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Meet Chris Dodge of Black Rock Bouldering Gym

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chris Dodge.

Chris, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Being born and raised in Phoenix, AZ, I had the opportunity to play sports year-round and I stayed active more often than I sat still. I had (and still have) a loving family, solid support group of friends, and all the luxuries of a “normal’ American upbringing. But I was searching for something more. More worldly experiences. More physical challenges. More purpose. So, I joined the Army (the fact they paid for college didn’t hurt either).

Although one of my favorite activities while I was enlisted was working out, I started to become bored with the “standard” workout routine. It’s repetitive and, at least for me, uninspiring. I found myself seeking a more motivating and creative activity to supplement my military-style fitness regimen. One random day I went to check out a local climbing gym, by myself and realized without someone to hold the rope while I climbed (called “belaying”) it would make more sense for me to stay in the area with lower walls and no ropes.

By the time I was done with my first climb, it was obvious I had found something completely different, something that allowed me to clear my mind and get a full workout at the same time. It required very little equipment and very little training to get into it. I began to notice another amazing aspect of indoor bouldering, the community. Unlike the team sports I grew up playing, and the testosterone-fueled weight rooms I was used to, the bouldering community showed me a leave-the-ego-at-home sport that provided a deeper level of satisfaction. Just as important though, this new group of friends gave me a sense of purpose completely different than the one my military experience provided.

I came back to Phoenix to complete my education at Arizona State University and after completing degrees in Marketing and Psychology, I worked in the digital marketing industry for a few years. I was still bouldering frequently, now because the mental challenge was actually becoming a sort of therapy for me. When you’re on the wall, you can’t day dream, or lose focus of your objective because the consequences are real and immediate. You fall.

I enjoyed my experience in the marketing industry. the pay was good and I was relatively good at what I did, but I found myself in a similar situation as before I joined the military – searching for a greater purpose.

It was one day after work, being stuck in traffic on my way to the climbing gym, that I was cursing the fact there wasn’t a climbing gym closer to where I lived and worked. That was the moment I realized this may be a problem I can help solve myself. After nearly two years of researching, forecasting, planning, and building relationships, I decided to jump in full-time and focus on making this dream come.

I built the Black Rock Bouldering Gym because of my passion for inspiring others through physical fitness. However, it’s become successful because of the love I’ve received from my family, friends, and community.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Was starting a business, with little prior experience and the whole world seemingly against me, a smooth road? Easiest thing I’ve ever done! 😉

Seriously though, I could spend hours discussing the endless struggles, sleepless nights, and the financial, emotional, and mental burdens of starting a business, from scratch, that has to be physically built quite literally from the ground up. But I’d rather approach the conversation as a series of lessons that were learned along the way.

Trusting myself when others doubted me, but remaining open to feedback helped me take a very solution-oriented approach to problems as they presented themselves. Surrounding myself with people who genuinely cared about my vision was also incredibly important to the success of opening our doors. I sincerely believe when it comes down to it, staying true to the mission of trying to make something positive in this world and building a team around that very concept is what starting a business should be about.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Black Rock Bouldering Gym – what should we know?
Our mission statement is simple: To inspire our members and guests to move with a purpose.

To elaborate on this concept, we do this by motivating our customers, our community, and each other to focus on the quality of service we provide.

We pride ourselves on our ability to set creative, thoughtful problems on our bouldering walls, provide clean, well maintained facilities, and to show up every day with positive energy. We’re passionate about the benefits of bouldering and fitness and we use this passion as fuel to help inspire others.

In addition to how proud I am of my team for fulfilling our mission on a daily basis, a personal point of pride for me would be based on how we came up with the name of the gym. It came from a song by my favorite band O.A.R., called ‘Black Rock’, which describes a place of peace, inspiration, love, strength, and self-discovery. It’s the place we travel to in our minds when we’re scared, lonely, strong, brilliant, and everything in-between. It’s where we go to feel alive and to smile again. This was my dream, to bring this idea to my community as a tangible, real experience; a facility to enjoy all these aspects of life with the added benefit of personal fitness. I’m very proud to say this is what we have been able to do.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
First and foremost, my wife, Iliana. She personifies the cliche “I couldn’t have done this without you.” I’m lucky enough to have her as a full-time teammate now at Black Rock and ever since she left her previous job as a very successful marketing executive, we have only become a stronger team and more focused company. She is my rock, hands down.

An immediate second is my mom, Diane, dad, George, and sister, Cat. Not only were they an active part of the physical development of the facility, staying up late, unwrapping new climbing holds, or making sure the construction team and I had enough food to work through breakfast, lunch, and dinner at times, they’ve also had the biggest impact on my life, no question. Without their guidance and support, I never would’ve had this opportunity. I will always be grateful for how they’ve helped shape me as a person.

I’d like to thank my partners Mike and Jim Roland for believing in me when the chips were stacked against us. Your faith in my ability to overcome adversity was instrumental in pushing me past “impossible” and into “successful”.

The design and construction of our walls is fully credited to the legendary Louie Anderson of Southern California. He is easily one of the most influential, friendly, sincere, and professional people I’ve ever met. I consider myself infinitely lucky to have had the opportunity to work with him and I look forward to working with him again in the future.

I’d also like to give specific credit to Matt Skinner, our Director of Member Experience. He was one of the first individuals willing to take a risk on my vision without hesitation. He was my first full-time teammate, and I couldn’t imagine a better person to have by my side from the very beginning.

Additionally, I want to thank three dedicated teammates who have been with us since the very early stages of Black Rock. Stephanie Woods, Keith Imig, and Marcella Columbus have all played a significant role in developing our team, our operations, and our community. They’ve helped us grow into something amazing and they continue to exemplify our mission every day they’re in the gym.

There were a number of close friends that also sacrificed time with their families to stay up late, miss dinners, and put themselves in situations that inevitably led to them coming home covered in sawdust, dried epoxy, band aids, and paint. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give them a shout out as well: Alex C, Austin C, Ceara C, David O, Greg R, Jen B, Jon R, Kim N, Kyle J, Leeah K, Pat L, Todd F, and Tyler G. I admit, this list is not all inclusive and I apologize for any names I missed.

Lastly, I’m honored to be a part of an industry that shows so much love to their vendors, clients, and partners. The following companies went out of their way to ensure we had a quality product to present to the public when our doors opened: Evolv, PrAna, Kilter Climbing, Element Climbing, Kingdom Climbing, Friction Labs, Crafted Climber, So iLL, and Dimension Volumes.

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Image Credit:

Black Rock Bouldering Gym

Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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