Interviews

Category Archive

Member Spotlight: Diane Wee

We’re spotlighting FA member Diane Wee, who logged 279 visits to FA in 2018. That’s incredible!! Read on to learn more about her love for climbing, food, design, and more climbing, and make sure to say hi to her if you see her around the gym!

1. How did you get into climbing?

My very first climb (roughly 4 years ago) was in an underground bouldering gym in Korea. I was mainly just curious to try out the colorful, weird-looking holds. I T-rexed the whole time, then had trouble picking up the spoon to eat later that day—had to lower my head to eat.

How I got into avidly climbing in Chicago is a different story. I was asked out by a person with the line “would you like to catch a movie with me?” Rarely would watching movies be my preferred activity for any first date, plus I wasn’t very interested. With a sarcastic tone I threw a comment: Can we do something more dynamic, like rock climbing? He took it quite literally and looked up indoor climbing gyms in the area. I was intrigued and that’s how I made my first visit to FA Avondale.

Of course I was not at all a graceful climber, glued to the top of a 5.7 route unable to trust the auto belay. But I kept going back. There was something very different about climbing from any other sport I had been exposed to: the cognitive challenge, like solving puzzles or logic problems, made climbing quite special.

I have absolutely no idea what the guy has been up to since our couple of climbing hangouts, but he clearly made an impact on my life by introducing me to the gym.

2. What do you love about climbing?

It makes my back so ripped that my climbing friends call me Lady Schwarzenegger! I’m joking. My real answer is pretty standard and boring, but I can’t be funny all the time so here goes:

Seeing myself make progress is the biggest reason I keep coming back to the gym. Seldom do you get to see rapid improvement in things once you reach adulthood. I started as the usual newbee (May 2018 was when I started to boulder) and these days I project V4s. Of course there is plenty of (well, infinite) room for improvement, but being able to do moves that seemed nearly impossible a while ago makes me feel happy. At the same time, always having something to work hard on and staying motivated (like sending my first V5) are amazing as well.

Climber friends is a very close second. I would not enjoy climbing as much had I not made such many friends at the gym. They give me such a hard time for not climbing harder, being timid at times, being short, giving up, just about anything — which always pushes me to work harder. Honestly, I love the support (sometimes in the form of friendly verbal abuse) I get from my friends. Much of the friendship extends outside the gym as well which makes my life in Chicago so much richer (oh, I came to Chicago about 2 years ago from Korea, so pretty much all ties were left there). These days I have really strong climber friends that I train with and I hope to see some fruition soon.

3. Bouldering or sport climbing? Make sure to tell us why.

I much preferred sport climbing for a while. Not having a rope to catch me terrified me a bit, so I refused to boulder at all. Also, my strength when it comes to physical fitness has always been endurance—never power, agility, coordination, any of that sort.

Then Block 37 opened and became the easiest location for me to get to. Convenience got the best of me and I caved. “Ugh, I guess I’ll start bouldering,” was the general sentiment I had.

At first it was pretty frustrating as I would not be able to successfully climb even V1s. At one point I did get my very first V2, which made me pretty happy. I went into this phase of going through all the V2s at the gym and I was adamant in my approach that I will not touch a V3 before I get ALL the 2s, which obviously didn’t happen before some of the routes were reset. I hesitantly made attempts on some V3s, and my first V3 exhilarated me.

When I made a visit to Avondale for a rope climb after having done all of that, I was surprised by how much better I was on rope walls than before bouldering. I could not deny that it was all the bouldering that took my sport climbing to another level (although that level is still relatively pretty lame, sad). It helped with power, technique, working with different types of holds and so on.

I’m still pretty sure my physique and strengths are better suited for sport climbing. But these days I genuinely enjoy working on boulder problems. I try to keep a routine of climbing at Block 37 most days of the week, then rope climbs once at Avondale, usually on Saturdays. If anyone forced me to choose between the two, I’d just cry and walk away. I love them both, don’t take any of then away from me.

4. What is your favorite place to climb outdoors? What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

I HAVE NEVER CLIMBED OUTDOORS YET (lame Diane, lame). I plan to visit Peter’s Branch (MO) or Devil’s Lake (WI) or maybe some other place over spring break, and that’ll be the first time ever for me. Obviously I am excited, but I’m sorry I don’t have much now to tell you about my outdoor experience. I started climbing a structure above a public hot tub while I was visiting Korea this winter (because I was so so tremendously bored — having a pool of water too warm to swim in) and that’s as far as my non-gym climbing goes.

