Staff Highlight

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Staff Spotlight: Jen Saito

This month, we’re featuring Jen Saito, Yoga and Fitness instructor at First Ascent Block 37! Take it away, Jen.

How did you get into climbing? 

My yoga student and friend Basha was convinced I’d love climbing so we took a class together back in August 2013. I dabbled here and there but didn’t start climbing outside until 2016.

What do you love about climbing? 

Every part of your body is working for you when you climb. And wow, when you project, you get to see your progress from taking whips galore to cleaning it all up. What an incomparable high you get when you clip the anchors on your project!

Bouldering or sport climbing? 

What’s bouldering? SPORT CLIMBING always. I don’t mind falling at all, but I am partial to falling into the fluffy clouds of my partner’s soft catches rather than the unforgiving hardness of a mat.

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors?

The Red is the closest we’ve got here in Chicago so my husband James and I go there often! I also love international climbing. Last year, we visited our friend Hector (whom I met at FA Block 37!) in Bernal, Mexico, and it was a blast climbing with him and getting to know the different climbing areas.

What other outdoor activities do you participate in? 

 In the summers I like to go salsa dancing at SummerDance in Grant Park.

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

I’d like to work on steeper climbs and send Betavul Pipeline at Bob Marley. I’d also like to get on (and send!) that gorgeous line Last Rites at Infirmary. By the end of 2020, I am aiming to get down to what my driver’s license says I weigh!

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

I love teaching classes at FA mainly because everyone is so willing to work and laugh! When I am not teaching or climbing, I enjoy practicing yoga and taking dance classes. My latest love has involved my newfound discovery of kpop! 

What do you love about Chicago? 

I moved from New York City, which was a huge adjustment as Chicago is so much smaller. Not hating, just saying! Now that I have been in Chicago going on 10 years, though, I am truly in love with this city that is so bike-friendly, spacious, and gorgeous — hello, skyline! Plus, I met my husband here in Chicago, specifically at FA Avondale! I knew I wanted to marry a strong sport climber, and I found him!

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

I love everything about Chinatown, especially since it’s not far from where I live. Meet Fresh is my go-to for some hot grass jelly. I know, I know. You’re like — what? Come find me, and we will go get some!

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

I grew up speaking Mandarin. Please practice with me so I don’t lose my vocabulary!

Anything else you want to say to the FA community?

I spend so much of my time at FA, especially at Block 37. FA Fam, you are good to me. Thank you for always being up for some quick climbs, hearty laughs, and warm hugs. Let’s continue to push each other and send all the things!

Staff Spotlight: Colin Manning

This month, we’re featuring Colin Manning, General Manager of Membership & Fitness at First Ascent. He’s new-ish to climbing (and catching the bug), so we asked him some questions about fitness. Reach out to Colin at colin@firstascentclimbing.com!

How did you get into fitness?

I had been a life-long athlete, and after college and moving into the corporate world, I needed to find a better alternative to health and wellness outside of the normal globo-gym setting. I began getting certified in various aspects of the fitness industry and eventually became passionate enough to open my own gym.

What do you love about fitness?

Pushing my limits beyond what I thought I was capable of. Seeing the direct correlation between hard work and results.

What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

Anything and everything outdoors…the more time I can spend outside the better. I have no limits and will try anything, so I’m slowly checking different things off of my list. Currently, I’m learning how to use a compound bow.

Do you have any particular fitness goals for this year?

Nothing specific to fitness, but I am looking to build a pole barn and home gym on my back property in the coming year.

What keeps you busy when you’re not at First Ascent?

My house and my property. My house was built in 1930, so I spend a lot of time working on remodeling the house. I also have several acres of land and 18 acres of water that I have been slowly developing. I’m looking to begin growing some of my own food next year.

What do you love about Chicago?

The sports and the people. After living all over the United States, nothing beats the passion of Chicago sports fans and the genuine attitude Chicagoans have.

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

Au Cheval absolutely lives up to its reputation, Cafe Robey Rooftop is a good place to grab a drink for a hell of a view of the city skyline, Violet Hour is still a staple for pre-dinner drinks, Publican is a quality go-to for both drinks and food, RPM Steak & RPM Italian (along with all LEYE venues) always deliver on great service, but I live out in the suburbs, so I tend to stick to my local spots.

