Wills Young and Lisa Rands are not only two highly accomplished professional rock climbers and climbing coaches, but they are also husband and wife. In the last year, they have settled in the burgeoning mid-sized city of Chattanooga to be close to the vast amount of rock climbing as well as many other outdoor recreation possibilities in the area.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Lisa and Wills at High Point Climbing and Fitness Gym, where they currently run the climbing school, to discuss their climbing past, present, and future.
Where are you from originally and how did you get into climbing?
Lisa: I'm from Southern California originally. I had a boyfriend who climbed when I was in high school and he introduced me to it.
Wills: It's hard to say where I'm from originally, I was born in California but I grew up in England. I feel like I was British when I grew up and that's where I started climbing... on the grit stone cliffs.
When did you realize you wanted to make climbing your career, or when did it become your career?
Wills: I guess it was probably after I moved to California and I got really rejuvenated into climbing. I kind of had it on the back burner for a while but got really into it again and even started writing stories for magazines. That's probably how it began for me. I started writing about my experiences climbing and that progressed into writing profiles on different climbers and so on.
Lisa: I didn't intend on making climbing my career. I got a geology degree and started working in Colorado and was just training in a friend's garage over the winter. At that time, Wills and I were living together and I was talked into doing a Bouldering National in Boulder... And I won. It was kinda of like, 'oh maybe we should see what we could do with climbing', and then it just started. I quit my job. I started traveling and climbing, started winning competitions and I was kind of pushing women's bouldering at that time and it just progressed into a career.
What prompted your move to Chattanooga after all those years in California?
Lisa: I think we were just ready for a change. We had lived in Bishop for 14 years and I was getting a little tired of traveling all the time... and wanted a nice community to settle down in with climbing gyms. So really, the climbing gym was the catalyst for the move. It allowed us to base a business within the gym in a city where there's also good outside climbing and there's a good community of people.
Wills: I would say for me it's more about the climbing and the city itself and the fact that it's outdoors oriented. The development here has been interesting to see. I think it's pretty positive in terms of encouraging outdoor activities, participation and the tourism side of the city. I like that. We'd been coming to Chattanooga for ten years before we ended up moving here. We knew the city, we knew we liked it, and we knew we liked the people because we met a lot of cool people during prior visits, and the whole climbing scene seemed to be a lot of fun. There were a lot of new places being developed, new boulders being developed, new sport climbs. So, for me it was an exciting place to come and just go climbing. Coming back and forth from California to Chattanooga I never really thought to move there necessarily but thought it would be a great place to spend more time. The opportunity to run a business was important for us too, to have something to anchor us. I suppose in a way the gym was kind of the final thing. Let's go and start this business and see how it goes.
What do you offer through your Climbing School at High Point Climbing & Fitness?
Wills: We offer everything from coaching, straight up beginner classes for people that want to know how to climb, all the way to expert climbers wanting to try to break through a plateau. So we coach everybody from beginner to expert, and we do instruction for people wanting to learn how to use ropes and equipment when they go climbing. We also do outdoor guiding. So it's kind of like three facets, I'd say. You could say the coaching is split up into personal coaching, which would be more one on one or in small groups, and then we also do clubs and the climbing team. For the youth, we do smaller group training sessions where we try to get people psyched about the sport and try to get them to climb more.
Lisa: The personal coaching — it can be from a beginner wanting to learn better climbing skills to a person who just wants the fitness that you get out of rock climbing, so they want someone to guide them through fitness for climbing.
How has your own climbing changed since being business owners? For instance, your time for training, climbing, traveling?
Wills: I'm climbing more than I've ever climbed before but I'm climbing in a gym, mostly. So in a way it's been really good because I'm getting stronger, whereas in the past I didn't do much climbing other than when I went outside, and when you go outside there's only a limited amount of climbing you can do before your skin gets too sore, or you just can't handle it, or it gets dark or whatever. When you're climbing in a gym, you do a lot of volume and you can't help but get psyched because other people are always pushing you. So it's been good in terms of the amount of climbing I'm doing, but not as good in terms of the amount of climbing I've been doing outside. I hope to change that and get out more.
Lisa: I think we used to climb and train a lot more before, especially as a professional climber, the intensity was higher. I'd say now we're climbing a lot, but it's more volume, because we're coaching and like to demonstrate for people, so I feel we've only just started training again ourselves.
Which climbing spots are your favorite here in Chattanooga?
Lisa: That's hard to answer... Rocktown, Deep Creek, Stone Fort.... We like to hit one, hit another so it's just creating variety. To be honest, Rocktown is a great climbing playground and even though it's a pretty obvious choice, so is Stone Fort, which is why everyone wants to go there and it's easy to access.
Wills: I don't have a favorite. There is a little bit more variety to the bouldering, whereas the sport climbing is generally all pretty similar. If you're going sport climbing around Chattanooga, you're going to be doing some roofs and some light vertical faces and it's going to be tiered and thuggy. I think the bouldering is a little bit like that too, in that a lot of it's similar, but there's just enough variety to make it interesting. Really, all of it is phenomenal.
From start to finish, what does your ideal day of climbing in Chattanooga look like?
Lisa: It's usually meeting a friend and going to an agreed to location. It's just as much about the camaraderie and socializing as it is about picking something that you find challenging... We all just have a really fun day hanging out and joking around while projecting on a climb or just doing climbs that are just easy and fun.
Wills: I agree. For me, I love the first days of fall when the air is crisp and cool, and the sky is a deep, welcoming blue. The summer heat and its humidity has evaporated, and it's actually a little cold out. That's amazing. An ideal day starts like that and then you get out there, meet your friends, have some laughs, and you climb. We drink tea in the morning before we go out, I don't usually take much with me, just a little bit of food. An ideal day though would finish with going to dinner somewhere, drink a beer and have a meal... talk about the day. The Terminal, we've been to a few times... we go to Aretha Frankenstein's and drink a Guinness and have a meal... and we love Lupi's and the Tremont Tavern.
Will either of you be competing in any of the Triple Crown comps?
Lisa: I think we are.
Wills: Well, Lisa is thinking about competing...It's really tough to decide on that.
Any other comps or projects in the future you want to tell us about?
Wills: I don't have big goals as a climber, I really don't. I like climbing, I just love going out climbing but I'm more focused now on coaching the team and seeing the kids in the clubs improve, and I want to support them as they get better.
Lisa: I was toying with maybe doing a Bouldering National. I definitely retired from competition but I sort of felt, we're in a gym all the time, and I'm just kind of curious to see how comps are now.
Wills: I think when you're doing something like that, if you're trying to compete... you have to be on a whole other level and ability, another level of fitness. To train for that, even though we're in a gym a lot, to take it to that level, requires almost not having a job, not having anything interrupting you... Even though we're training a lot and I feel we're getting better, for Lisa to try to step it up to an international level again is going to be hard for her.
Lisa: I was always such a dedicated athlete years ago and now I feel, for me, a lot of climbing is about the social aspect and the camaraderie and it changes the focus... you're just not as relaxed and enjoying your climbing, and I feel like I don't know if I want to go down that road anymore... I love training and pushing myself but I don't know that I'm going to be able to dedicate that time.
Lisa has already won the Hound Ears leg of this year's Triple Crown.Whether she or Wills will be competing in the Stone Fort leg or not, they'll certainly be there, partaking in the Chattanooga climbing community that they so well know and love.