School Life
Community Engagement

Hanging Tough

By Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement
Reaching beyond challenges, Van Malkie ’24 pulls himself up to the next level
For Van Malkie ’24, the sport of rock climbing isn’t just a hobby; it’s a metaphor for his life’s journey. In rock climbing, you can choose the level of difficulty of the course you chart. There are many options and hand and footholds along the way. For Van, the early parts of his life course were set by factors beyond his control, and challenges abounded. Yet despite and perhaps because of these challenges, Van is thriving today, both as a climber and as a young person.

After an initial foray into soccer, Van began climbing at the age of eight. Interestingly, it was not a good fit at first. “I was terrified of heights,” he says. “I still am on some level. Climbing has always been fun for me, but it didn’t start as something I expected to be good at. I was a very active little kid.” His mom, Tracey. signed him up for a trial class at Peak Experiences, and the seed was planted. 

The choice has paid off in spades. Van has competed at the national level since 2019 in all three climbing disciplines: speed, bouldering, and lead (ropes). Most climbers aspire to make it in one discipline, but for Van, he relishes the challenge and diversity of all three. “I don’t have a favorite. Speed [climbing] is a newer discipline, so younger generations of climbers excel there versus more traditional climbing. It requires coordination that ropes [climbing] does not, and you use dynamic movement and not just pure strength.” 

This year, Malkie finished 9th in Speed at the North American Cup Elite Series, where he was competing against professional climbers (not age-graded). He also finished 25th in Lead Climbing and 35th in Bouldering. Nearly all of the athletes competing against him specialize in one of the disciplines. 

Those accolades are particularly impressive considering Van is not a naturally competitive person. Says Tracey, “It was a stretch for him to compete. What drew him in was the idea of doing what they (the best climbers) were doing. But to be able to compete, he had to change his mindset and focus.” This renewed focus led Van to nationals the first year he tried it at age thirteen.

“Van is a truly unique snowflake,” says Michael Stratton ‘02, head of the Trinity Outdoor Program, who has worked closely with Van since his freshman year and has particular insight on him as a climber and a person. “He is one of the most driven athletes I have ever encountered, and has the raw talent and potential to make it to the international competition level.” Like most outdoor sports, there is a whole vocabulary of terms in climbing, as Stratton explains. “When you ‘flash’ a climbing route, it means you climbed it on your first try, without even falling,” he says. “Van is well known for ‘flashing’ peoples ‘projects’ — while wearing his Crocs.”

And while the disruptions of the pandemic waylaid many climbers, the opposite was true for Van. “During COVID I got stronger,” he says. “I jumped four levels in just five months. Every year my progression has been really fast and I am a V-12 climber now.” At this point, he is regularly competing against professionals as well as climbers who are homeschooled and devote their entire focus to climbing. His parents look to support Van holistically and help him keep perspective on climbing, and Van appreciates this. 

“I am not driven to drop everything to climb. I need to balance out social life and hobbies, and I value school. Even though school is a challenge for me, I enjoy it. 
School gives me life experience to build on the experiences I have already had,” he says. 

For a sixteen year-old, Van has had a lot of life experience.

Van was born in Guangzhou, China, and had surgery as an infant for a cleft lip. He was adopted by Tracey and Scott Malkie at age two and he began his life in the United States. “Scott and I have always seen in our role as parents that we are here to carry Van on his journey and help him in whatever ways that means,” says Tracey. “Our experience is different from many typical families because it was never a given of how things would go. Everything required flexibility and perseverance.” 

In addition to his adoption, he has faced stereotypes and assumptions from others throughout his life. “Even [as a toddler], I realized that I looked different from almost everyone else. This has been true at the schools I have attended and even with climbing initially,” he says. “I’ve heard stereotypes where people assume I am a straight-A student because I am Asian. It is really difficult to encounter so much Asian sentiment or ignorance in so many places and instances. It has made me learn to push myself out of my comfort zone, and I have opened up more this year as a junior.” Part of that transformation came from meeting many other Asian climbers in the climbing community as he has traveled and competed. “There are so many people that look like me and understand what it is like to have assumptions made about them, “ says Van. 

“They have always embraced him right away,” says mom Tracey, praising the diversity of the area climbing community. “[They have] pulled him right in and given him the confidence to be himself.” 