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

I attended the University of Hawaii, Indiana University, and University of Nevada Las Vegas. I have 3 rescued Mastiffs. I drink entirely too much coffee every day. I am obsessed with Texas but will forever think In-n-Out is FAR superior to Whataburger.

Anything else you want to say to the FA community?

I absolutely love when people join me for a workout, so if anyone ever wants to jump in with me or schedule a day and time to work out together, e-mail me and we can work out together: colin@firstascentclimbing.com

Staff Spotlight: Christine Antonio

We’re shining the staff spotlight on Christine Antonio, First Ascent’s Learning to Boulder class instructor at Humboldt Park! Read more about her journey through the world of climbing.

1. How did you get into climbing?

Honestly, you could have found me climbing anything and everything as a child (trees, countertops, scaling the walls of the house – my very early debut into chimney climbing). I once got stuck at the top of a flag pole and had the fire dept called on me. When I was home from grad school for winter break, my friend took me to First Ascent Avondale. I decided then that I would join the gym when I moved back home after graduation later that year (September 2016)… Now here I am!

2. What do you love about climbing?

I love that it has helped me to love my body for how strong and resilient it is regardless of what it looks like. I love the supportive and goofy community I’ve found through climbing. I love the beautiful, obscure places it has brought me to. I love how alive I feel at the top of an outdoor lead or multi-pitch route. I love eating after climbing.

3. Bouldering or sport climbing?

I do both! Sport climbing will always be my first love and favorite – the serenity and fluidity needed for sport climbing has always resonated with me. But I also love the social aspect of bouldering and napping on crash pads. I do tend to use bouldering as a way to improve climbing style/technique that I can apply to the lead wall.

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

Bishop (Payahuunadü – Northern Paiute, Southern Mono/Monache, and Newe/Western Shoshone land) is an absolutely magical place. Climbing on beautiful rock with the snowcapped Sierra Nevada range in the background is an absolute dream. Locally, Shawnee National Park is a gem of southern IL.

5. What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

Snowboarding, ice climbing, surfing (trying to learn), backpacking (went on my first big trip to Mt. Olympus, WA earlier this year). I’ll play a pickup game soccer or football here and there. I’m trying to get back into running, but it’s getting cold now and I dread the treadmill (I have many excuses).

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

Rehab current injuries, prevent further injuries, be smarter and more strategic about getting stronger! Grade-wise, indoor 5.12, outdoor 5.11+/5.12-, V6 outdoor. I’m hoping to find some lead projects in So IL or the Red in 2020!

I also hope to continue doing solid work with Sending In Color, Women Crush Wednesday, and Brown Girls Climb to improve diversity, accessibility, and WOC (women of color) representation in the climbing world.

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

My full-time job is a Medical Speech-Language Pathologist at an acute care hospital. So most of the time I’m performing swallow studies and watching people eat. Other things that keep me busy are non-climbing related travels (they rarely are these days), trying new recipes, singing very loudly in my car, and my crazy cat.

8. What do you love about Chicago?

It’s home! I also “love” that sub 50 F is still sending temps for us because we got thick skin – STRENGTH, NO WEAKNESS (but really there’s still never enough skin).

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

Food: Ahhh I love food… can’t choose one place! Some favorites are Chicago Kalbi (Korean and Japanese barbecue), Mesaku (sushi), Cocoro (Japanese), Han Bat (Korean ox bone soup), Alegrias (Nayarit style seafood), Bonci (Roman-style pizza), Lina’s Frozen Treats (located in Niles – Mexican and Filipino/Asian froyo, drinks, and desserts), Chi Cafe (if you know you know), and of course, my mom’s house for some bomb Filipino food.

Music/art/culture: One of my dear friends started Luya Poetry, a monthly poetry/open mic night geared towards the Filipino American and POC (people of color) community. Luya, in Tagalog, translates to ‘ginger’ and, like poetry and community, ginger is healing. The topics always resonate and are refreshing in a way that cannot be described with words.

