Behind the Desk…is an ongoing series that profiles people influencing and advancing the industry in gyms across the country. In this installment, we talk about how a gym in Texas put together a day of adaptive climbing activities, involvement and awareness. We also delve into Casino Nights, local film festivals and Goodwill prizes. It’s all in a day’s work for Lydia Huelskamp at Crux.
Name: Lydia Huelskamp
Title: Marketing and Events Manager
Home Gym: Crux Climbing Center
Location: Austin, Texas
CBJ: For starters, I’d enjoy hearing a little about your background. Are you a climber, and how’d you land at Crux?
HUELSKAMP: I am a climber. I started climbing probably about three years ago. I was—and still am—a guide for a local non-profit here. To start, I came on guiding as a mountain biker and mountaineer. And then I realized I was surrounded by climbers, so my boss kind of mentored me into rock climbing. It was really cool; I went from 0 to 100 with it really fast. I fell in love with it. And through that, I started coming to Crux as a member and then one of my fellow guides worked at Crux. He told me that Crux was hiring and needed more females on staff. And I thought, ‘Perfect, sounds like what I want to do!’
CBJ: So were you immediately working in a marketing capacity for Crux?
HUELSKAMP: No, I actually came on as front desk staff. And then—after about a month and a half of working the front desk—the person in the Marketing and Events position was leaving. The position needed to be filled, and Crux is all about hiring from within. I had a little background with marketing and event work, so I was promoted to the role.
CBJ: What exactly do you do as the Marketing and Events Manager at the gym?
HUELSKAMP: Day-to-day I do all of Crux’s social media, as well as plan all the events and keep up with all the marketing—posters that we do, updating the website with events that are coming up. We have two big events each year, plus other little events that we do. And we have a member’s night every month—so I have to keep up with that. As well as things like an Adaptive Climbing Day. I’m also the one who responds whenever someone emails the gym with questions. And anytime we get a donation request, I handle that. And I work with vendors outside the gym who might want to come in and do a table at the gym.
CBJ: Wow—you do a lot! When you’re thinking of events to have at the gym, how do you come up with events that would be good for the patrons at Crux?
HUELSKAMP: Sometimes I’ll just see something or come up with something by myself. But also members or other staff people have given me ideas before. For example, back in December  we had this Climbing Casino Night and that came from our head setter. It’s really cool to get ideas from other people, or look around and just think, ‘What would be fun to have in the gym?’ or ‘What would our community really benefit from?’ or ‘What will play off of other events that we’ve done in the past that people really enjoyed?’
CBJ: And what are some of those past events that people have enjoyed the most?
HUELSKAMP: Some of the events we’ve had include family fun days. We have those twice a year with day passes and free entries for families. Those are really successful. We recently had an event called Reel Plastic, which was like a local climbing film festival right after we had Reel Rock—because Reel Rock is always really successful. Our member nights are always a hit too because it’s a time for members to just come and hang out, drink beer, that type of thing. And then our biggest comps are always a hit as well. And we have smaller comps too. In August we have what we consider to be our Friendly Neighborhood Competition. People come for the evening—there’s a competition, and the prizes are just goofy things from Goodwill, and it’s a really fun time.
CBJ: Prizes from Goodwill—that’s a great idea! Where’d that come from?
HUELSKAMP: They were already doing those comps and the Goodwill prizes before I took over. But yeah, it’s pretty fun! It’s fun to shop for the prizes too!
CBJ: You mentioned doing a local film festival—Reel Plastic! That’s definitely something that other gyms could do too in various regions around the country. How do you find climbing films for that?
HUELSKAMP: We promoted the Reel Plastic about six months before it happened, and then our members and other people in the climbing community made films. So it was less about looking for films and more about people submitting whatever they had created. Then we showed all of them.
CBJ: And a flip side question would be: Are there any events that you have found really don’t work at your gym, for whatever reason?
HUELSKAMP: Not many. I talked about a member appreciation night at the end of every month, and sometimes when we have a competition or a game within that night, it’s harder to get people to participate. I think they just want to climb with their friends, see the vendors, drink some beer. They don’t want to try to do a campus competition or something like that.
CBJ: And speaking of events, I know that Nathaniel Coleman recently taught some clinics at Crux.
HUELSKAMP: Yeah—people were psyched for those. There was a youth clinic (which we capped at ten people) and we also had an adult advanced bouldering clinic (for six people or so). I was the point-person for the whole thing. Our Petzl rep reached out to us and said that Nathaniel was coming to Texas. I worked with them to make it happen and promoted it. It was really cool that Nathaniel chose Crux out of all the gyms in Texas. And we’ve done other clinics with pro climbers in the past too. For example, we try to do a clinic sometimes when Keenan Takahashi is in town.
CBJ: Can you give any advice to other gyms that might want to bring in pro climbers for clinics?
HUELSKAMP: One bit of advice would be: it’s easier if you have something else going on too. For instance, I think Alex Puccio came in once, but it was around our Come and Send It day. Or, Nathaniel came in for the clinics, but he was also showcasing a new climbing film. Pro climbers are super chill, but I think it helps motivate or entice them more if there is something else going on—a competition they can compete in, a film they are promoting, that type of thing.
CBJ: Crux also does an Adaptive Climbing Day, which you mentioned. I think a lot of gyms are undoubtedly wanting to—and actively working to—be accommodating to adaptive climbers. But how did having a day centered around the concept come together, and what does the day entail?
HUELSKAMP: We had done an Adaptive Climbing Day prior to me working here, but our lead instructor really wanted to do another one. So we reached out to Catalyst Sports—they are a non-profit out of Georgia, and they do a lot of adaptive stuff. And Sterling Ropes had an adaptive film that had recently come out. So it was kind of perfect timing because Sterling had reached out and asked if we’d want to do a showing, and we were also talking to Catalyst Sports. We just thought, ‘Oh, perfect—we can just make a whole day out of it!’
We are fortunate here at Crux because we have an employee who has a background in adaptive sports and adaptive climbing, so she was really excited about it as well. Catalyst Sports came in, brought in some equipment and trained about 20 volunteers for three hours at the gym in the morning. We actually had a waiting list of volunteers, which was really cool. We had volunteers who weren’t even climbers but just people who had backgrounds in rec therapy or adaptive stuff. Some volunteers had backgrounds in rigging, so they were able to help.
It was really cool to see the different situations and different talents come together. One of the things that Catalyst stressed was generally not blocking off areas for the adaptive climbers—just have everyone climbing alongside everyone. But we did block off one area for a chair that people could sit in and pull themselves up with their arms.
So, for the day, everyone learned about adaptive climbing and learned about different situations and how to use the equipment. And then there were four hours during which adaptive climbers could come in—and stay as long as they wanted—to climb and be belayed. And after that we showed the film. People came in from as far away as San Antonio—which is like a two-hour-drive! I would encourage any gym to do it. Bring in a company like Catalyst Sports as the foundation, someone who knows what they’re doing, and make a day of it. We had such an amazing turnout.
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Do you know somebody who works in the climbing industry and would be good to profile in a Behind the Desk segment? Or, do you work in the industry and have a personal background that you think others would enjoy learning about? If so, please contact us and tell us about it.
John Burgman is the author of High Drama, a book that chronicles the history of American competition climbing. He is a Fulbright journalism grant recipient and a former magazine editor. He holds a master’s degree from New York University and bachelor’s degree from Miami University. In addition to writing, he coaches a youth bouldering team. Follow him on Twitter @John_Burgman and Instagram @jbclimbs