On a mission to serve and grow Chicago's vibrant climbing community.

FA Member Spotlight: Rachel Van Loon

This month we’re shining the FA Member Spotlight on Rachel Van Loon! She brings passion, positivity and hard work to the FA community, and we can’t with to share her story with you. When she’s not traveling, you’ll find her conquering a new route at FA Uptown, studying to be a Physical Therapist, or planning her next trip. Read on, and say hi to Rachel if you see her around the gym!

How did you get into climbing?

There were a couple of sudden, unexpected changes in my life that lead to me to some pretty intense soul searching. Someone in my life recommended that I learn to be more disciplined in mindfulness, especially being in the present.The need for increased mindfulness and physically pushing myself in a different way led me to climbing.

What do you love about climbing?

The community, the way I can express and challenge myself physically, and the way I’ve learned to be patient with the learning process.

Do you prefer bouldering or sport climbing? Why?

Bouldering. It’s powerful, technical and primal feeling, yet disciplined and frustrating in the right ways. I enjoy sport climbing, but my first love is bouldering.

Since you’ve traveled so much, where has it taken you and what are your favorite places to climb outdoors?

I’ve bouldered in:

  •      Bishop, CA
  •      Berkley, CA
  •      Lake Tahoe, CA
  •      Jackson Falls and Holy Boulders in Southern Illinois
  •      Smuggler’s Notch State Park in Vermont
  •      Governor Dodge State Park and Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin

Bishop is currently my favorite spot to boulder, but Lake Tahoe and Smuggler’s Notch are close runners up. Bishop’s beauty is unmatched and it has changed my life and climbing perspective.

I’ve spent time sport climbing and deep water soloing in Thailand and have trad climbed and bouldered in Korea. I think about going back pretty frequently because I don’t feel I was able to see enough! Both countries offer so much and I’ve seen so little.

What other activities do you participate in?

Olympic weightlifting, surfing (very poorly and infrequently), camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing and cycling.

Do you have any specific climbing projects or fitness goals for the year?

I’m beginning the year at a pretty significant physical deficit because of a very slowly healing stress fracture on my spinal column, but my indoor climbing goal is to send a V7 and my outdoor climbing goal is to go back out east and do some sea cliff sport climbing.

Not climbing related, I would like to take at least one surfing trip and learn how to snowboard.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

School. There is nothing else. It’s almost completely consuming. I’m a kinesiology student at UIC and intending to pursue physical therapy. I’m graduating this year and beginning to prep for grad school applications.

What is your favorite Chicago spot for food, music, art or culture?

Honestly, I like to fish and sit by the lake, especially when there’s a gnarly storm. When there’s not a gnarly storm, there are a lot of great food and beer things happening in Pilsen and Chinatown that I’ve found myself at more recently.

If social justice is your passion, there are a few organizations doing good work in Chicago. I’m involved with Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and two organizations I respect are Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Black Lives Matter Chicago. FA also has a good group for POC called Sending in Color. They’re doing amazing, exciting things.

What do you love about the Chicago climbing community?

The Chicago climbing community has changed my life in an all-encompassing way. They’re my family. It’s not always easy to love and understand them, but I think that’s what family is. They’ve pushed me more, called me out more, and loved me more than most people in my life. The past two years were a difficult period in my life, but climbing helped get me through it. The lessons I’ve learned from climbing have continued to teach me in my everyday life. I’m eager to continue learning, though it is not always easy.


What is something about you most people don’t know?

I have multiple sclerosis (MS) and epilepsy. I also have two children. The oldest is almost 15 years and the youngest is almost 10.

Multiple sclerosis is a neurodegenerative, autoimmune disease that doesn’t yet have a cure and leads to physical disability. The body attacks itself in the brain and spine, which is why physical impairments on some level are inevitable. The electrical signals from the brain and spine are interrupted because the nerves get scarred and don’t heal.

Epilepsy is a seizure disorder.

I experience new, progressive symptoms of MS somewhat regularly. This is one reason I try to remain as active as possible. I don’t know when doing these activities will no longer be an option for me. It’s a sobering reality.

