At just 20 months, Ellie Farmer spends five days a week at the gym scaling walls with her rock-climbing parents

By Tara Fowler and Rose Minutaglio
Updated June 29, 2015 08:00 AM
Credit: The Little Zen Monkey

As avid rock climbers, Rachael and Zak Farmer always hoped their daughter Ellie would one day love scaling walls as much as they did – but they never expected that day to come at just 8 months.

That’s right: Ellie climbed her first wall before she could even walk. And now, at 20 months, she’s captured the attention of the world after her proud parents posted a Facebook video of her zipping up a rock wall like nobody’s business.

But not everyone’s thrilled by Ellie’s climbing skills. While some have called out the parents for allowing their daughter to partake in such a dangerous pastime (without a harness, no less), Rachael insists she’s watching out for her baby girl. “She’s never been injured while climbing,” she tells PEOPLE, adding that Ellie falls frequently, but her parents are always there to catch her.

“It happens all the time,” she says. “It’s a natural part of climbing, to fall. She is caught every time she falls and we are excellent spotters because she is our baby and we want to protect her every step of the way.”

She adds: “I think it’s more dangerous putting her on the monkey bars out on the park. They are about the same height of the ground, and you are a little bit more exposed.”

Were the parents surprised by their daughter’s nimble fingers? “She never really climbed out of her crib,” Rachael says. “We started taking her to the climbing gym only a few days after she was born, and she would sit in her car seat at the climbing gym and she would watch other climbers as they would go up and down on the routes.

“Eventually as she got older, a couple months old, she could start seeing what they were doing and getting excited when they would complete something when they tried hard and succeeded,” Rachael says. “Then she started pointing at them and showing interest. As she got bigger we got her on the wall and feeling the holes and standing on the ground and feeling out the various grips on the wall. Then when she was 8 months old she successfully climbed her first route on the gym from bottom to top.”

The parents hope that their little girl continues to share their passion as she grows older. “When she’s 6 or 7, I hope to get her into the USA climbing series,” Rachael says. “And get her potentially competing in youth nationals as soon as possible.”

As for those criticizing her parenting? Rachael says she’s been ignoring the negative comments. “People have this fear, when they see Ellie climbing on the wall, they feel anger and hate and it brings negative comments,” she says. “My no. 1 suggestion is to educate yourself and then maybe reevaluate your opinion.”

She adds: “Measures can be taken to keep it as safe as possible so that kids find enjoyment and get strong and boost their self esteem and their confidence. The word climbing has this extreme label, but I want to change that.”