Climbing for Change Wins Prestigious Award from Olympic Foundation

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Image courtesy of Climbing for Change

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Foundation recently announced the athlete recipients of its inaugural Team USA Service & Hope Award. Among the recipients was climber Kai Lightner for the Climbing for Change organization that he founded in 2020.

The aforementioned Service & Hope Award “celebrates Olympians, Paralympians and hopefuls who serve in a volunteer role with charitable organizations whose missions focus on youth sport, physical activity, or health and well-being,” according to Of the 134 applications received in the award’s first year, Lightner’s was one of four to be selected.

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Lightner is a decorated competitor on the national and international competition climbing circuits. Since its inception, Lightner’s Climbing for Change organization has awarded $47,000 in grants to separate organizations working to make climbing more inclusive. Earlier this year, CBJ reported on the organization’s first round of grants, which ranged in scope from outdoor climbing to competing, routesetting and guiding. Climbing for Change also launched in 2021 a database mapping diversity, equity and inclusion organizations and initiatives in the climbing industry.

Working with Climbing for Change has truly felt like a full circle journey, Lightner said on Instagram. It feels like not that long ago, me and my mother were scraping together pennies and resources in hopes of pursuing my passion and achieving lofty goals in my sport. At every turn, it felt like there was always an obstacle meant to deter us from reaching the next level, whether it was financial need or social circumstances that made us feel we didn’t belong. However, with every barrier we met, there always seemed to be someone or something at the right place and time to help us make it through. With Climbing for Change, we hope to provide these same opportunities to others and serve as a lighthouse for disadvantaged people of color in outdoor industry. Thank you all for believing in us and our mission.

Other recipients of the Team USA Service & Hope Award include Shea Hammond, Darlene Hunter and Nzingha Prescod in the sports of soccer, wheelchair basketball and fencing, respectively. Each recipient receives $25,000, with half of that sum going to the charitable organization with which they work.

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