The lights dimmed, the music flared, and a silver mohawk walked out on stage. Paula Horwitz pumped her fist to the music and the crowd was stoked.
As I looked across the hall, I knew I was with my people. Before she introduced our keynote speaker, Kevin Jorgeson, Paula shared a heartfelt story about her dad encouraging her to be who she was and to always remember who she was.
Paula Horwitz, executive director of the CWA, on stage during the 2022 CWA Summit.
I looked at my team’s faces and wondered, “who am I with my team and amongst my people?” I had been looking forward to this conference for two years and arrived with some very clear goals; I had connections to make, challenges to conquer, and now a little insight to discover.
Kevin Jorgeson took the stage on the big screen. He was standing in the middle of his big new beautiful climbing gym, Session, his pandemic passion project was finally about to open. He recalled a defining moment eight years ago when he heard Tommy Caldwell call out to a new generation of climbers to push beyond what they thought they could. Tommy had a new project and needed help, and Kevin answered the call. Together in the winter of 2015, the two accomplished something unprecedented. Through pain, grit, and support, the two summited The Dawn Wall together while the world cheered!
Kevin Jorgeson attending the 2022 CWA Summit live from his climbing gym, Session Climbing.
Kevin then turned and called out to us, a new generation of gym leaders and owners. He challenged us to make connections, ask for help, and to go for it! We serve our communities, and we make community. For me, this weekend was about connecting with my community.
Wednesday night, my team and I rallied through the exhaustion. Much-needed refreshments were ready when the exhibit hall opened. The catering was killer, with smoked salmon, healthy snacks, and IPAs on tap. Beautifully lit booths lined the walls, and my team introduced me to new friends, Libby from Highpoint Huntsville, and setters Jiara of Vertical Ventures, and Hannah of Inner Peaks. My favorite booths included Stevie at Flashed (and the pour-over coffee she was serving) and Scott at Climbing Business Journal.
Fellow CWA writer, Hayley Moran, and I hit our pillows hard that night to wake up refreshed and ready for the writer’s breakfast with our editor, Jake Byk. Jake had been in supersonic mode the past few weeks preparing for the CWA Summit. He welcomed us with open arms, and as I looked around the room at the other five writers, I thought, “Wow it’s just us. I bet there are plenty of others out there who would love to share their insight and experience.”
We introduced ourselves and chatted about the articles we were most proud of:
Hayley: Women & Competitive Climbing
Paul: Bell Curve & Retail
Chris: Community Partner
Brendan: Mentorship, Part II (read part one also!)
The article I was most proud of was the one that made me the most nervous. I asked U.S. climbing Olympian, Kyra Condie for an interview on her path to the Olympic Podium.
Jake helped me learn how to conduct an interview and I went for it! I looked at Jake and thought, “ Undoubtedly, putting these people together is something he must be really proud of.” After breakfast, Jake introduced me to someone I have admired for years!
Heather Reynolds was my first resource when I began coaching over a decade ago. She is truly an inspiring woman; an adventurer, writer, and a coach. Heather offers training, coaching curriculum, and freebies. She listened and gave me advice for developing my USAC team, and practical life advice. She encouraged me to self-publish my pandemic passion project, my book, “101 Climbing Games and Activities”. She helped me discover what I truly value; creating community.
Admittedly, I thought I wanted to grab a quick ten minutes and ask about how to develop athletes who compete at the national level. She looked me in the eye and said that developing the mental fortitude for excellence will inevitably take our athletes as far as they’re willing to go. We connected for over an hour. She created space for our conversation to develop naturally. I will practice bringing this presence, awareness, and space to my team, my climbers, and my life.
This shift from “grabbing a quick ten” to making the time to connect with the person who needs me is the update I need to bring to my programming. I walked away from our conversation with a full heart, and I walked straight into the Mental Health and Support panel.
Heather Reynolds presenting at the Mental Health Panel at the 2022 CWA Summit.
We talked about disordered eating in our culture, holding space for one another, and being advocates for healthy food relationships. Although I am uncomfortable approaching the topic, I know that I can talk to my team about slowing down and listening to our athletes. I can emphasize prioritizing mental and physical health and I can ask guest speakers to talk to our team. I can lead by example.
I checked my phone, and my flight was delayed. I had time to attend “USA Climbing & You”, and secure a future interview with Marc Norman, the CEO of USA Climbing. I shared a table with Dr. Cassim Ladha, a presenter for the session, "Better Data for Better Outcomes" and was eager to learn more about his topic.
His research suggests that we can turn day pass climbers into members by giving them a challenge card. Dr. Cassim recommends labeling appropriate climbs around the facility #1-10 (the increasing number denoting difficulty) and encouraging day passers to explore the routes and fill out a card. This easy addition to the orientation creates a sense of knowing what to do next, and a project to come back to.
As the exhibit hall closed, Hayley and I made our way downtown to Pioneer Park, I had connected with Kyra earlier in the week and she invited Hayley and me to watch the Women’s World Cup speed finals with her. It was a dream to be at the World Cup and hang with climbing Olympians on a sunny day in beautiful downtown Salt Lake City.
The CWA Summit exceeded all expectations. I met incredible people and made real connections. I received great advice from other leaders, grew more confident, and I learned about myself. I am someone who reaches out and asks for help, and not too afraid to go for it! I returned feeling inspired, ready to listen, hold space, and share.
About the Author
Hailey Caissie is the Programs Manager at The Crag climbing gym in Nashville, Tennessee. Hailey has been a climbing instructor since 2006 and loves seeing new climbers discover their abilities. She finds it especially fulfilling to coach young athletes toward discovering their potential. She works to inspire generations of climbers to become more intentional, influential, and inclusive.