I’m not sharing this to gain pity or attention, but rather to encourage people. I’ve learned to listen to my body and communicate bad days or bad feelings with those I’m close to. Sometimes I need more help than I can get, but in these times, I find I’m more resilient and stronger than I think. If you find yourself struggling with something that feels scary or overwhelming, I’m here to listen. I’ll cry with you. I’ll laugh with you. I’ll help you in any way I can. You’re not alone, especially in the Chicago climbing community.

4 Dos and Don’ts of New Year’s Resolutions

It’s finally 2018 and you know what that means – time for New Year’s Resolutions! Did you follow through on your 2017 resolutions? Most of us make it through the first few weeks or even months going strong, but there always comes a day when we lose sight of our goals and why we set them in the first place. Health and fitness goals can be especially tricky because we want to see results, but those results take time. It might even be tempting not to make any resolutions at all to avoid the potential for failure.

That’s why we’re sharing 4 Dos and Don’ts of New Years Resolutions with you. Hopefully you find these tips empowering and inspiring, allowing you to set some big ambitious goals for 2018 and follow through on them – without beating yourself down in the process.

#1: Allow Yourself To Make Mistakes

Adding an extra cheat day to your week or skipping an early morning at the gym is not going to derail your goals. You can’t be too hard on yourself when you don’t follow your schedule to a T. You are a human being who is allowed to make mistakes every once in a while. Learn and grow from your mistakes and let them make you a better person. Adjust your plan if it’s not working for you. You don’t need to give up on your goal because of one or two slip ups. Don’t be disappointed in your failures – use them as fuel to improve.

#2: Let Your Mental Health Come First

Some days you are not going to be 100%. Let’s face it: balancing work, social life, taking care of your family or even just making it to Friday can be a tall order.Letting yourself go a little slower in the mornings or cutting your gym time in half is absolutely okay. Taking your journey one day at a time in order to keep yourself sane and happy is more important than forcing yourself to meet a weekly goal weight or pant size. Loving yourself as you are is the greatest revolution!

#3: Find a Goal Partner

Having somebody to talk to, set goals with, and mutually motivate is a very important part of reaching goals and seeing results. Showing yourself compassion can be difficult if you’re going at it alone. Having a climbing partner/running buddy/workout group to help you celebrate your successes and analyze your failures helps you be kinder to yourself when you are off on your own. Self criticism can lead you to a downward spiral, but not if you have a friend or small group to support and raise you up.

And last but not least…

#4: Don’t Compare

Every person is different. Body types, metabolisms, routines, lifestyles, responsibilities – everyone’s path is their own. Comparing yourself to someone on the cover of a magazine or the person you run next to everyday on the treadmill isn’t going to get you anywhere.You may not even realize you’re doing it. What may take one person to do in a week might take you a month, but that’s okay – you don’t know what challenges that person is facing in other areas of life, so there’s no sense comparing yourself to them on this particular point. Getting to your goal the healthy way is much more liberating than forcing yourself into fad diets or unattainable workout routines to look a certain way. Just because you aren’t achieving the same results as the person next to you in the gym doesn’t mean you aren’t strong, smart, capable, and valuable. Celebrate your own strengths and see your true value.

Let’s make 2018 the year of working toward ambitious goals with self compassion. Now go start your journey!

Looking for some tools or programs at First Ascent to help you achieving a fitness or climbing goal? Check out the following:

BASECAMP Group Training – daily morning small group workouts at FA Avondale designed to help you build full-body conditioning that prepares you for life’s adventures. Book a free trial session to experience the workout first hand!

Redpoint Climbing Training – get a customized climbing training plan and expert advice on how execute that plan with Redpoint Climbing Training. Redpoint begins with an Assessment guided by a Redpoint Coach to diagnose your climbing strengths and opportunities for growth. Your Coach will provide you with a training plan after your assessment that you can execute on your own, or you can book additional Private Sessions or Redpoint Team Training, a small-group training program, to get continued guidance and train with others. Available at all FA locations. Assessments are just $49 through January 31st – book yours now!

Personal Training – get 1-on-1 or 2-on-1 training from an expert trainer who will help you set goals and guide you on the path to attaining them. A free 30-minute fitness consultation is available at all FA locations – schedule yours today!

By Tommie Hill