I love surfing (well, I guess I like most water sports for that matter, but it’s hard to match surfing). I’m not that good of a surfer because I only started in my mid-twenties and I never lived close to a beach, but there is nothing on earth like sitting on a board waiting for a decent wave then catching a perfect green wave and feeling it under your toes. If only Lake Michigan would swell… I did body surf twice last summer though. I had to go early enough so the lifeguards would not deter me and my friend from getting in the water.

5. Do you have any particular climbing projects or fitness goals for this year?

A climbing goal would be sending one V5, hopefully in the first half of the year (initially it was within the first quarter, but I don’t have that much time left now).

Fitness goal would be just getting strong enough everywhere so I can send a V5. And maybe doing ten pull ups. I honestly do want to lose a bit of fat so I am more efficient in climbing (because my ass is always weighing me down!), but I’ve been told that I sound ridiculous when I say that. Once a friend said “I’d rather become stronger everywhere else so I can climb with a good looking ass,” which sounded very convincing. So I am on the fence on dropping weight.

If I were to speak in detail, there are so many things I could work on. The list will never end. At the end of the day, I want to become a stronger climber in general and not get injured.

6. What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

I eat. I eat like a monster. If I’m not eating, then I’m buying food. I’m pretty sure to those who know/recognize me at the gym, I’m that Asian girl who’s literally always at the gym and always eating. It’s true, I got no excuses.

If I am neither climbing nor eating, then I will be occupied with school projects. I am a full-time graduate student at Institute of Design, IIT. I get to study and work on projects related to service systems design, business innovation, design planning etc. Being a naturally hyper-analytical, nerdy person with a history of having worked in structured finance, my interest lies on data and model driven service design. I know the stuff sounds pretty foreign to a lot of people, but I like what I’m learning and getting my hands on. Not all the time though, because it often messes with my climbing schedule.

7. What do you love about Chicago?

Lake. River. Summer. Friends. Climbing, duh. I’m sure many people will pick food variety, but as long as I have what are written above, food can be whatever.

NOT POLAR VORTEX INDUCED ANTARCTIC TEMPERATURE.

I have trouble with prolonged overcast weather over the winter, which is almost half a year, but the rest of the year is beautiful enough to make it worthwhile to live here. In fact I feel very blessed and lucky to be living in Chicago and have the life that I have right now.

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

I recently started exploring the Lincoln Park area and the food is pretty damn good there. Today I checked out Del Seoul, a fusion Korean food place, with skepticism but was more than happy with the food. I would definitely recommend checking it out.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is one of the really good sweet treats. The first time I walked into their store, I saw “lavender wildberry” as a flavor and thought it’d taste like facial cream. I ordered it so I can prove myself right, which I never did. They make the weirdest flavors taste amazing. It’s a shame there isn’t a location in the Loop.

Art, music, and culture spots are yet to be explored — if you have some good recommendations and run into me at the gym, please let me know 😉

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

(“We can’t even write that you are weird, because people know that,” says my dear climbing friend Chiara, as I read the question out loud)

I am weird. But like my friend said, that’s pretty apparent. I wear fifteen gazillion layers of clothes to make me look like an Eskimo at the gym. I work on school projects a lot at the back side of the Block 37 location, and the gym is super cold when you’re not climbing. My friend took a sneak photo of me hopping on a treadmill to warm myself up in a down jacket and sent a text saying “check out this gym weirdo.” Again, it’s true, I got no excuses.

I spend so much time at the gym some FA staff members say my membership fee is basically rent. Yes, my rent is super cheap and the membership fee I pay to an apartment for hanging briefly at nights is just ridiculously expensive.

Oh I carry a lot of food and snacks with me all the time, and I often share them with climber friends and FA staff. Secret to being liked by staff members: Give them food. Honestly, I can’t think of one person who would reject food/snacks I offer. The most recent snack I shared was monster cookies I personally baked, and because I followed the recipe to a T, it tasted really nice.

10. Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

Thanks for being a part of this awesome community which I clearly can’t stay away from. I wanted my answers to be somewhat funny, interesting, and a pleasurable read for all of you, I intentionally sound a little sarcastic and sassy above — a bit more than my actual personality. I will generally be friendly, so please come say hi if you see me at the gym, especially if you always saw me and wondered who that weirdo living at the gym was. I’d love to get know more of you and chat about climbing and/or dumb stuff.

HAPPY CLIMBING!

Meet the FA Climbers Competing in Bouldering Youth Nationals

This weekend, we’re sending 17 incredible members of the FA Climbing Team to 2019 USA Climbing Bouldering Youth Nationals, and we couldn’t be prouder of this crew! They’ll be going to Redmond, Oregon, to compete with youth climbers from all over the country. Be sure to tune in to live stream the competition (check here on USAclimbing.org for streaming information) and cheer them on. Crush it, Team!

If you haven’t gotten to meet our team members, we thought we’d let them introduce themselves. Meet our Nationals Team crew:

Mary

10 – Female Youth D

Years Climbing:  5-6

Favorite Climbing Style: Slab

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘My mom is scared of heights and after soccer practice would take my sister and me to climb. We were convinced by Alex to move to First Ascent and join the team.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

Devil’s Lake, WI

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘Before the comp, I lay in my bed and just think about climbing and listen to Hamilton.’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘I want to have fun and make it to semi-finals!’

 

 

Renata

10 – Female Youth D

Years Climbing: 6

Favorite Climbing Style: Bouldering

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘I did gymnastics and saw a climbing wall. I said, “I want to try!”’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

‘First Ascent- I haven’t been outside yet.’

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘Positive talk- I tell myself, “Don’t give up; you’re almost there!”’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘I want to at least make semi-finals and hopefully push on into finals!’

 

 

Austin

8 – Male Youth D

Years Climbing: 3-4

Favorite Climbing Style: Overhang or Dynos!

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘I really want to compete and eventually got on the team.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

Horse Pens 40, AL

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

Music

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘I want to get to semi-finals.’

 

 

Mason

10 – Male Youth D

Years Climbing: 4

Favorite Climbing Style: Bouldering

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘When I stopped gymnastics, my mom and I looked up climbing gyms and found ourselves here!’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

‘First Ascent- Still haven’t gotten outside yet.’

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

Music

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘I want to win!’

 

 

Samantha

12 – Female Youth C

Years Climbing:

Favorite Climbing Style: Overhung crimps or bouldering in general

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘My friend from school used to be on the team and she recommended it to me.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

Rumney, NH

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘Music and of course, friends’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘If I qualify for finals, I’m striving for top 6!’

 

 

Eli

12 – Male Youth C

Years Climbing: 7-8

Favorite Climbing Style: Small moves on small crimps

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘I was doing gymnastics and decided to try a class at Hidden Peak. I joined their Team and eventually moved to FA with my teammates.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

Colorado

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘I think of joy and happy thoughts.’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘Ultimately, I want to be in the top 4 and HAVE FUN!’

 

 

Ethan

13 – Male Youth C

Years Climbing: 6

Favorite Climbing Style: Overhang power or techy problems

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘I first took a class at an FFC Health Club then another at Hidden Peak. I joined the team there and eventually moved here with my friends.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

Red River Gorge, KY

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘Climbing in ISO at the event before going out helps me focus.’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘I want to make semi-finals and perform better than last year.’

 

 

Sarah

13 – Female Youth B

Years Climbing: 8

Favorite Climbing Style: Power problems

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘I started on the team with Chicago Athletic Clubs (EAC, LVAC, LPAC). I always wanted to go to nationals, so I joined FA to gain more exposure in climbing and access to different resources.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

Red River Gorge, KY

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘I like to watch really good climbers climb cool stuff on Instagram.’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘I want to have fun and do my best. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true!’

 

 

Sophie

14 – Female Youth B

Years Climbing: 7

Favorite Climbing Style: ‘I like routes with tricky moves and dynos, especially if they have big, colorful holds!’

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘I started at Hidden Peak and moved with my teammates.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

‘I don’t have a favorite route, but I love the Motherload at RRG, KY.’

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘I’ve always had a routine when competing. The routine is to wake up, try to eat breakfast, can’t because I feel sick, so I just go off to the comp.

