Rachel Stachelrodt knows what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. After all, that was her reality when she first started going to Pittsburgh’s Ascend climbing gym in April 2021.
“I know $18 [for a day-pass] might not sound like a lot,” she says, “but when you’re in that position, it is.”
Still, Stachelrodt was able to keep climbing, even when money was tight. That’s because Ascend had recently launched an innovative new program: complimentary day-passes, available to anyone who needs them, no questions asked.
On weeks when she could afford it, Stachelrodt always paid full price. But when she couldn’t, the gym had her covered—a relief she says is hard to overstate. “It freed up space for me financially, but it also freed up psychological bandwidth because I didn’t always have to be thinking about and prioritizing where I’m going to put this $18 today,” she says. And maybe more importantly, she felt welcome in a space where she, as a Black woman, grew up being told she didn’t belong.
“There’s this idea that Black people aren’t supposed to go outside, that hiking and climbing are all nonsense that white people participate in,” she says. “That’s very much the sentiment within our own community—that this space isn’t for us.”
Those are the kind of stereotypes Ascend wants to change. In the summer of 2020, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the gym launched what is perhaps one of the most comprehensive equity and outreach programs in the country. (Just a few months ago, it tapped Stachelrodt to be its new director.) Add that kind of progressive thinking to Ascend’s amazing events and strong community, and you have all the makings of a dream gym.