My name is Uchenna Ezibe. I first learned about Soul Trak through my home gym, SportRock, as they were partnering with Soul Trak to facilitate an outdoor climbing club. I was fairly familiar with climbing in the gym at that time, but the thought of climbing outside was very daunting. I decided to enroll in the climbing club, however, and quickly became captivated with the process of setting up my own routes and climbing outdoors. The freedom that comes from hiking into the crag with my own equipment and being able to set up my own climbs is incredible, and I am forever grateful to SoulTrak and SportRock for empowering us in this amazing way. I continued to climb outdoors as often as possible after going through the SoulTrak climbing club program. Eventually, I had the opportunity to serve as a volunteer for the same climbing club that first enabled me to pursue outdoor climbing. As someone who spent many years as a teacher, the combination of two of my passions (teaching and climbing) was too incredible of an opportunity to pass up, and I have volunteered for Soul Trak’s climbing clubs ever since.
It was primarily the enjoyment I received volunteering for the Soul Trak climbing club program and taking fellow gym climbers, friends, family, etc. on some of my outdoor climbing adventures that got me interested in pursuing a Single Pitch Instructor certification. Climbing can be an eye-opening experience that teaches us a lot about both the natural world around us and about ourselves, and being able to facilitate these learning experiences for others has always been very exciting for me. I quickly realized that an SPI certification would go a long way in helping me instruct and guide outdoor climbing experiences safely and with competence. Pursuing an SPI certification is not easy, but SoulTrak’s support went a long way in making the experience possible. Not only did I begin my outdoor climbing journey with SoulTrak, but SoulTrak also helped launch my outdoor guiding/instructing journey, and I cannot overstate how appreciative I am for the role SoulTrak has played in helping me grow and progress as a climber and as an instructor. I am also very grateful to Grant Price and Blue Ridge Mountain Guides for leading our SPI course and assessment.
After participating in the Soul Trak climbing club as a student, I continued my climbing journey from top-roping (the style we learned through the climbing club) to sport climbing, and eventually began learning how to trad climb. Prior to the SPI certification program I had spent a little over a year leading trad climbs, but I had to both refine my systems and lead as many trad climbs as I could in order to meet the stringent prerequisites for the SPI course and assessment. I learned an incredible deal through the certification program about climbing, about effective teaching, and about myself. The 5-day course and assessment process also showed me how physically demanding outdoor guiding can be! We did the assessment right after the course, which resulted in 5 long and hot days hauling climbers, rigging anchors, reviewing systems, and learning about how climbing guides and instructors can provide a safe and enriching experience for their clients. While I greatly enjoyed the experience, I do understand why many may opt to take the course, spend some time reviewing, and then take the assessment down the line. Not only would this be less physically taxing, but it would allow for the digestion of the incredibly large amount of information necessary to pass the assessment.
While climbing may not necessarily be a team sport, it is an activity that is almost impossible to do alone (at least safely!). The people that one climbs with have a massive impact on the experience, and I was lucky enough to go through the course and assessment with a good friend and climbing partner of mine. We first became close through the process of going through the SoulTrak climbing club as students and, eventually, assisting as volunteers. The full-circle nature of this experience has underlined for me how important it is for us climbers, especially those of color and from underprivileged populations, to continue to lift each other up and empower those around us to pursue their goals. SoulTrak has created a community of climbers that is doing just that, and I’m excited to be taking the next step in my climbing journey with some of the same folks that helped me take the first.