Regan Kennedy planned on a science education career, but her love for rock climbing pushed her to open a climbing gym where she finds fulfilment in coaching, and motivating women to join the supportive local community.
Kennedy was born and raised in Saskatoon, where she later attended the University of Saskatchewan, majoring in the sciences.
“I wanted to be in some kind of creative writing program,” says Kennedy. “But then, somehow I ended up really enjoying biology. I got really good, and the better you get at something, the more you start to enjoy it.”
Kennedy graduated with an honour’s degree in biology and afterwards completed a master’s in molecular plant pathology and genetics. While working at the University of Calgary, she found she was still passionate about learning and teaching and got a degree in education.
“I never did well in high school. I kind of learned how to learn in my first year of university, and then I was super thirsty for knowledge,” says Kennedy.
While working and attending school at the University of Saskatchewan, she was introduced to the world of climbing by a foreign exchange intern from Italy.
“I didn’t know what this thing [climbing] was. The first day we went and did a top-rope lesson. That’s how it started,” says Kennedy.
Her life began to revolve around climbing, on the competitive circuit and simply as her passion. Kennedy now co-owns a local boulder gym, as well as another located in B.C. She and the staff at Bolder are opening a new local climbing gym in south Calgary.
Jon Archibald, long-time climber and friend of Kennedy’s for 15 years, says while her passions have changed over the years, whether it is academics or climbing, she likes to see results.
“You know, she’s someone who definitely wants to be good at what she does,” Archibald says. “The topic has changed but I think her attitude towards work and how she wants to put her efforts forward, I don’t think that has.”
At her gym, Kennedy tries to recreate the same kind of experience for everyone that she had when starting out.
“I think a lot of people just come in on their own and they miss the mentorship aspect, which I think can really help out and also ensure a lot of safety in the sport,” says Kennedy.
Kennedy inevitably keeps busy, co-owning two, going on three, climbing gyms in Calgary and Courtenay B.C. Yet, she still finds time to use her education degree, by coaching the gym’s competitive youth climbing team.
“I do miss teaching,” she says. “People probably wonder why as a business owner I still like coaching, but it’s because it’s fulfilling that thing that I’m missing somewhere else.”
Archibald says Kennedy’s teaching background has translated well into her coaching career.
“I think it’s a natural transition for a teacher to make at times,” says Archibald. “You can tell it has a positive impact on the kids because of the way they talk about her and the way they look up to her.”
Kennedy also finds fulfilment in involving women supporting women and getting them involved in the climbing community. Bolder hosts several events to encourage women to try the sport.
“We have women’s clinics and women’s courses and, and ladies’ night and it’s going super well. I would say, ‘If you don’t want to come to the gym on a busy night, don’t come to ladies’ night’ it is so popular,” says Kennedy.
She says events like the ones hosted at Bolder have had a very positive effect on the climbing community. Kennedy has noticed an increasing trend in women climbers coming through her gym doors.
“When I started climbing, it was like one woman for every 20 guys and now it’s at least 50/50, if not swinging in the favour of women, especially on the youth teams,” she says.
“I think that the more women get involved, the more they share in knowledge, like how to climb with a woman’s body, not a man’s body, and then they just keep getting better and better.”
Hannah Glockner, the general manager at Bolder, a seasoned climber and friend of Kennedy’s, has also noticed the increasing numbers of women climbers. She says Kennedy and the Bolder staff are dedicated to creating a good environment for their climbing community.
“We want it to be a comfortable space for everyone to climb, especially for women,” says Glockner. “I think the community is kind of like the whole reason Boulder was created.”
By far, Kennedy says the best part of owning a gym are the people that climb there. is the community that has come out of it.
“It’s a hundred percent the community,” she says. “It became even more apparent during COVID when people were continuing their memberships while we were closed or dropping off cards and letters and sweets, and all kinds of things.”
Kennedy proudly displays a large collection of cards gym patrons have sent her and the Bolder staff over the years.
“You think you’re going to build a community, but you have no idea how strong that community can be.”