How has this increased confidence manifested for Van at Trinity and how have these challenges shaped him today? Van is a member of the P.A.L.M. club (Pacific-Islander, Asian, Latinx, Middle Eastern) that explores cultures as well as a very active member of the Outdoor Program. He competed in May at Dominion Riverrock, climbing again against professional climbers, this time in front of his home crowd and classmates. 

“Acceptance at Trinity has been really helpful. I don’t feel judged here,” says Van. 
“The Outdoor Program has been hugely helpful and a comfortable space for me. Mr. Stratton helped create a good path here. He knows so many people in the outdoor community. The teachers here are so much more interactive in getting to know you and excited about their classes, and there is lots of support.” 

Stratton adds, “Van has created a comfortable home in the Trinity community. As a freshmen, Van was a confident Titan on the climbing wall, but so shy in the halls that he would just want to hang with me during his study halls. But as a junior he has grown into a leader in the Outdoor Program and exudes a charismatic presence in the halls. He has also expanded his skills to cover whitewater kayaking, mountain biking and hiking.” 

“I am introverted yet putting myself in situations to be a leader,” Van says, determined to support others through their own challenges. “People have a lot more happening than what you see on the surface… The challenges I faced when I was younger allowed me to have empathy and compassion for others… I know I want to use my life experiences and skill set to help others in whatever I do.”

Tracey recalls that Trinity always felt like the right place for Van, even years before he enrolled. “Van felt like it made absolute sense for him,” she says. “Scott and I say all the time to Van, ‘discover your path’ — and the school truly lives that mission. There are other kids doing their thing, totally unrelated, and everyone is celebrated, and he sees that and has confidence to pursue his goals and embrace his unique skills and abilities.”

As Van continues to climb on his upward trajectory, it is both in a metaphorical and literal sense that we all wait to see just how high he will climb.

About “Connections”

Connections is a regular online column, written from the first-person perspective of Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement:

In this space, I have the privilege of sharing stories of Trinity students, alumni, and faculty and staff who are carrying our mission beyond the boundaries of campus. Many of these stories might not make the headlines, but they will illustrate how every member of the Trinity community has a unique path to discover, and the ability to make an impact on both the Trinity community and the world beyond.

I am fortunate to have been a part of this community since my own adolescence. I have been a student, a teacher, a coach, and an administrator, and in these roles I have witnessed the school’s growth and evolution through the years. We have grown in size as well as spirit.

Stories here will capture how seeds planted at Trinity have taken root and flourished into full-grown passions. You’ll also read stories of those in our community who bring their gifts from outside to help us learn. At Trinity, we seek to develop lifelong learners, and stories here will illustrate real-life examples of that beautiful symbiosis.

Read more "Connections"

List of 10 news stories.

  • Wider Exposure

    By Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement
    From the photography darkroom to the rapids of the James River, Thomas Clarkson ’24 finds finds creative ways to view and explore the world
    Read More
  • Independent Streak

    By Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement
    Sam Aisenberg ’24 is riding high in the saddle both in the equestrian ring and in her school community
    Read More
  • Balancing Act

    By Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement
    Olivia Rodenhaver ’26 makes time for competitive gymnastics — and sticks the landing
    Read More
  • photo courtesy of jshfoto

    Team First

    By Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement
    With trademark unselfish play, Colin Flood ’23 leads Titan Soccer to historic highs 
    Read More
  • In Her Own Voice

    By Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement
    Sadie Holloway ’24 steps into the spotlight as both a singer and a leader
    Read More
  • Hanging Tough

    By Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement
    Reaching beyond challenges, Van Malkie ’24 pulls himself up to the next level
    Read More
  • Growing in Leadership

    By Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement
    As Richmond Forum Scholar and Trinity student leader, Layal El-Ayoubi ’23 looks for ways to collaborate, encourage others and grow global awareness
    Read More
  • Odds on Favorites

    By Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement
    Two Trinity seniors rise to the top of national youth investment and finance competition
    Read More
  • Three Months, Two Thousand Miles, One Path

    By Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement
    Pushing herself through the entire Appalachian Trail, Perry ’17 discovers more than just beautiful wilderness
    Read More
  • Trinity orchestra and chorus teacher Kimberly Ryan believes in the transcendent power of music. 

    Violins of Hope

    By Laura Hamlin Weiler ’00, Head of Community Engagement
    Trinity strings teacher performs for transcendent Holocaust violin project
    Read More

Trinity Episcopal School

3850 PITTAWAY DR | RICHMOND VA 23235-1099 | Phone: 804.272.5864 | Fax: 804.272.5865 Email: