Member Spotlight

Category Archive

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

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 ( 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 to nominate yourself or someone else!

FA Member Spotlight: Seth Bradley (co-founder of Nude Dude Food)

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on Seth Bradley, co-founder of Nude Dude Food, a popular Chicago-based private dining company that focuses on local and seasonal ingredientsWe caught up with him at FA Avondale to talk about how climbing ties into his passion for healthy cooking. Follow Seth on Instagram @nudedudefood, and say hi to him next time you seen him around FA!

How did you get started cooking?

I was an incredibly picky eater as a kid. In high school I was the kid asking his mom to make him Pop-Tarts and scrambled eggs (as if I couldn’t make them myself). When I got to college, my palette started changing and I became more open minded and interested in food. Once I started cooking, I couldn’t stop. I became obsessed with food, ingredients and flavors, so I absorbed as much information as I could from cookbooks and the Food Network. Over time I found myself spending more and more time in the kitchen cooking for my roommates and friends, often times 5-6 hours a night, and realized it was time for a career switch.

What inspired the Nude Dude Food concept?

My business partner – my best friend from high school and roommate for the past 8 years – and I wanted to not only promote the idea of eating well with sustainable and honest food, but provide a more intimate, fun and personalized private dining experience.  We customize a five to six course menu for each client in their home, which allows us to become part of the party. We cook, serve, entertain and clean, which surprises most people! It’s a fun, personal way to share a food experience and we leave feeling like friends with each of our clients!

What projects are coming up for Nude Dude Food?

Besides all of our private dinners and events in and around Chicago, we’ve been traveling quite a bit.We were recently in California and Texas and next week we’re back in Los Angeles for a TV appearance and a pop-up dinner in Venice Beach. We’re also involved in a corporate team building event this March where we’ll stay in cabins in the Appalachian Mountains and cook rustic brunches and dinners for our clients, which is awesome!

What’s your favorite quick healthy meal/snack?

I love a quick snack of soft scrambled eggs doused in hot sauce. It’s a great protein boost before or after a workout. We also love to roast or pan fry vegetables. Take almost any vegetable, season it well with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil, then roast it in the oven or pan fry it until it’s caramelized. It’s an easy and flavorful way to enjoy your vegetables!

How did you start climbing?

I only climbed occasionally until joining First Ascent, then I became obsessed with it. Once it became part of my daily workout regimen, I couldn’t stop. I love the way climbing takes you away from everything; it requires all of your attention while on the wall, which makes it difficult to think about anything else. It’s also an incredibly challenging sport not only physically, but mentally. My whole family lives in the Denver and Morrison Colorado area, so I’ve been doing some outdoor and trad climbing around there when I can. It’s an amazing experience that’s so different from gym climbing.

How is fitness important to your work? 

Considering our brand name, Nude Dude Food, and the fact that most of our clients want us to cook in our “uniform”, shirtless with an apron, fitness is a very big part of our lifestyle, brand and daily routine.It also keeps me sane! I feel more energized mentally and physically after I exercise. 

Any climbing goals for this year?

I just want to improve overall, especially my technique. I’m not naturally flexible, so I’ve been trying to do more yoga and stretching. I’d also love to climb more outdoors and perhaps take a trip with friends I’ve met at the gym.

What was your profession before moving into culinary?

For over ten years I was a professional musician and toured all over the Midwest where I played around 150 shows a year. I’ve always loved to perform and sing, even as a kid I would write songs on a tiny Casio keyboard and make my family watch me perform. I was in choir, drama and glee club throughout high school and college. Being in front of people always felt natural, exciting and inspiring. My passion for performance transferred perfectly into the food business. Cooking and providing a unique experience is a performance itself, so it was a natural progression.

Photos & Interview by Luke Streich. Follow him on Instagram @milo_t_dog.

FA Member Spotlight: Jen & Ari – Coconut & Cantaloupe

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on our very own #WCWs – Jen and Ari! Also known as Coconut and Cantaloupe, these two scientists are always up for a challenge in the gym or in the lab. Check out their instagram @coconutandcantaloupe to see how these awesome climbers stay inspired!

How did you get into climbing?

Jen (Coconut): While vacationing in Vietnam at the end of 2015, my husband signed us up for a boat tour that also involved kayaking around Ha Long Bay and rock climbing. Neither one of us had ever climbed before, and I was quite anxious to try it.It didn’t feel very intuitive the first time, and the limestone tore my hands to shreds, but at about 40 feet up, I remember sitting in my harness and looking around the bay at all of the limestone towers and islands and thinking, “Well, this is cool. Being this high up is kind of nice. I wonder if there’s anything I can climb in Chicago”. Pretty much since then, my main belaytionship has been with Ari, who I met in my PhD program at Northwestern, but we’ve had a lot of fun climbing with our husbands too and getting other friends into the sport!

Ari (Cantaloupe): My now-husband actually introduced me to climbing when we first started dating. I stopped climbing after I got into graduate school for my PhD in biology at Northwestern University; it just wasn’t on my mind.  Years later, Jen asked me if I wanted to go climbing with her. We started climbing together, got more serious about our climbing, made this Instagram account and now we are just climbing together all the time. When I climb without her I feel like my arm is missing!

What do you love about climbing?

Jen: Climbing is the only time when my mind is quiet and singularly focused. Being a grad student is incredibly stressful and can be all consuming, but committing to climbing certain days of the week and having a climbing partner forces me to reset. It’s a kind of meditation for me. Also, the community is amazing! Where would I be without the support and encouragement of the Women Crush Wednesday crew?

Ari: Climbing really makes me feel at home in my body. It makes me feel proud of my body. I’m not here to climb easy; I’m here to work hard. I’m here to be frustrated at times. I’m here to fall and to fail. I’m here to push my body so I can improve. I’m here to work hard so I get strong. Climbing makes me feel strong and proud, but it also shows me my weaknesses and pushes me to correct them. Climbing motivates my self improvement all around.

Bouldering or sport climbing?

Jen: I enjoy both, but sport a little more than bouldering only because the fear of falling off the wall is still too real.

Ari: Both.

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

Jen: I’ve only climbed in Vietnam and Wisconsin, so between the two, I’d choose Vietnam. I’d love to explore Red River Gorge and Hueco in the near future. I also enjoy biking, camping, and hiking.

Ari: Red River Gorge. I also love hiking, camping, snorkeling, and swimming.

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

Jen: This might sound trivial, but I am working on being able to do pull-ups. They’re so hard! Other than that, I want to get more confident at lead climbing and consistently be able to climb V4s.

Ari: Start lead climbing in the gym. Get outside. Work out more frequently when I start writing my thesis soon.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

Jen: I’m a grad student at Northwestern, so my full-time job is research. I’m getting my PhD in a lab that specializes in developing nanomaterials for diagnostic and therapeutic applications.

Ari: My PhD, which feels like it is taking an eternity! I also love to travel, and I have the cutest cat Curie! Yes, I did name her after Dr. Marie Curie. I’m that person. Jen’s dogs are named after James Watson and Francis Crick so I am in good company!

What do you love about Chicago?

Jen: Chicago is my hometown, and the skyline is 100% my favorite thing about it. Whenever I drive or fly back into the city or look at the skyline from the water, its association with home and family is so strong that I always feel comforted by the sight of it. Also, is there anything better than summer in Chicago?

Ari: What don’t I love about Chicago? Chicago is the first city I have lived in where I have ever felt at home.

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

Jen: I live close to Chinatown, so I’m always happy to go out for food there. I especially like Dolo for dim sum. The Art Institute is my favorite museum. I also really like going to the symphony and the opera. Thank you, student discounts!

Ari: Sakura Karaoke in Chinatown, Maxwell Street Market Tacos/buying whatever random stuff they are selling, and the Chicago Art Institute

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

Jen: I think I was the first female tuba player in my high school’s band. I switched to tuba from flute because there were no women in that section.Also, I can interdigitate my toes.

Ari: My brother and I share the same birthday exactly 5 years apart! I also don’t understand macaroni and cheese.



Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

Jen: If you see us in the gym, please say hi! We love meeting and climbing with new people, and we’re always happy to be your cheerleaders while you project!

Ari: Someone take us climbing outside – I’ll bake you cookies. And Jen makes one hell of a brownie!