Story by Tai John /
As a born and raised dancer, my venture into rock climbing was my way of stepping out of my comfort zone and discovering something new. From a young age, my mother taught me and my brother about rhythm. She would guide our hips and waists until we were in sync with the beat of the music, and before you knew, it we were gyrating all over the place! At the ripe age of three, I began taking ballet, pointe, jazz, tap, modern, and character lessons in the studio. Dance is my first love and such a major part of my life that I didn’t want to give it up by any means necessary. In high school I joined the drill team, and by my sophomore year of college I joined a hip-hop based dance crew. Post undergrad, I haven’t been dancing as much as I would like, but a new interest has captured my attention: rock climbing. Before beginning my position at Momentum Indoor Climbing Katy, I never thought of rock climbing as anything more than a semi-high, colorful, recreational wall on cruise ships. I never even knew it was considered a sport. Oh, how Momentum turned my perspective upside down and flipped it all around in the past year!
From Dancer to Climber
My first true introduction to climbing was at Texas Rock Gym with our Momentum Katy manager, Tuesday Kahl. She did an excellent job briefing me on everything rock climbing: terminology, lingo, types of climbing, harnesses, belay devices, to super tight climbing shoes that gave me deja-vu of wearing pointe shoes for ballet. It was a lot of information to take in and most of the time I felt like she was speaking a foreign language, but it was all essential information that I knew I would need to have a grasp on once I began working for Momentum. I’m not afraid of heights or a challenge, but getting on the wall for the first time was a bit scary for me and there were times when I didn’t know if I could finish a route. But with the beta Tuesday gave me, her continuous encouragement, and the added bonus that she wouldn’t lower me until I completed the specified route, was an experience that tested my faith, confidence, and literally challenged me to push myself to new heights.
Climbing is one thing, and learning to belay is a completely different game. My first time learning to belay from one of the staff members was a bit nerve-racking. I’m a visual learner, so watching the movement and listening to what he was saying in comparison to actually having to do it frustrated me a bit. I wasn’t picking up on it easily and as a result I was getting irritated with myself. Eventually, I got the hang of their belay method and successfully belayed Tuesday on a few routes.
Once we finished top roping for a bit, she took me into the bouldering area and challenged me in a new way. This time she expected me to climb on this wall with no ropes or harness, just me, myself, and the wall—I honestly thought she was crazy; this couldn’t be a real thing. Seeing everyone around me fall off the wall, plop onto the pad, study their problem, and do it all over again was interesting to watch, but made me tremble a bit on the inside. After she chose a fairly easy route for me to start with, she demonstrated, then it was my turn to hit the wall. Bouldering for the first time was definitely more terrifying to me in comparison to top-roping mainly because of the fact that I may possibly fall to my death. Dramatic, I know, but if you could see me almost finish this boulder route and then began flailing my arms and legs in the air like a bird with a broken wing before I fell to the ground, then you would understand why I felt that way! Bouldering was more challenging, tiring, and it ripped my hands up, but it was a good experience to be had––especially because it helps to make you into a stronger climber in general.
After my eye-opening introduction to rock climbing courtesy of Tuesday, training week for work finally commenced. Being a green thumb climber and completely new to the sport, I didn’t even think I would have been hired for this job at all since I literally knew nothing about rock climbing. Being trained with a melting pot of climbers ranging from beginners to experienced made me feel much more comfortable. During our training weeks, we learned everything from how to tie the figure eight follow through knot as the climber, to belaying using the PBUS (pull, break, under, slide) method, how to properly teach an introductory belay class, how to use RGP (Rock Gym Pro), and everything else climbing gym entails. The main thing I had a bit of trouble with in the beginning was nailing down all the climbing vocabulary, but the more practice and repetition I received, the smoother things became throughout the weeks.
