Climbing has been somewhat of a sore subject for a while now. Chris and I have been juggling so many things for the last two years that we have only gotten outside a handful of times. I recently read a post which reminded me of my mindset when I first started climbing. After I graduated from grad school, I decided to take some time off in hopes of identifying the right next step for me. I received quite a bit of backlash, surprisingly. People told me I was throwing away my future, acting as a drain on society, telling me I was incredibly spoiled (some truth there!) and that they wished they could do the same thing. I found myself thinking, “If I can do it, why can’t you? You just need to make the choice.” Somewhat of a naive response if you were to ask me again today.

Like I said, I began seriously climbing at the age of 24 once I had finished up with grad school. I was on the path to pursuing medical school or graduate school for biomechanical engineering. I had been accepted to Duke, the #2 ranked graduate school for my program. I was feeling extremely burned-out, as if I was putting one foot in front of the other just because that was the expectation. I was lucky to be out of school without debt, and had even managed to pocket some of my scholarship and work money. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to take an extended road trip with my future husband. I have always greatly enjoyed traveling, and this was my chance.

We packed up my little civic and hit the road. I didn’t have much equipment at all, so I invested in a down sleeping bag, a coat and jacket, and some climbing gear. Chris had been climbing and camping for a long time by this point and we were able to eek out a few months in his ancient tent. I stole some other camping gear from my brothers to save cash.

We headed out west and sport climbed for two months or so. I was just breaking into the 5.12 range. Unfortunately, we were struck with several weeks of awful weather with no change in sight. Chris threw in the towel and suggested we travel home to the Red River Gorge, where he assured me we could find respite from the rain. In late November. We regretted that choice. I don’t remember terribly well, but I think we stayed home for Dec – Feb or March, and then hit up Rocktown for a few weeks and the Red again. My long term road trip dreams had been drowned.

We worked the following summer and got married in the fall. (We don’t waste much time.) We set off on another, hopefully longer, road trip. I fell in love with bouldering in Rocktown, so we chose Bishop as our next destination. We went out in November, climbed for a month, and moved on to Moe’s Valley. That was an awful experience. I had just climbed my first V8 in Bishop, progressing from V5-V8 in a month. I was feeling awesome about my progress. Then, boom, I tore a bunch of stuff in my hand and forearm after a heel cut when I was in a three finger pocket. I did my best to continue climbing, eventually tearing a collateral ligament and developing carpal tunnel. Once again, our road trip was cut short.

We went back to work and I took several months off of climbing. Chris and I were ready for a change as a married couple, and chose to move out to California where we thought we could climb with more frequency. Wrong. The cost of living was so high that we bought a fixer-upper home and spent ALL of our time working and remodeling the house. I am pretty sure we only made it out to climb once or twice the entire year we lived out there.

We were emotionally and physically drained, wondering what in the world we were going to do with our lives. We were quickly approaching 30 and we knew it was time to start getting our ducks in a row. We talked a lot about selling the house and road-tripping long term, trying to pick up sponsorships and live off climbing alone. As much as we both love to climb, we knew an exclusively climbing based lifestyle wouldn’t sustain us.

I rode horses when I was younger and competed all over the country. I totally poured myself into the sport, neglecting my schoolwork and relationships. It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot, but I didn’t value myself as a person. I knew the same would be true if I tried to pursue climbing as my livelihood. Having only your athletic performance to measure yourself by wouldn’t work for me. I wanted to try a ton of things, learn new skills, and be a well-rounded person. I’ve always lived for experiences, not success. Any time I move down the path where only my accomplishments are measured, I become a very unhappy, empty person.

That’s when we began toying with the idea of opening a climbing gym. We have often been disappointed with the staff, offerings, setting, and design at other climbing gyms we’ve visited. We thought we could offer a truly unique experience and take the indoor climbing industry in a new direction. This type of employment would allow us to stay true to who we are, allow us to tackle an area we’re passionate about, give us good reason to keep climbing, and hopefully provide a means to support ourselves and contribute to society.

Once we got our finances in line, we started thinking about what we wanted to create and where. I really didn’t like living in California. We were far away from family and felt very out of place. I wanted to have the option to see family on the weekends and have their support within easy reach. I knew we would count on it to develop and grow our business. That meant we would need to be somewhere out east. Several major climbing destinations exist out there, including the Red and the New. Our business would require an adequately sized city, and we wanted to be within an hour of a major climbing area. We pinpointed where other large climbing gyms were located and decided Lexington seemed very neglected. It was so close to the Red, nicely sized, near enough to Cincinnati and Louisville to attract customers from those larger cities, it has a giant university which was a huge draw for me (I desperately want to go back to school), AND I have lots of family in Lexington.

We scheduled an appointment in February to scope out land in Lexington. During that time, we completely fell in love with the city. It was decided. We were moving to Lexington. We finished up our house projects in Riverside, quit our jobs, and sold our first home.

For the time being, climbing is once again on the back burner. That was a sacrifice we were willing to make to set up our life for the long haul. We will create lots of climbing and travel opportunities not only for ourselves but for our staff. We want to build a business where people aren’t stagnant, where they feel like they are continually growing, progressing, adapting, and pursuing what they love. We want setters to get outside and climb, to attend competitions, to observe World Cups, to check out new climbing locales, to learn from some of the world’s best setters. We want our fitness staff to attend yoga workshops, nature retreats, fitness seminars, workshops, etc. We want people to LEARN, to CREATE, to LOVE what they are doing and to ENJOY what our clients offer us.

Naturally, we wouldn’t be content just growing a business. We have also purchased a 100yr old home in the heart of Lexington, 1 mile away from the University. It’s a beater, but we’ll make it into something. We are also remodeling my aunt’s kitchen, something I have wanted to do for years. She is a true southerner, constantly cooking for the entire town in which she resides. People don’t even knock on her door or inform her of their presence when they enter her house. Her home is home to anyone who wants to call it so. I love being able to give back to my family, and to be part of a community that supports us and that wants to grow with us. We are so fortunate!


One response to “Climbing”

  1. ericshotwell says :

    Loved the write up.

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