Kevin Jorgeson understands that a single experience climbing can change a life. The veteran of the famous 2015 free ascent of Yosemite’s Dawn Wall with Tommy Caldwell discovered rock climbing at an outdoor fair at age nine. He was hooked, he says, and it “helped me build confidence as an awkward teenager, find community, and create a life with my passion.” The problem, he says, is that if a kid is never invited to a birthday party at a climbing gym, or doesn’t live near one, they may never get the chance at that potentially life-changing experience. Jorgeson says he “wants to take luck out of the equation for as many as a million kids by putting climbing in front of them wherever they live.”
Today, Jorgeson is much closer to that goal. 1Climb, the organization he cofounded with climber and gym owner Dan Chancellor in 2010 to foster youth climbing, announced that Adidas Outdoor, parent company of Five Ten shoes, is donating $1 million to build climbing walls in ten Boys and Girls Clubs (a nonprofit that “inspires and enables” underserved youth through various programs and opportunities) around the country. The gift matches the investment made this year by the North Face, whose Walls Are Made for Climbing project allocated $1 million to build climbing boulders in several urban parks, including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, and New York City. The 1Climb Boys and Girls Club facilities will be completed by 2020 and join three others that 1Climb has already built in Saint Louis, Missouri, Los Angeles, and Sonoma, California.
The Boys and Girls Club relationship with 1Climb dates to 2010, when Jorgeson spearheaded the construction of a climbing wall at the Sonoma club. “Boys and Girls Clubs are the gold standard for youth recreation nonprofits,” says Jorgeson. “They have a proven track record working with the kids we want to reach. That they serve 4.5 million kids a year in thousands of locations makes my goal of getting one million kids climbing seem pretty feasible.”
Each of the new climbing walls will be between 500 and 800 square feet and feature auto belays, as well as shoes from Five Ten. Just as important though, Jorgeson says, is that the clubs receiving climbing walls will each be situated within 15 minutes of an already existing climbing gym. In a formula established in 1Climb’s Saint Louis and L.A. projects, those gyms will train Boys and Girls Club staff in climbing skills and should maintain a relationship with the budding climbers. “We don’t want to just give them a gym and say, Have fun,” Jorgeson says. “We want the partner gym to be a gateway to the climbing community.”
So far the relationship has worked well for the Boyle Heights Boys and Girls Club in L.A. and the nearby LA Boulders climbing gym. Established in 2018, the Boyle Heights club’s wall is now part of the organization’s standard programming and has been used by at least 200 kids, says Patricia Siqueiros, the club’s executive director. “The kids love the climbing wall,” she says. Between climbing at the club and monthly field trips to LA Boulders, “it’s allowing them to envision a world beyond their immediate surroundings, which can be pretty limiting.”
Says Holly Rock, manager of LA Boulders, “Our staff gets really excited to work with the kids. They all remember what climbing did for them when they first started.”
She describes a March Family Night at the Boyle Heights Boys and Girls Club climbing wall, and the 65 participants—kids, siblings, parents—eating tacos and listening to a DJ while kids sprinted up and down the wall. Jorgeson himself was in attendance, talking adventure and spotting budding climbers. At the end, she says, kids lined up to take turns at Jorgeson’s microphone, some standing on tiptoe to reach it, to say how glad they were to have the wall.
That infectious sense of empowerment is exactly what attracted Adidas to the project, says Stephen Dowling, vice president of marketing for Adidas Outdoor. “Our belief is that sport is the remedy to a lot of what is wrong in the world today. In the next few years the majority of people will live in cities, and we want to help bring the outdoors to those in cities.”
Jorgeson says that Adidas approached him to ask what level of funding it would take to build ten climbing walls. “They don’t like to talk about the money, they like to talk about the impact.”
1Climb’s project is particularly exciting right now, says Dowling, with climbing debuting as an Olympic sport in 2020. “We want to give every kid the same starting line,” he says. “What if a future Olympic champion starts at a Boys and Girl’s Club? That’s our ceiling.”