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘I want to feel confident in understanding the beta and trying different moves.’

 

 

Spencer

13 – Male Youth B

Years Climbing: 6

Favorite Climbing Style: Juggy overhanging volumes or big volume slab

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘I was climbing at LVAC for a few years and eventually moved to FA and I’ve been happy ever since it opened.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

‘I really look forward to going to the Red one day.’

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘I try to think things out and visualize what is going to happen.’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘I want to make semi-finals.’

 

 

Estelle

15 – Female Youth A

Years Climbing: 5

Favorite Climbing Style: Anything with lots of volumes

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘I liked competing and wanted to join a team with very stylish uniforms and coaches that were almost as cool.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

RRG, KY; Lion’s Head, ON; Zion, UT; and Bishop, CA are all great! I want to climb in Squamish, BC; Grampians, Australia; Kalymnos, Greece; and Fontainebleau, France. My favorite route is the IFSC speed route- also Easy Rider and Paradise Lost!’

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

Music and friends

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘I want to make nationals and National Team’

 

 

Conor

16 – Male Youth A

Years Climbing: 3

Favorite Climbing Style: ‘Anything with slopers or dynamic moves! Or whatever Lucy hates.’

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘I started at a different gym, but I switched over after meeting some friends on Team FA. I’ve never regretted it!’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

‘I love climbing at Smith Rock, OR. My favorite route there is probably Torrid Zone or Chain Reaction.’

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘I do a long warm up and turn my headphones up when I’m waiting in the chair to climb. I usually listen to local artists. My favorites are Pooky, The Slaps, Corn on my Dinner Plate, and Case.’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

This is my first nationals. I want to make semi-finals.

 

 

Lucy

17 – Female JR

Years Climbing: 3

Favorite Climbing Style: ‘Heinous crimps and lock-offs – or whatever gives Conor pain and suffering’

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘My parents signed me up. I wasn’t good at first, but then I got better and better.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

‘I’m going to Red Rock Canyon this spring!’

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘Clif Bars’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘I want to have fun and cheer on the rest of the team!’

 

 

Belinda

17 – Female JR

Years Climbing: 14

Favorite Climbing Style: Weird slab routes

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘Maya and I were kidnapped and locked in a climbing gym and forced to send all your projects!  Send help!’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

RRG, KY

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘I like to play games and joke around with my friends in ISO.’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘Have lots of fun!’

 

 

Maya

18 – Female JR

Years Climbing: 8

Favorite Climbing Style: Crimpy Overhangs

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘Belinda and I are trapped in here! We haven’t seen the sun in daaays because we’re sending so hard. We haven’t been out in years! …except for climbing trips.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

‘I love the Blue Mountains in Australia. I’m looking forward to road-tripping through the west and climbing along the way!’

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘I play card games in ISO with my friends and we get very competitive. I sometimes call upon the ancient demon Cthulhu for extra strength before a climb.’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

I hope to make finals, but I really just want to climb well and enjoy it!’

 

 

Connor

17 – Male JR

Years Climbing: 11

Favorite Climbing Style: Bouldering

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘I first started by passing a rock wall in a health club. After a climbing summer camp, I was completely hooked and eventually dragged my whole family into the sport. Over the years I’ve been on many climbing teams and thank all of them as there was much to take away from each experience. I’ve been with FA since its beginnings when it first opened its doors. I love training hard with my teammates and sharing the whole experience. It’s all more than I can describe!’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

‘I love the Holy Boulders, IL. However, when it comes to sport, nothing beats the Red! I look forward to climbing more internationally (especially Europe)!

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘I listen to music in order to regulate my emotions. Breathing exercises and some meditation also helps to focus and keep a clear mind.’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘Simply put, I want to climb my heart out pulling on plastic while I’m in Bend.’

 

 

Spencer Kapayo

17 – Male JR

Years Climbing: 11

Favorite Climbing Style: Bouldering

How did you start/what brought you to Team FA?

‘My twin introduced me to climbing. He somehow managed to get me roped into things and we’ve been climbing partners ever since. As for FA, we (Connor and I) wanted to continue down a path that had a team dynamic after our previous team fell through. We love to learn from others, and it only made sense to continue seeking that knowledge. So upon FA’s establishment, we became some of the team’s founding members.’

