Climb On. Be You for Rainbow Wall
Rainbow Wall is back for the second year in a row, supporting the LQBTQ+ community.
Alex Johnson dips her hands into the bag of finely ground magnesium carbonate. She slaps her hands together and a cloud of white dust floats in the still air. Pursing her lips, Alex blows the excess off her callused fingertips. The low angle light of the morning catches the swirling chalk particles in a sparkling dance. Alex stares up at the gray boulder towering over her, analyzing the features and imagining where she’ll place her hands and feet as she attempts to climb the prominent arete. She positions her body for the next few minutes of powerful climbing and places her hands on the rock. With intense focus, Alex pulls herself off the ground using tiny features, ledges, and nubs on the rock.
To bystanders, Alex appears to defy gravity as she works her way towards the top of the rock. In a way, she does, because she recently set down an unfathomable amount of weight. Alex no longer carries the burden of societal pressures. She shed conformity and stepped into her true self.
Athletic Brewing Ambassador and professional rock climber, Alex Johnson, knows what it’s like to live without compromise. She spent her youth learning how to rock climb in a repurposed grain silo in the Midwest.
Alex knew at a young age that she was not straight, but due to social pressures and fear of being rejected, she kept it to herself. She spent years hiding that essential part of herself from the rest of the world, only allowing those closest to her in on her secret.
“I definitely was concerned with losing friends and I didn't want my friends to think I had crushes on them or make any relationships weird. I think that was one of my other biggest fears,” Alex recalls.
Alex made a name for herself in the competitive climbing scene; in 2008 she made history by being the first American to win a Bouldering World Cup on US soil, and then she made history again by being the first American to win two Bouldering World Cup gold medals. Retiring from the competition scene, Alex shifted her focus onto outdoor bouldering projects and started putting up dozens of first ascents.
But it wasn’t until she moved to Las Vegas that she relaxed her guard and started stepping into her true self. Alex realized that she could make a positive impact on LGBTQIA+ youth by publicly coming out, so she did.
“Climbing gave me the confidence to come out as LGBTQIA+. That has been the most empowering thing in my life, and has only skyrocketed my confidence, allowing me to really be true to myself and authentic to who I am and who I love,” says Alex. “The coolest part of that for me was it was risky and it was scary and I took that chance and it totally paid off.”
Among other things, that payoff was freedom. “For the first time in my life, I could breathe, I could move. I was floating,” she says. “It was like I was climbing my entire life with a weight vest on… You're sort of incapable of ever trying your absolute hardest if you're always holding something back and not being able to let that part out.”
Alex’s decision to come out publicly was inspired by one of the young athletes she was coaching; a girl who was being bullied at school for liking other girls. By keeping that part of herself hidden, Alex felt that she was doing a disservice to the young athletes who are struggling with their identities. To her surprise, Alex’s coming out was met with enthusiasm and an outpouring of love.
“Me being who I am authentically has sort of opened me up to being vulnerable in other ways,” she says. “If I'm more vulnerable with my climbing and my training, then it opens up this expression of movement in my climbing that I was holding back because I was holding back a part of myself.”
Alex now uses her experience to help and empower others, especially LGBTQIA+ kids, by partnering with Athlete Ally, an organization aimed at LGBTQIA+ inclusion in sport.
“Athlete Ally is someone that I joined forces with right after coming out. They’re not specific to climbing, they’re specific to sports,” she says.
Big Things to Come
Alex Johnson’s inspiring story was told through a short documentary film in the Reel Rock film series titled Big Things to Come. The film details Alex’s 10-year pursuit of climbing an extremely difficult route on a boulder near Bishop, California. The route, called The Swarm, is rated as V14. In lay terms, that’s one of the most difficult bouldering grades out there.
When Alex first started pursuing The Swarm, no woman had climbed a boulder problem rated at V14 yet. “I wanted to shatter that glass ceiling,” she says in the film, “but it ended up bigger than I expected… It broke me, and forced me to face who I really was.”
With Pride Month comes the re-release of our very special Rainbow Wall brew for 2022. Brewed in collaboration with Alex Johnson, this slightly hazy, highly citrusy Blood Orange IPA was brewed with an abundance of heart.
This brew was named for Alex Johnson’s favorite spot to climb – the large, colorful rock formation outside her home in Las Vegas aptly named the Rainbow Wall. This is the place where Alex felt most at home and able to be fully herself.
We are very excited to be able to offer the Rainbow Wall beer in honor and celebration of Pride Month. All proceeds from sales of this beer will be donated to Athlete Ally and the OUT Foundation, organizations dedicated to ending the rampant homophobia and transphobia in sports.
Athlete Ally serves to educate, champion changes in sport policy, and advocate for LGBTQ rights. Athlete Ally is able to do this by creating learning resources, like their Champions of Inclusion program, as well as through their athlete ambassador program. They have made huge strides in LGBTQ rights by working with sports organizations to make games and venues more accepting and safe.
The goal of the OUT Foundation is to remove the barriers that stop LGBTQ+ people from finding, accessing, and participating in fitness, health, and wellness activities. The Out Foundation has an inclusive gym finder for those who want to find a place to workout where they can feel safe and welcomed. OUT also has educational resources available for gym owners and workers to learn how they can be more inclusive. They support the need for finding an inclusive community in order to be your best athletic self.
Alex Johnson thinks that she would not have been able to climb to her potential without coming out.
With an ice-cold Rainbow Wall, we toast the entire LGBTQIA+ community with arms open, belays on, and two words: be you.