For 29-year-old Bethany Lebewitz, climbing means so much more than the athletic pursuit. You could watch her scale a million walls and know, so well, the single dimension of Bethany the Climber. What you wouldn’t know is the story that unfolds from within her when she climbs—because every climber has a reason for being on the wall that goes deeper than the immediate athletic feat.
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Bethany grew up in the countryside of Cut and Shoot, Texas north of Houston, running the fields and creeks in bare feet, playing in the ditches, and living the wild child life of the early 90’s. The outdoors dominated her childhood—gardening, bonfires, vacations, family reunions, community—and it seemed to ground her at a young age.
In spite of early trauma and the end of a five-year relationship, the developmental psychology research assistant eventually found her way back to outdoor recreation. She needed something to remind her of her strength and peace of mind, and she found it in climbing. “I use it to enrich other parts of my life and remind myself that I am an amazing creature that can do a whole lot more than I give myself credit for. Climbing is a physical representation of what that is. Every time I practice leading or placing a piece, I chip away at that doubt.”
After finding strength and healing in climbing, Bethany wanted to find a way to share it with others. “Climbing is a tool. It is not a cure-all, but if people can have a moment of peace or have a moment of feeling stronger than they thought, that’s what is encouraging to me.” In November 2016, she started an Instagram community called Brown Girls Climb, with the goal of representing a more diverse group of climbers and reaching potential new ones in underrepresented communities. But beyond that, she just wants to create a space of respect for every identity and open the conversation that diversity goes much deeper than we can label with a single word or phrase.
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Bethany created this community, and she breathes life into it with her drive and compassion for both the outdoors and for human beings. “I wish I could climb more, but having conversations that matter is such a blessing. I can’t ask for much more. I am so busy, but it is an incredible moment in my life to be surrounded by a rad group of women who I can share stories, trips, and training with. I’ve never had a community like this.”
What’s next for Bethany? First, she’s in the middle of a move from Maryland to Colorado (yay!). Also, she’s teamed up with Brothers of Climbing, Melanin Basecamp, and other communities to produce the climbing festival, Color the Crag (Oct. 20-22), a gathering meant to celebrate culture and climbing, inspire leadership, and introduce people of color to the sport. And, the location in Steele, Alabama boasts some of the best bouldering in the country. Just like with @BrownGirlsClimb, what started as a simple conversation has grown into something big, impactful, and in some cases, life-changing.