Where is your favorite place to climb/place that you’re looking to go to next?

‘One of my favorite bouldering spots has got to be Stone Fort Little Rock City located in Soddy Daisy, TN. Amazing place when you’re with the right people. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed climbing in Rifle Mountain Park (located in CO) for sport.’

What helps you to get in the right mindset to compete?

‘Usually the day before a competition, I watch clips from a variety of movies or TV shows to hype myself up for the upcoming day. Whether it be Rocky IV, The Matrix, IP Man, and yes, even Naruto, they have one thing in common…to believe in oneself. In a way, watching these clips allows me to shrug off most of my bad karma. On the day of the competition, however, I usually listen to dance or rock music.’

What are some of your goals for nationals weekend?

‘I simply want to put on an entertaining show while in Bend’s entirety, including the delightful conclusion.’

 

Wish all of these crushers the best as they compete!

FA Staff Spotlight: Eric Schafer

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA staff member Eric Schafer. Eric is a long-time member of the Chicago climbing community. He is also our Fitness Coordinator at FA, so we’re excited to share his story! Eric is working on expanding our fitness programming, including Basecamp Group Training, Personal Training, and Redpoint Climbing Training. Make sure to say hi next time you see him at the gym.

How did you get into climbing?

I could trace the desire back to trips to various National Park trips out west when I was young, but I started technical rock climbing in 2008 at Lakeview Athletic Club. Initially, I was only interested in adding the skill to my toolbox as a means of pursuing peaks that require 5th class climbing like the Grand Teton. Of course, I was hooked almost immediately and began climbing regularly 3x a week.

It’s really fortunate that I happened to wander into LVAC, a wall with an amazing community and always well-managed, despite the limited resources available. Had I walked into a facility without the passion of the CAC climbing community, I certainly wouldn’t have been as drawn to it.

What do you love about climbing?

Pretty much everything. I’ll just list a few things here:

The community: The Chicago climbing community is incredibly welcoming and tolerant of overly enthusiastic newcomers with no experience. Within a year, I had gone on a dozen trips to the Red and a couple trips to climb ice with the friends I made at LVAC and LPAC.

It takes you to wonderful places: Climbing, and the associated technical skills, open up a whole world that is otherwise inaccessible. From high-mountain peaks to the canyons of Utah, almost everything is fair game if you know what you’re doing.

Signing the log on a summit and knowing that you are the only person who has been there in a week, a month or even a year is an amazing feeling.

There are infinite examples, but look at something like Matthes Crest, totally inaccessible without 5th class climbing and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

 It enables you to physically push your limits: This has always been a passion of mine and, in many ways, drives my general fitness pursuits as well. Top-rope and sport allow you to push yourself to the physical and mental limits.

Slopers: The best type of holds.

Why are you excited to be part of the FA team?

First Ascent is the heart of the Chicago climbing community. It was founded by a number of my friends and climbing buddies from the dark days before Chicago had a dedicated climbing gym.

I’ve worked in a wide range of industries over the years. From consulting to mountain guiding, the one common theme is that the most important aspect of the job is the people you work with. At FA, I work daily with people I consider friends who share the same passions.

It’s something I don’t take for granted.

Bouldering or sport climbing? Make sure to tell us why.

Sport has always been my answer to this question, and probably always will be. I like being on a rope, pushing the limits of endurance and climbing beautiful lines. I’m inspired almost as much by the aesthetic and setting of a route as the movement within. I challenge someone to walk into the Midnight Surf or the Madness Cave and not feel inspired.

That said, over the years I’ve grown to appreciate bouldering, especially the social aspect of it. Unlike a sport route, where you’re largely alone on the wall, bouldering allows you to work together with a group of friends or people you just met to figure out a sequence. 

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors? What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

This is a really difficult question. Muir Valley is certainly up there. I’d probably say Ouray for ice climbing. Yosemite, both the valley and Tuolumne, is amazing. The Pacific Northwest is gorgeous and the Alaska Range is incredible.

Other outdoor activities I participate in are:

Mountaineering: Walking uphill has always been a passion. I guided on Rainier for a season and loved it.

Ice Climbing: Love it. It’s like rock climbing only you can put holds wherever you want and they’re always jugs.

