BY CYNTHIA BILLHARTZ GREGORIAN — > 314-340-8114
Yolanda Chen stays in shape by climbing vertical surfaces – or “solving problems.” It’s what avid climbers call the process of determining a series of moves they can make to complete a route.
“Everything else I do (exercise-wise) is for climbing,” said Chen, a pediatrician in Washington, Mo.
She was huffing, puffing and sweating on a recent afternoon after scaling the boulder wall at Climb So iLL, a new indoor climbing gym inside the historic City Hospital Power Station building near Lafayette Square in St. Louis. Chen had a baby two months ago and has recently returned to sports.
Climb So iLL opened in time to provide him with a set of new problems for his return to climbing.
The new facility offers over 10,000 square feet of vertical climbing walls ranging in height from 25 to 55 feet.
According to Dave Chancellor, who co-owns the gym with his brother and a friend, it also offers a range of challenges for people of all abilities.
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“Some people think they can’t climb. If you can climb a ladder, you can climb here,” he said, standing by the wall of elephants, which is shaped like a 22-foot pachyderm. feet tall. It is equipped with pulley systems called auto-belays that gently lower climbers to the ground when they fall off the wall or are ready to descend. He also has fancifully shaped climbing holds, including a telephone receiver, a light bulb, overgrown teeth and a thumbs-up hand, which were made by So iLL Holds, another company owned by the Chancellor and his brother, Dan.
Rather than replicate the feel of nature with rock-textured walls like most indoor climbing gyms, Climb So iLL’s towering walls are splashed with color. Looks like an art installation exploded on them.
In addition to the wall of boulders and elephants, there is an eyeball wall, a 55-foot elite wall, and a tulip-shaped wall, in a cubist style.
“We’re all a bit whimsical…we’re sort of Willy Wonka meets rock climbing,” Chancellor said.
The gymnasium is part of an $8 million renovation of the former power plant, which will also include two rooftop restaurants with glass walls that overlook the gymnasium. The Chancellors and their friend Ian Anderson helped fund the project with a $30,000 prize for second place in the 2011 St. Louis County Economic Council business plan competition.
Chancellor believes it will become the indoor climbing mecca of the Midwest.
Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but some climbers think it’s possible that St. Louis could become a magnet for climbers.
Upper Limits has two indoor climbing facilities, downtown and in western St. Louis County, dedicated to rock climbing. Each has as much or more square feet of climbing surface than Climb So iLL. And all three facilities have fitness rooms, spectator areas and lounges. There are at least six other rock climbing walls at St. Louis-area fitness centers.
Chris Schmick, who co-owns Upper Limits with his wife, Pam, worries that all climbing options will cannibalize each other.
“It’s definitely a limited market, so we’ll see how it all pans out,” he said. “But there’s definitely a problem. Ten years ago we had people driving from Springfield, Missouri to our downtown venue. They were coming because there was no other place, but now Springfield has its own Gym.”
The Chancellors’ uncle took them rock climbing when they were teenagers, and they were instantly hooked.
They built a climbing wall in their parents’ basement near Eureka and started charging neighborhood kids to use it. In 2002, when Dave graduated from high school, they started making wedges in that same basement and marketing them at trade shows.
A year later, when Dan graduated from high school, the brothers moved to Carbondale, Illinois, so they could have space to open a manufacturing facility, and Dan could enroll at Southern Illinois University Carbondale to study business. The factory has since moved near Boulder, Colorado.
Today, So iLL Holds has over 3,500 trading accounts in 15 countries. Dave Chancellor believes their products are found in almost every climbing gym in the world.
When they started talking about creating Climb So iLL, they brought their childhood friend, Ian Anderson, into the conversation. They credit his experience in construction, architecture and finance for making Climb So iLL possible.
Dave Chancellor thinks their new gym in St. Louis won’t be the last. They’re toying with the idea of putting franchises in other cities
Nerinx Hall biology teacher Steve Kuensting took his daughter, Barbara, 12, and her friend Emily Bayer to climb on a recent afternoon.
He had been to the gym several times and purchased harnesses and belay equipment for himself and Barbara.
“I told her I was going to take some of these handles and anchor them to the wall at home so she could get used to them,” Kuensting said, as Barbara tried to “solve a problem” on the wall elite.
Typically, climbers choose a color-coded route on the wall, which is labeled with its level of difficulty.
Chen called Climb So iLL’s problem design innovative.
“Plus, they’re constantly solving problems,” she said. “It’s great because you don’t have to climb the same route over and over again.”
Climbing engages the entire body, from grip strength to biceps to core. And what some climbers might lack in strength, they can make up for with technique, Chancellor said.
“The progression (of ability) is out of this world. People can’t believe how much they improve in 30 days,” he said. “To me, it comes down to commitment. Some of the best in the world are long, lanky and skinny. But you can climb and enjoy the sport without having to be a star athlete who can do 25 pull-ups.”
Chen might disagree.
“It’s not a forgiving sport,” she said. “You lose a lot of power, strength and stamina when you’re away.”