Published in the Hobbs News-Sun on April 6, 2008, and published by Associated Press.
Holding the ropes as instructor Kelly Holladay scaled down the side of New Mexico Junior College's Pannell Library on a recent Saturday afternoon, Shane Smith admitted Holladay wasn't someone he'd expected to teach rock climbing and rappelling.
Holladay, the dean of arts and sciences at the college, has been teaching the basic rope climbing and rappelling class for the last decade.
"She didn't seem to be the extreme sport kind of woman and that's what rock climbing is, but I guess she is," said Smith, who is enrolled in the class. "When you picture a dean of a college, you see an old fogie and she wasn't."
Students can take the class, which lasts three weeks, as a one-hour physical education credit. Students test their rappelling off Pannell Library, but for their final exam, they will climb down a 100-foot cliff and rappel into two caves at Carlsbad Caverns.
"Wahoo," Holladay, 49, crowed as she smoothly landed on her feet after bounding down the college's library.
While watching her students take their turns decending the building, Holladay admitted many of them are surprised to find out she's an instructor for the rock climbing and rappeling course.
"Typically students see me dressed professionally in business attire, sitting behind the desk in my dean's office and to see me doing this is a little out of character. They see me, and I'm so clumsy. I'm the one tripping over the crack over there," she said with a laugh, pointing to a crack on the sidewalk outside the library.
"That's true ," Smith confirmed as he held the rope steady while classmates completed their library rappel.
After he and his classmates returned to the gym to get more instruction on the techniques of rock climbing and rappeling, Smith said Holladay -- who taught geology and math at NMJC for 15 before becoming dean of arts and science in 2005 -- had changed his perspectives about the kind of people involved in the hobby.
"I didn't think a little, small woman like her could hold us steady on the ropes and I was wrong," he said loudly for all his classmates to hear.
Smith's classmate Ivan Montano didn't have any preconceived ideas about having Holladay as his rock climbing and rappelling instructor.
"I wasn't surprised," he said. "I've never done this before. It was all new to me so I didn't have any expectations."
Since 1996, Holladay and fellow instructor Jimmie Worrell have visited the caves in Carlsbad and the Guadalupe Mountain area. As a result of those visits, they decided to learn how to rappel so they could go into the vertical caves at the national park.
Horizontal caves are the kind people can walk into, Holladay explained, but vertical caves can only be explored by climbing down or rappelling on a rope. Some vertical caverns range anywhere from 30 to 540 feet in depth.
For the last 10 years, Holladay and her fellow instructors have done volunteer restoration work at Carlsbad Caverns.
Using rope and other rock climbing equipment, they repair stalagmites and stalactites, clean mud off formations and do mapping and survey work often in areas of the caverns where the public doesn't go during the self-guided or guided tours.
"We wanted to challenge ourselves," she said. "I like it (rappelling into vertical caves) because it gives you the opportunity to go places ordinary people don't get to go."