Getting my Footing
Post-training and the grand opening of the gym, I can say that I’ve truly grown as a climber. I’ve developed my own spiel for teaching introductory learn to belay classes, I’m able to have a full conversation about climbing, give tours and talk about everything in our facility from the types of climbing, skill levels, what each wall is used for, climbing grades, and so much more effortlessly. I’ve transitioned from knowing absolutely nothing about climbing to climbing my way through top rope grades beginning at 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, 5.8, and 5.9s during the training weeks to now climbing 5.10s and attempting 5.11s every now and then. Not to mention I received my lead climbing certification! Taking my practice fall was probably the most embarrassing and nerve-racking thing for me because I was so nervous about letting go and whipping that on my descent, I screamed a bit and covered my mouth. Although the thought of taking falls still feels scary, becoming a proficient lead climber is one of my biggest personal accomplishments. When I first set foot in the gym, saw how massive the monolith was, and learned about the skill level lead climbing entails, I never imagined that I would someday actually be on that monolith clipping into quick draws and climbing my way to the top, but here we are. I top rope, lead climb, and even though I’m not too much into the bouldering scene, it’s something that I aim to migrate into.
As I mentioned before, I am not a born and raised rock climber, my love and passion is still rooted in dance. As I’ve continued to climb throughout training weeks up until now, climbing feels different for me. My latest style of dancing has evolved into climbing. I no longer feel uncomfortable, uncertain, or have a lack of confidence when I’m on the wall. Today, when I’m climbing it feels more like I’m dancing on the wall. Every route presents a different style of dance and movement––some feel flowy and smooth like a lyrical routine while others feel more rough and tough like an advanced hip-hop routine. My movement feels more controlled; I’m more certain and sure of myself and what my body can do. I feel stronger every time I climb regardless of how long it’s been or whether I send a route or not. That’s not to say I still don’t get scared, nervous, or feel defeated when I can’t complete a route––I do, I’m not perfect. What I am is stronger. I’m stronger mentally as a result of having to critically think through routes and problems before I get on the wall or while climbing. I’m stronger emotionally because I’ve learned that just like dancing, it’s okay to be imperfect in movement and not get a route with no takes or falls on the first try. As long as I’m moving, I’m making progress. I’m stronger physically thanks to climbing, training, constant beta from more experienced climbers, and because climbing, in general, is a full workout.
Aside from how much I’ve grown as a climber, working at Momentum has given me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. I’ve been able to meet some of the Momentum management moguls that makes these gyms go round. First, I’d like to say that looks can be deceiving, which is certainly the case with all of the individuals I’m about to mention. I can’t say I’ve ever met such a humble group of individuals. I met the CEO, Jeff Pedersen, who is so laid back that you wouldn’t even know that he was one of the brains and head honcho behind a brand of such outstanding rock climbing gyms. There’s Chris McFarland, the Regional Operations Manager who comes off as quiet at first… but be prepared to take a dip in a whirlpool of in-depth climbing knowledge once he opens his mouth! Rich Connors, the Regional Facilities Director who can also be quiet at times but is generally a ball of fun who, might I say, rocks tiger tennis jerseys effortlessly when he’s crushing problems on the walls. There’s Noah Bigwood, who I only chatted with briefly, but I was amazed at how much of a “born and raised in rock climbing” type of climber he was. Also, how can I forget to mention that I’ve met the well-known rock climbing gem and our head route setter John Oungst? What a genuinely friendly and down to earth individual. Along with route setting royalty, I’ve also had the chance to meet, chat, and hang out a bit with Steven Jeffery. He’s got unique written all over him, from his outlandish hair to his off-the-wall personality. Last but certainly not least of the Momentum moguls I’ve met is my manager Rees Williams. Have you ever met someone who always has a big grin glued to their face and is just as happy to see you as your dog is when you walk through the door? Well that’s Rees for you! Not to mention that his beautiful girlfriend Lily is a true gem herself and like a mama bear figure to me. She’s not technically Momentum staff, but from the jump, she has been selflessly involved and getting down and dirty with the crew to help make this gym what it is today. Those are just a few out of a pool of amazing individuals I’ve met over the past year of working for Momentum.
My Final Position
Throughout the many seasons we go through in life this has been one of the more enjoyable ones for me. Working for Momentum Indoor Climbing has become more than just a job for me, it has become a second home––and that’s not just because I spend so much time working and hanging out there. I’ve adopted a second family thanks to the wonderful staff I work alongside each day, I get a kick out of meeting new people on the daily, I’ve ventured into a new sport and hobby, grown as a climber, and I’ve also been blessed with the opportunity to write about it, too. I’m grateful to have been a part of this project from the jump and am looking forward to all that is to come as I continue to climb to new pursuits with Momentum.