Canyoneering: I don’t have much experience here, but of what I’ve done, it was super fun. I’m actually leaving for Zion in two days and hope to get a few descents in.

Skiing: Backcountry skiing is great because it takes the least enjoyable part of mountaineering, the descent, and makes it fun! Resort skiing is a blast as well.

Hiking: I suppose this can be enjoyable on its own, but this is best used as a means of accessing the things listed above.

Tennis: I haven’t played as much over the past few years with my main partner having moved to the suburbs, but I still enjoy it on occasion, despite being rusty. (I am a washed out high school athlete.)

Do you have any particular climbing projects or fitness goals for this year?

Nothing specific. My goal is to continue to consistently climb three times a week to build finger tendon strength so I can climb more challenging grades without injury. I might target Super Best Friends or Cell Block Six for Fall 2019?

Fitness? Get Dan Bartz and Jon Shepard to do a conditioning workout with me! I almost had Jon one day, but he bailed right before the burpees started.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

Most of my free non-climbing time is spent lifting, doing gymnastic work and conditioning on occasion. Outside the gym, cycling (to and from the gym), watching movies, playing piano, planning climbing trips and playing video games, if we’re being honest here.

What do you love about Chicago?

Chicago is a great city. I’ve always said we should just pick it up and move it closer to the mountains. I like that everything is close together and easily accessible via bicycle.

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

In college, the dark days before I started climbing, I practiced martial arts for five years and was fortunate enough to earn a first-degree black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do.

I’m super out of practice, but I might still be able to throw a (very low) kick or dive roll.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

Thank you for always being so welcoming to new climbers. The community will grow over the years and it’s difficult to not roll our eyes when someone calls “free soloing” by the term “free climbing,” but let’s never get to a point where we think we’re too cool. After all, we’re still just climbing pieces of plastic, screwed to plywood, in a city nowhere near any outdoor climbing and everyone thinks we’re crazy.

 

FA Member Spotlight: Sarah Landon

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on artist and FA Member Sarah Landon! Sarah is currently showcasing her artwork in the first ever community art installation at FA Block 37! Make sure to stop by FA Block 37 to see her beautiful work (all pieces are for sale and prints are also available), follow Sarah on Instagram @arcanum.inheritance to see more of her artwork, and say hi next time you see her around FA!

How did you get into climbing?

Ever since a friend in grad school took me to an indoor rock climbing gym, I have been addicted!

What do you love about climbing?

Climbing is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. There is always an area of the sport that I can improve in.

Bouldering or sport climbing? Make sure to tell us why.

Bouldering. I climb harder when I boulder and I get more of an adrenaline rush!

Does climbing inspire your art? If so, how?

My art is inspired by my personal experiences and what is currently challenging me. Movement, flow and tranquility are the core inspirations of my art and, in many ways, my climbing style mirrors how I paint. I’m also more creative after a good climbing session!

What do you want to share about the pieces on display at FA Block 37?

The pieces I am showcasing at FA Block 37 are paintings that either portray power and force or peace and balance. This captures a lot of what climbing means to me and I believe it’s fitting for this setting.

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors? What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

Jackson Falls in southern Illinois is my favorite place to climb. When I’m not climbing, I enjoy ultimate frisbee, especially this time of year.

Do you have any particular climbing projects or fitness goals for this year?

I am currently playing in an ultimate frisbee league and my goal is to have more sprinting power and endurance by the end of the season!

What do you love about Chicago?

I love the art community and culture in Chicago. It’s expressed in various ways depending on what neighborhood you are in.

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

I love Big Star in Wicker Park. They have the best tacos and I love the energy in that neighborhood.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to share one of my favorite creative outlets with this community. Thank you, First Ascent!

If you or someone you know would be interested in showcasing artwork at a First Ascent location, please email community@firstascentclimbing.com

FA Member Spotlight: Dr. James Lee

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA Member Dr. James Lee! Starting this month, James will be using his expertise to offer physical therapy services at all First Ascent locations. Follow James on Instagram @leephysicaltherapy, connect with him via email (james@leeptchicago.com) if you’re looking for physical therapy or need a quick tip, and say hi to him next time you see him around FA!

How did you get into climbing?

As a little kid, I would love to climb trees all the time. My cousins would make fun of me and call me jungle boy, but it wasn’t until I started physical therapy school in 2006 when one of my classmates introduced me to indoor climbing… game changer.

