Gnarly athlete Brandon Belcher walked into his local climbing gym in Atlanta with callused hands and deep muscle striations in his arms, back and pecs – all signatures of an experienced climber. But he had never sent a route before, and he didn’t care if the routes had been reset recently or if his favorite warm-up route was being hogged by other climbers. He walked past the bouldering area and towering lead walls because he wasn’t there to climb; he was there to work on calisthenics.
The climbing gym just so happened to check all the boxes Brandon was looking for in a gym for his calisthenics training: close to home, reasonably priced, and containing the equipment he wanted to use. This trifecta didn’t have a single thing to do with rock climbing. But walls splattered with plastic holds representing every color in the rainbow possess a certain allure, an irresistible magnetism, and Brandon eventually found himself using the entire gym. Now, eight years later, his life revolves around rock climbing.
Photo by James Lucas
Lessons Brandon has learned while climbing have translated into his everyday life. Prioritization, solving problems, shutting down ego, and focusing on holistic strength are of the major themes in his life, both on and off the wall.
“Climbing just started taking over a bit more of my life,” Brandon said. “I started prioritizing it a lot more as a primary activity that I’ve enjoyed. It’s therapeutic for me.” His weekly schedule usually includes three or four climbing sessions, outside if possible.
His outdoor climbs have taken him to parts of the country he never thought he’d visit, and his house looks different now, too. “I never imagined I would be dangling ninety feet off of a wall in the middle of Kentucky with basically dental floss keeping me from falling to the ground,” Brandon said. “That’s something I didn’t really see myself doing 10 years ago, and here I am eight years in climbing, and I have a hangboard on my wall and various crash pads everywhere.” Most climbers can relate to this seeping effect climbing has into all aspects of life.
A climbing route is similar to solving a puzzle. It takes dedication, perseverance, thought, and calculated movement. For Brandon, this is part of the reason he made climbing a priority in his life. As his skills increase and he climbs harder grades, his ego and thoughts change as well.
“There’s a certain point where you have to be really honest with yourself and honest with your priorities and with your weaknesses,” he said. “You have to kind of like shut down the ego a little bit and be real with yourself.” Failure often takes center stage in climbing as a necessary means to success. “I have to admit that I’m bad at certain things within my climbing skill-set. I have to work on those things and I have to be willing to fail a lot,” Brandon said.
Photo by James Lucas
Photo by Caleb Timmerman
Off the wall, embracing failures as the gateway to growth, Brandon finds similarities in finally sending a route with the discipline it takes to achieve life’s larger goals. “I’m trying to think of life in the same way where I have these goals and the only way I could really reach these goals is by working. I might have certain things going against me but at the end of the day, I prioritize these things that are important to me, then I gotta buckle down and get the work done.” The same approach goes for Brandon’s climbing. Dedication and prioritization are the means to move forward.
Brandon also speaks up about issues close to him and his community. As a black male climber, he uses his voice to amplify the message that BIPOC folks, and women, deserve to be out at the crag, too. “I would like to see a climbing community that reflects what our nation really looks like – a lot more melanin and more women,” he said. “In America we’re supposed to pride ourselves on our diversity. That’s the whole melting pot theory. It would be nice to see that in our outdoor recreational activities on a broad spectrum, whether it be climbing, hiking, skiing or other mountain sports.”
Brandon ended up on plastic climbing holds by chance when he walked into his local climbing gym with a focus on calisthenics training. The community and mentorship he witnessed at the gym drew him into the world of climbing. Eight years later, he occasionally skips work to head to the crag alone, with multiple crash pads in tow, for some solitude and projecting time.
Climbing is a thoughtful and reflective sport, one that Brandon has found to be integral to his life. But it’s far from a perfect world. With a lack of diversity, inclusion, and equality at the crag, Brandon is a voice of change the climbing community needs now more than ever.
Photo by Re Wikstrom