even when I was a kid. I have a twin who was very prone to injury when we were younger, and we sometimes joke that I got all of the good luck!

Do you have a preferred climbing discipline?

I’ve always had a hard time choosing favorites, so I’m gonna go with no! Although I’m far from immune to the “grass is always greener on the other side” dilemma... During the coldest parts of winter I definitely find myself wishing for long and warm rock days, and on scorching hot days I can appreciate cold biting, windy, snowy mountaineering days much more. But overall I enjoy each one for its own reasons.

What do you value most about being part of the Petra Cliffs community, especially during this current state of the Coronavirus?

I’m very impressed, although not surprised, with the amount of people who built home walls! I admire that so many folks decided to be responsible and stay home, but still found a way to keep doing what they love with the people they’re with.