What do you love about climbing?

I’m biased for sure, but I think climbing has to be one of the most all-encompassing, full-bodied, high-tension, peaceful, physical, social, frustrating, encouraging and spiritual activities out there. It’s rare to find people from all walks of life come together like this.You learn not to give up, to press on. The moment when everything finally comes together for the send, it’s a great feeling. Being out in nature and, literally, on top of the world looking down, you’re awestruck. It can’t get better than that.

Why are you excited to start the physical therapy program at First Ascent?

Physical therapy is still a very young branch of medicine. Not many people really know what we do, so I’m excited to educate people more about their own bodies and show how they can optimize their physical health with movement. It’s important to distinguish when to be alarmed about certain pains versus when it’s okay to work through other pains without the fear of causing more damage to yourself. Learning good habits is a lot easier than breaking old ones, especially when it comes to a strenuous activity like climbing.

Why is physical therapy important for climbers? What’s your best tip for preventing injury with climbers?

How many times have you heard someone going to see their doctor because of a climbing injury and the doctor tells them to stop climbing? At the end of the appointment both parties are frustrated and don’t understand each other. Physical therapists are movement experts and can teach you when it’s okay to push yourself and when it’s time to listen to your body and rest. Climbing motion is also pulling specific. When you’re constantly working your body in one direction, inevitably the opposing muscle groups tend to get neglected. It’s important to know how to fix those muscle imbalances because they may end up leading to chronic issues down the road. The best tip I can give beginner climbers is to practice OPEN HAND CRIMPING!

Bouldering or sport climbing? 

Sport takes you to greater heights. I love finishing a climb and being able to soak in the view. Bouldering gives you a different high. I feel accomplished when I’m on top. I did it. Short and sweet. But when you’re hundreds of feet off of the ground, you feel small and almost insignificant like a tiny blip on the radar screen.    You get a sense of something greater, something beyond you, something truly awesome.

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors?

I’ve been going to Devil’s Lake more and I love it. There are new boulder routes being set up as more people explore the talus fields. I’m more confident in my anchor building skills and I’m starting to climb simple trad routes. The rock is slick and it’s the perfect place to build a strong foundation.

 

Do you have any particular climbing projects or fitness goals for this year?

I’d love to go to the Red and get back on Easy Rider 5.13a or Orange Juice 5.12c. Those were my two most memorable fails, and I’d be happy if I can red point them one day. Jesus Wept 12d looks like a really fun climb too and I’d love to give that one a go. I feel accomplished leading and flashing the Upper Diagonal 5.9 trad at Devil’s Lake. There’s no need to go any harder than that. A personal fitness goal I’ve always wanted to sort of (not really) meet is to get a six pack, but I love sweets much more than the thought of shredded abs. Key lime pie at First Slice is my favorite. 

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

When I’m not climbing, I’m treating patients or I’m busy making videos on instagram to help people with climbing. I volunteer with the Adaptive Climbing Group (@adaptclimbgroup) where we help people with disabilities to climb. And I love spending time with my wonderful girlfriend who just said yes to marrying me! We enjoy cooking together and also going out to eat. If you ever see us in the gym training together, it’s probably the only time you won’t see her smiling… my fault. 

I’m also currently training my pet Sophie to become a great crag dog one day! She has her own Instagram @crag_dog_sophie.

What do you love about Chicago?

I love calling Chicago my home. We have the most beautiful skyline, the city streets are clean and we have a lake the size of an ocean. It’s easy to find a peaceful corner to get work done or get caught up in a big crowd at a music festival. The diversity of cuisines is never ending too. I just discovered this Venezuelan restaurant on the very north side of Lake View. The cheese sticks alone are so delicious.

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

I’ve been playing the drums almost every week at my church for the past 20 years. I was self-taught starting my freshmen year in high school because our youth group needed a drummer.I now play for our adult service. I’m actually really surprised it’s been 20 years, maybe because I learned at such a young age and it was built into my routine for so long that you just lose track of time. It’s so much fun. I still feel like a kid whenever I play.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?
I’m excited to be on the front lines of injury prevention at FA. Climbing is my passion and I’m fortunate that I can use my profession to help people climb better. I can’t wait to meet you!