Rock climbing

Local gym aiming to make rock climbing a welcoming space



Bolder Climbing Community seeks to provide a space for climbers to grow both on and off the wall. PHOTO: BOLD CLIMBING COMMUNITY

Regan Kennedy was planning a career in science education, but her love for rock climbing prompted her to open a climbing gym where she finds fulfillment in training and motivating women to join the supportive local community.

Kennedy was born and raised in Saskatoon, where she later attended the University of Saskatchewan, where she majored in science.

“I wanted to be in some kind of creative writing program,” Kennedy says. “But then, somehow, I ended up really enjoying biology. I got really good at it, and the better you get at something, the more you start liking it.

Kennedy earned an honors bachelor’s degree in biology and later completed a master’s degree in plant molecular pathology and genetics. While working at the University of Calgary, she discovered that she was still passionate about learning and teaching and earned a degree in education.

“I never did well in high school. I kind of learned to learn in my freshman year of college, and then I was very thirsty for knowledge,” says Kennedy.

While working and attending school at the University of Saskatchewan, she was introduced to the world of rock climbing by a foreign intern from Italy.

“I didn’t know what this thing [climbing] has been. The first day, we went for a top-rope lesson. That’s how it all started,” Kennedy says.

His life began to revolve around climbing, on the competitive circuit and just as his passion. Kennedy now co-owns a local bouldering gym, as well as another located in British Columbia. She and the Bolder staff are opening a new local climbing gym in south Calgary.

Longtime climber and friend of Kennedy’s for 15 years, Jon Archibald, says that while her passions have changed over the years, whether it’s studying or climbing, she likes to see results.

“You know, he’s someone who really wants to be good at what he does,” Archibald says. “The subject has changed but I think her attitude towards work and the way she wants to put her efforts forward, I don’t think that’s the case.”

In her gym, Kennedy tries to recreate for everyone the same kind of experience she had in her early days.

“I think a lot of people come in on their own and they miss the mentorship aspect, which I think can really help and also provide great safety in the sport,” Kennedy says.

Kennedy inevitably stays busy, co-owning two, in the process of three, climbing gyms in Calgary and Courtenay, BC. Yet she still finds time to use her education degree, coaching the gymnasium’s competitive youth climbing team.

“I miss teaching,” she says. “People are probably wondering why, as a business owner, I still love coaching, but it’s because that’s what I miss elsewhere.”

Archibald says Kennedy’s teaching background has translated well into her coaching career.

“I think it’s a natural transition that a teacher has to make from time to time,” says Archibald. “You can tell it has a positive impact on the kids because of the way they talk about her and the way they look at her.”

Kennedy also finds fulfillment in involving women who support women and involving them in the climbing community. Bolder organizes several events to encourage women to try the sport.

“We have women’s clinics and women’s classes and a women’s night out and it’s going really well. I would say, ‘If you don’t want to come to the gym on a busy night, don’t come to ladies night,’ it’s so popular,” Kennedy says.

She says events like the ones held at Bolder have had a very positive effect on the climbing community. Kennedy noticed a growing trend of female climbers coming through the doors of her gym.

“When I started climbing it was like one woman for 20 guys and now it’s at least 50/50, if not in favor of women, especially on youth teams,” she says.

“I think the more women get involved, the more they share their knowledge, like how to climb with a woman’s body, not a man’s body, and then they just keep getting better.”

Hannah Glockner, Bolder’s general manager, veteran climber and friend of Kennedy’s, has also noticed the growing number of female climbers. She says Kennedy and the staff at Bolder are dedicated to creating a good environment for their climbing community.

“We want it to be a comfortable space for everyone to climb, especially for women,” says Glockner. “I think the community is kind of the reason Boulder was created.”

Hands down, Kennedy says the best part of owning a gym is the people who climb it. it was the community that came out of it.

“It’s 100 percent community,” she says. “It became even more evident during COVID when people were continuing their subscriptions while we were closed or dropping off cards and letters and candies and all kinds of things.”

Kennedy proudly displays a large collection of cards that gym patrons have sent to him and Bolder staff over the years.

“You think you’re going to build a community, but you have no idea how strong that community is.”

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