E: Besides being a rock climber, who is Shannon Lancaster. Where’d you grow up and what blew your hair back as a kid?

S: I come from a pretty large family. I had amazing parents and was one of five boys. With that many of us…you can imagine a home being a corporation sort of situation. I was #2 in the line and my older brother was much older than me, like 8 or 9 years and my youngest brother was in the same gap of 8 or 9 years. So there was a large span of ages in our house. My dad was in the Army so I was born in Kansas and then spent my first 5 years in Germany and Belgium. I can remember in Belgium having to run through a cow pasture to catch the bus to school every day haha! But man growing up around the bases our family was real tight and real insulated- we felt safe and I had a ton of autonomy. I played a lot of sports outside like basketball because there wasn’t a lot of money for all the boys to play sports ya know? I would say around like 6th or 7th grade I started getting chunky and that really became a lifelong challenge for me. I come from a predominantly Hawaiian Filipino family so culturally what we eat…it ain’t good brother, haha! So in my family there’s a lot of diabetes and other health challenges. Really when I look at what has motivated me, and especially climbing with Judah my son, is I don’t want him to get locked in to not exploring things and pushing whatever his body can do. I want to inspire him to keep facing challenges.

E: So, it was around the 2020 Pandemic that I met y’all. I think we had just had our first kid, Willow, and re-opened the gym after our temporary closure. Does that sound right?

S: Yeah man! We came for Little Blocs just as things started to re-open.

E: So what took you all from the couch of your house to our gym during that time?

S: Man, we were trying to figure out what Judah was interested in. And, I think what happened was that the movie Free Solo came out haha!! And we were like… THAT AIN’T HAPPENING!! Haha. But Judah kind of obsessed about it and just kept saying he wanted to try it. We really feel like it’s so important to find what our kids are passionate about and know that it might change from time to time and that’s okay. But we really felt like it’s so important to channel that passion into something. So we were living on the west side and went to a camp at another climbing gym and I just remember sitting in the living room near the end of the camp and Judah climbed into my lap and he was like, “dad, tomorrow is my last day of climbing camp”. And then the tears just started to well up. And I was like BRO!! We can find something for you. Something just touched him deeply to find that inner peace while climbing he hadn’t found elsewhere. So we were looking for other gyms in the area and stumbled across Blocworks through an internet search (thank you algorithms). So Brianne found Little Blocs which was like $10 or something? And we were like yeah we can do that!! And that’s when we came in and met you!

E: And then you convinced me to start member hours haha!

S: Yeah man! On that note, I think it goes without saying… if you know Blocworks, you know it’s bigger than what you see at first and it doesn’t take long at all to feel it and I think we felt it IMMEDIATELY. And I think it’s because with you as the owner there’s a culture and a heart that kind of spills out of you into the gym and staff and then to the customers…it doesn’t take long to feel that. What we say in church is, “there’s just something on that” haha. And so I remember Brianne and I when we came in the first day you ran us through the orientation and started talking about there being no ropes and I was like wait, like free solo!? Haha! We had no idea there was a difference between ropes and bouldering. But man immediately we started connecting with other people, climbers just connect with climbers. I remember there was another parent in your gym that first day climbing with their kid and they recommended a book to read with our kids. Like we just felt connected immediately and I remember leaving thinking to myself, man I could do that everyday. Like that’s where the secret sauce is for Blocworks, so much connection. So yeah I mean I came in trying to solve a problem for myself of finding something to do for exercise in the morning while engaging with my son. And man, anyone who has climbed for the first time knows that 1-2 days later your body is aware how good the workout is. So many tiny muscles in my forearms I don’t think I’ve ever used before haha! And it just felt like such a cool, primal, simple way to workout. A lot like running it just felt so natural. 

E: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in climbing?

S: Man, it’s gotta be that first day back to the gym after a break. Like, the church I work at a couple times a year we will do early morning prayer and fasting which pretty much shoots my availability for a month. Coming back from those periods can be tough mentally especially if you feel that you’ve lost some of that forward progress. Hands are a little more sensitive too haha!

E: I get that! I’m guilty myself, even owning a climbing gym, after a few off weeks even having trouble saying YES to going to the gym. Sometimes just saying yes is the hardest part. Fortunately for you with your son you kind of have a built in accountability partner haha!

S: Yeah absolutely, and there is that piece that makes me get on the wall. Like, I’ll be real, our Tuesday morning bible study group Thy Kingdom Climb is locked in so there’s accountability in that group to get on the wall as well. Even down to our monthly membership dues- that creates a sense of, okay, we’ve paid for the month so we should be accountable to go climb. I don’t know if it would be the same on drop in passes ya know? We’ve committed. I also love how you all have shifted your grading scales especially within the blue climbs. I’m a blue climber at heart, more of a marathon climber because getting up and down the wall as many times as possible is the fitness win for me. But within that blue circuit I’ll encounter everything from some super duper easy climbs to ones that really start to challenge certain muscle groups and my mind in different ways.

E: I love that. So let’s pivot. You mentioned it briefly, Thy Kingdom Climb. What do you see happening in this group? How do you see it moving forward.

S: You can’t know where you’re going without knowing where it started. So if I go back to when I first started climbing, I realized there was an object lesson in every climb. One adjustment can impede or progress you to the top. Somebody encourages you to get past something that you didn’t think was possible because they see it from a different perspective and say, “no, you can do it!” There’s so many lessons on the wall that I was just thinking man there’s people in my world that might have the same wiring as I do that they are looking for a space to be in community. So we meet, we have a devo time cause we just know that community is so central. I mean it’s even a key piece of bouldering. Like you can’t boulder without connecting or at least it’s real hard here at Blocworks haha! It’s funny that in Thy Kingdom Climb on the first day we might be on different sections of the wall but by the end of the first few sessions we’re all watching and cheering each other on. My hope is that as we continue to make that available, that other people who have the mornings open and are looking for accountability + community would join us because there has been all sorts of stories in that group- some serious challenges as well. Whether it be health related, loss of family members etc… and then we’ve also seen some awesome stages of life happen even with guys like Christian going from just starting climbing to now being on staff here at Blocworks. Just that people know that they can show up, be encouraged, be prayed for and climb the wall, like that just makes sense and is such a practical way to practice the ways of Jesus.