Interviews

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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!

FA Member Spotlight: Jun Yu Tan

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA Member Jun Yu Tan! We caught up with him to find out more about Jun’s Kickstarter campaign and why he loves climbing at FA. Follow Jun on Instagram at @ceramicsclimbingcatastrophe, and say hi to him next time you seen him around FA!

How did you get into climbing?

Two years ago, a friend working in Chicago for the summer brought me climbing. After that, I was instantly hooked on the sport. I looked up climbing gyms in Chicago, bought a pair of climbing shoes and signed up for a membership at First Ascent!

What do you love about climbing?

I love being on the wall, challenging myself and having fun laughing and falling with the climbing community here. I would hang out on the wall all day if my arms allowed. If I have time, a good session would be four to six hours. I don’t have to be climbing the hardest routes, I’m just glad to be on the wall!

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

Bouldering. The fear of falling in sport climbing makes me a nervous wreck on the wall, which ruins the mental fun since every move I only think about not falling. Once it happens, the fall itself isn’t all that scary, but I am a lot more confident working on boulder problems. However, I love the endurance challenge on ropes and wish I did it more often, despite my fears.

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

Honestly, I have never climbed outdoors and haven’t actively sought out outdoor trips. I would definitely love to go someday, but right now there are other priorities.

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

Overall, I’d like to get stronger on the wall and keep pushing myself. In terms of grades, my goals are to get to V7 on boulders and 5.12a in sport climbing. Additionally, with the amount of physical activity I do at work, preventing back injury and maintaining flexibility is important for me.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

I started my own pottery studio, C3 Ceramics! It was funded with the help of a lot of people at First Ascent on Kickstarter, with a campaign to produce “pinch mugs” for climbers. I am only a few days away from production. It’s been a whirl-wind the past three months working on the campaign, getting it funded and getting the studio up and running. My full-time job on the weekends also keeps me busy. There’s always something for me to do.

What do you love about Chicago?

I love the relaxed pace of the city and the quiet spots by the lake. There’s always somewhere to sit and have a nice conversation, even in the loop.

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

I’m always looking for good Japanese ramen and sushi, so probably Ramen Takeya and Cocoro are my favorite haunts. For music, there are so many cool bars and venues it’s hard to pick, but I love small concerts and after shows compared to the large festivals like Lollapalooza or Riot Fest.

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

I watch a lot of Anime and Korean Dramas in my free time, which hasn’t been much of late. However, over the past 10 years, I’ve seen hundreds of shows, so if anyone would like recommendations just ask!

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community? 

I am grateful for the support I received for my Kickstarter campaign and how friendly everyone in the community is. Climbing with everyone is always a blast, so thank you very much! I’d also like to give a shout-out to my awesome climbing buddy Tricia Chee who is leaving the city at the end of the week. I’m wishing her all the best in her future endeavors.

Want to be featured in an FA Member Spotlight? Know someone who should be featured? Email as at blog@firstascentclimbing.com to nominate yourself or someone else!

FA Staff Spotlight: Pilar Amado

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA staff member Pilar Amado. Pilar is the fearless leader of our Women Crush Wednesday sessions at FA Avondale, where women boulderers of all ability levels unite to crush some boulders and share some laughs. She is also heavily involved with Sending in Color, and has been a long time member of the FA community, so we’re excited to share her story! Make sure to give her Instagram a follow at @pily.amado and say hi next time you see her at the gym. 

How did you get into climbing?

I first learned about climbing through my older brother who started when I was around 12 years old. It caught my attention, but at the time I was a dedicated dancer and thought climbing was a little too dangerous. When I turned 16, however, I convinced my father to bring me to the climbing gym in my hometown of Medellin, Colombia so I could give climbing a go. Since he was already familiar with the gym because of my brother, my dad was easily convinced and after my first visit, I was hooked! I’ve been climbing ever since, with some short and long breaks due to injuries and accessibility.

What do you love about climbing?

I love that it has changed over the years. Initially, I loved to take outdoor climbing trips and tackle the physical and mental challenges of the sport. At 16, I had the privilege to travel to different parts of Colombia I hadn’t seen before with older, more experienced climbers, which taught me a lot about the sport.

Lately, I have fallen in love with the climbing community itself. I have made some of the most meaningful relationships in my life and it has become a large part of my lifestyle.

I still love the physical and mental challenge, but at this point in my life,I’m trying to see climbing as a mental break instead of challenging myself too much. Right now, I don’t have a lot of free time to dedicate to it. However, I’m looking forward to training hard and getting stronger again SOON!

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

Right now, and the past four years, BOULDERING! When I first started climbing I was bouldering and sport climbing hand in hand. All of my outdoor trips consisted of sport climbing and bouldering was done only indoors for training, since there are not that many outdoor bouldering areas in Colombia. Currently, I only boulder. I love how social bouldering is and how easy it is to have short, productive bouldering sessions.In sport climbing, you’d need at least two hours, and since I haven’t done it in a long time, my head game is awful.

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

For bouldering, I’d say LRC in Chattanooga and Rocktown in Georgia. They offer a great variety of styles and the approach is fairly easy. I try to bike as much as I can too, but I don’t do it as much as I used to.

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

Not specifically. I want to start projecting V7s and V8s in the gym and I’d like to send my first outdoor V6. Overall, I want to start a more structured training program to get stronger!

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

Work and freelance projects take up most of my time. I also try to put some time towards growing Sending in Color, an initiative to keep diversity growing in the Chicago climbing scene.

What do you love about Chicago?

Summer time. The city comes to life during the summer months with all the different music festivals.

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

For food, it varies, but I’m always down for good tacoa or Colombian empanadas!

For Music, I love music festivals like Ruidofest and Pitchfork. I’ve also attended some awesome concerts at the Old Town School of Folk Music and Subterranean. I’m also always down for a free summer concert at the Pritzker Pavillion.

For Art, my favorite museum is the MCA. I’ve been a volunteer there for the past two years and have gotten access to some cool events. I also really like some of the shows at the Chicago Cultural Center, which are always free!

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

I think a lot of people don’t know that I was born and raised in Colombia and have only been living in Chicago for the past 8 years. I’m also officially a staff member at FA, besides leading the WCW sessions at Avondale and hosting the monthly Sending in Color POC hangouts.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community? 

Don’t be afraid to say hi to me at the gym!I usually don’t say hi because it’s really hard for me to recognize people if I’m not wearing my glasses, so I usually don’t unless I’m 100% sure that person is someone I know. Otherwise, I’ll just end up waving at a bunch of random people.

 

Join Pilar at the next Avondale Women Crush Wednesday session and the next Sending In Color POC Hangout!