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

I used to choreograph Filipino folk dances in college and competed in Battle of the Bamboo (annual competition at the University of Illinois Chicago) throughout my 4 years. In my senior year, I held the lead role in our performance as a mythical, colorful chicken called the “Sarimanok”. I think this all came full circle when I climbed my first outdoor 5.11 in Cebu, Philippines and I could hear the loud, incessant, collective crowing of the town’s cock-fighting chickens cheering me on…

11. Anything else you want to say to the FA community?

As climbing becomes more popularized, inevitably, outdoor spaces are gaining more traffic. Please be respectful of the land where you climb/recreate, and to the people who were there before us, are still there, and continue to do work to protect these natural resources. Take some time to learn about the history, preferred practices, and be proactive about doing your part – whether that is packing it in/out, picking up trash, staying on trails, not climbing on rock susceptible to damage, not making cairns for fun, participating in stewardship or service projects, listening to stories and struggles of indigenous people, lobbying, or donating. “Leave no trace” is the bare minimum that we can be doing.

With the passion, tenacity, and execution I have witnessed in this community when facing our climbing projects, I know that we can do more here!

Staff Spotlight: Paula Bui

We’re shining the staff spotlight on Paula Bui, First Ascent’s Yoga Coordinator and AcroYoga extroadinaire. Read more about her journey into the world of yoga. Sign up for a yoga class at Avondale to meet her!

1. How did you get into yoga?

I was in high school when I took my first yoga class in Miami, FL and was looking for different ways to move my body. I had just started adopting a plant-based diet at the time and read somewhere most vegetarians practiced a mindful movement practice through yoga. Who knows how relevant that is now but I like to think we’re all trying to be more mindful of our consumption and impact on this planet.

2. What do you love about yoga?

I enjoy the feeling of being strong and flexible.

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

None yet! Honestly, I’m a little terrified of climbing outdoors. Hiking outside and being on my bike bring me joy!

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

Yes, to get my foot behind my head.
Maybe…
But actually no.
I’m excited to be able to continue working my one arm handstand practice and get better at lifting humans up over my head.

6. What keeps you busy when you’re not doing yoga?

Thai bodywork and being a freelance interpreter. They’re my other two side hustles. Oh, and also traveling whenever I get the opportunity.

7. What do you love about Chicago?

Everything. Literally everything, both the good and the bad. I love winter and the other seasons too. I love that this is a city of Struggle and a city of Hope. I love that we can drive in any direction (minus towards the lake) and be in a different city within a couple of hours.

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

The Chicago Cultural Center for all things music (free!) and culture. My favorite place for food is my kitchen.

Oh and you didn’t ask, but my favorite place to hang out is at a coffeeshop around the city.

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

I’m passionate about building community and organize an AcroYoga Festival every year in Chicago to do that and show some adults how to communicate, trust, and play again.

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

I’m grateful for you all. Seriously. I love that I can show up at a random time of day and connect with someone that’s come to my yoga class & chat or climb together.

Staff Spotlight: Brandon Bradberry

We’re shining the staff spotlight on Brandon Bradberry, Intro to Bouldering instructor at First Ascent Block 37. Read more about his climbing journey below and say hi next time you see him at Block 37!

1. How did you get into climbing?

In 2017, not knowing anything about climbing, I applied for a job at the Maggie Daley Park climbing wall. Before the 2018 season, I climbed on an autobelay, just to try it out. It was sketchy coming down…I’m normally not scared of anything, so I did it again and again and again, and eventually started climbing from there. By the time the 2018 season was over, I was instructing.

2. What do you love about climbing?

It’s like a zen thing. The technique blows my mind. I love how climbing works on muscles I’ve never thought to use and is also a full body exercise.

3. Bouldering or sport climbing?

Bouldering, because I run out of steam very quickly.

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

I’ve never climbed outside—eventually, yeah. I fall enough in the gym already right now…

I occasionally do open water swimming in the lake and also have done some skiing.

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

I’d like to become an official V6 climber. I’ve done them before, but it takes me multiple sessions. I want to be able to climb V6 problems within one session.

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

My daughter keeps me on my toes all of the time. She loves autobelays, but doesn’t want to toprope with me—she doesn’t want me to help her! She’s really tough.

7. What do you love about Chicago?

The grid system, and public transportation makes it easy to get around.

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

My favorite spot would be Hyde Park because it’s so diverse. If I was there right now and hungry, I’d go to Noodles Etc.

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

I basically climb with only my right arm, because I have severe nerve damage in my left one. I usually have to flip problems around to focus on my right arm.

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

Thanks for all the beta and help in my journey of becoming a good climber.

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