// Local Limelight: Head Coach TJ Sanford

Head Coach TJ SanfordSo TJ’s kinda a badass. He’s been coaching climbers of all ages indoors and outside for over a decade, guided in Estes Park for years, and knows the ins and outs of commercial and competition setting. But he’s never one to give unsolicited beta, and he doesn’t spray about his high-number outdoor projects either. When he’s not in the gym coaching or guest setting, you’ll find him outside scrubbing and bolting new cliffs to give the quickly growing climbing community more routes to work on. So, as you read this interview, keep in mind that TJ’s a humble guy who knows his stuff and cares a ton. 


What is the funniest interaction you’ve had with a kiddo you’ve coached?

That’s a good question (laughs)…kids are kids, every day is different with them…Can we come back to that one?

Of course. So to take a step back, how did you start climbing?

I started climbing in college in the gym, and it was my first trip to the Red River Gorge that really got me hooked. After that it was everything climbing all the time, as much as possible.

Is sandstone still your favorite rock type?

Sandstone does have a soft spot in my heart–or hard spot depending on where you are. But I really like granite as well.

Do you mostly trad? Boulder? Sport climb?

All of it. I started off primarily climbing trad and easy sport onsight. But, moving to Colorado, I discovered a love for bouldering and what it does for the rest of climbing.

When did you start coaching?

I got a job at the local gym in Michigan in the fall of 2007, a couple years after I’d started climbing, and two weeks after I stared at the gym the head coach at the time walked out. I was the only other coach on staff, so I walked in that day and they handed me the binder and said ‘good luck, it’s all yours.’

And you’ve been coaching ever since?

Pretty much. There have been a few summers since I moved to Colorado in 2013 that I took time off from coaching to guide in Estes Park, but I still looked at it as coaching, just in the outdoor realm.

You started coaching at EVO through working with Team Solo. How did all that come about?

I was approached last fall by some of the parents of the kids on Team Solo that I had coached previous at the BRC, and they asked if I would be interested in coaching again. It was something that I’d planned to take a step back from, but coaching Solo lit the fire again, and showed me that I really do love coaching. I went to school for education, and I look at the gym as a classroom for rock climbing. 

I wasn’t looking for a full-time coaching opportunity, but then Clint and Hilary approached me about stepping in [as head coach] at EVO, and the more I talked to folks, the better it all sounded, and now here I am.

What are some of your goals for Team Solo athletes and Club and Team athletes, and how do those differ, since Team Solo is comprised of elite athletes, and many of the Club and Team athletes are newer to the sport?

The Solo program is different, and it does tend to draw more elite youth athletes, but the goal of that program to catering to the kids’ wants and needs as growing climbers. Most of those kids are driven to climb outside, so we give them the tools to compete at a high level if they want to but also take trips and climb outdoors. I’d also like to introduce them to developing new areas as a way to give back to the climbing community as a whole.

With the other programs, the goal is to build set curriculums, so parents and athletes know what to expect coming into the program and what to expect to have gained when they leave the program. To help with that process, I’d like to get the Club and Team programs more involved in the general EVO community through fundraisers and volunteering for events. I’m also planning some outdoor days for those programs as well. 

You recently traveled with Team Solo to Roy for Spring Break. What’s it like traveling and camping with a bunch of teenagers?

It’s taxing (laughs). The Solo kids all have previous experience climbing outside and are mostly self-sufficient, so we can loosen the grasp on what we allow them to do while we’re climbing. I actually get to do some climbing, where on most [coaching] trips that’s not the case.

One thing I took away from guiding is the value of experiential learning. I try to put as much responsibility on the kids as possible. So as far as cooking and cleaning and setting up camp is concerned, it’s more direction from us as coaches than us actually doing those things.

What are some of your personal climbing goals?

I need to finish a project up at the Monastery: The Quickening. I want to do some developing of some crags I’ve found, and then I plan on hitting the Park as much as possible for some bouldering.

So to circle back, what are some of the funniest, weirdest interactions you’ve had with kiddos you’ve coached?

The funniest interactions happen on the trips where we’re out in the backcountry and the kids are out of their comfort zone. A lot of times the silly stuff happens when discussing going to the bathroom in the woods–what that may or may not look like and the different protocols you take to leave no trace. Those conversations can get goofy, and I don’t think I should expand too much on that (laughs).

We are super, super psyched to have you here.

I’m psyched to be here. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s only going to get better. Next weekend the [Solo] kids are planning to go to Rifle. They’re already organizing how they can go together and get us as coaches to go as well.

Many thank yous to TJ for taking the time to sit down and chat with us. We’re crazy lucky, appreciative and psyched to have him as our new Head Coach. 

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