Billy Brown, 23, of Birmingham, says his love for the outdoors had a lot to do with his decision to earn a degree in exercise science at UAB.

While he enjoyed playing football and soccer in high school, Brown says rock climbing was his passion. In fact, rock climbing was a popular pastime in his hometown of Fort Payne, a city located in the Appalachian foothills of northeast Alabama, he says.Photo of Billy Brown Climbing Rock Face

“Growing up, and in high school, although I played organized sports, climbing was the kind of thing my friends did,” Brown says. “We didn’t go out to movies or go partying or whatever the typical high school kids did. We would go on camping trips on the weekend. I grew up just down the road from Little River Canyon, which is a world-class kayaking and climbing destination.”

He says he enjoyed camping and climbing so much that when he enrolled at UAB in 2010 as a freshman, he chose environmental science as his major. But after just one semester, Brown switched his major to exercise science in the UAB Department of Human Studies.

“I worked in a research lab my first semester as a work study and absolutely hated it,” Brown says. “And honestly, I really had no idea what I was getting into in environmental science. I thought it would be a lot more field work. I have a pretty heavy sports and outdoors background, so exercise science seemed a lot more natural.”

Today, Brown, who graduated in 2014, says he is primarily a free climber. He uses his hands and feet to scale rock walls. He utilizes ropes only as a safety measure in the event of a fall.

As a professional climber, he has traveled around the country and even internationally to practice his sport, he says. Last fall, he placed first in the “Star-Chaser” category at the Triple Crown Bouldering Series competition at Horse Pens 40.

Brown used his interest in climbing as the focus of his honors research project during his senior year. For his project, Brown took a series of measurements to determine whether a power- or endurance-based training protocol was more beneficial for improving hand strength stamina in advanced climbers.

Associate Professor Jane Roy, Ph.D., who teaches kinesiology in the Department of Human Studies, helped guide him through the research, he says.

Billy Brown and Dr. Roy“Dr. Roy was the one who pushed me,” says Brown, ”and she was my faculty adviser on my honors research project and internship.”

Brown was among the UAB School of Education’s first class of honors students. He even started a rock climbing club at UAB.

Since graduating in 2014, Brown has been in business with his older brother. They buy and sell items like cell phone cases, sunglasses, and cell phone screens online, he says.

“It pays the bills and allows me to travel and climb pretty much on my own schedule,” Brown says.

Still, Brown says he hopes to become a student again someday and enroll in a graduate program in physical therapy. Looking back on his student days at UAB, he says he appreciates the education and training he received from his professors.

“I’ve still retained a lot of great material,” he says. “I was impressed with the level of professionalism and the way they (faculty) taught. They were invested in having students know and understand the material.”