Austin Bouldering Project Partners With Local Recovery Group

New alliance marks a first for the 11-year-old climbing gym

Manager of the Phoenix's Austin chapter Erin Wackerla (left) and Austin Bouldering Project General Manager Charles Morris (right) at ABP's Westgate location. (Photo by Hannah Rossi)

Not many fitness centers boast over 2,500 square feet of climbing terrain, but like its host city, Austin Bouldering Project is a gym like no other.

An 11-year-old import from the Pacific Northwest, the ABP franchise quickly evolved into a fixture of the local rock climbing scene, partnering with organizations across the city to cultivate an inclusive space for exercise and connection. Now allied with local recovery group the Phoenix, the gym helped prep Phoenix members to participate in Boulderfest on Sept. 30 – its biggest event of the year.

Like its mythological avian eponym, the Phoenix commissions itself with helping members “rise above the ashes of addiction” by sponsoring active, substance-free community events. The only cost? “48 hours of sobriety,” said Erin Wackerla, manager of the Phoenix’s Austin chapter.

Wackerla found the organization through a Facebook ad, becoming involved with its Dallas branch after struggling with alcohol misuse. At the time a lapsed climber, she quickly transitioned into leading bouldering events, reconnecting with the activity after four years away from the peaks.

A couple years into climbing with the Dallas chapter, the Phoenix reached out to Wackerla about funding to head a new program in Austin. “I was like: ‘I'm there. Get me there. Right now,’” she recalled.

Getting a nascent chapter off the ground was a lot of work for Wackerla, who struggled to find footing in a new city. “It's a lot of outreach, a lot of cold calling, a lot of ‘no's’ and doors slammed in your face,” she said. “Luckily, the climbing community was not one of those.”

Now calling Austin’s branch of the Phoenix “one of the most impactful chapters in the nation,” Wackerla credits its success to sponsorships that help them maintain their catalog of events at no cost to members. “They allow us to break down barriers to accessing these amazing life-affirming activities, like rock climbing, for people that might not otherwise be able to access them, because a lot of our folks are early in recovery and may not be on both feet quite yet.”

Photo by Hannah Rossi

The partnership marks a first for Austin Bouldering Project, which General Manager Charles Morris said has never worked with another recovery group. “I think that the Phoenix has really opened the door for that,” he commented. “I think that their community, and their organization has fit so well in our community that I feel like if other groups approached us, we would be open to it.”

Like Austin Bouldering Project, the Phoenix is making moves to promote inclusivity in its membership beyond those recovering from substance abuse. “We also want to encompass recovery from self harming and eating disorders, and really a gamut of things,” said Wackerla. “And people also who may be family members of people in recovery.”

Already open to the sober-curious, lead volunteer Paul Ren found the group when he first arrived in Austin, despite not being in search of support for active recovery. “I'm doing the volunteering because I like their community,” said Ren. “And I enjoy being around them, and I also like to pay back for what they have done for me.”

Though not involved with Boulderfest himself, Ren noted that attending bi-weekly climbing events at Austin Bouldering Project has become one of the group’s most popular activities. Looking ahead to Boulderfest, Wackerla said that Phoenix members were proud to be hosting its garage sale, one of many activities open to attendees.

“It is kind of a culmination of everything that we believe about climbing, it's not just a competition,” said Morris. “It's like a celebration of everything that the sport and the community means to us.”

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