EVO Limelight: Founder Hilary Harris
What inspired you to start EVO Rock + Fitness?
“I’ve been climbing for close to 30 years. At one point I had been living the climber’s dream: climbing fulltime, working side jobs to support living abroad, getting modest sponsorships with gear support and the occasional small amount of cash—but I was faced with ‘am I going to get a conventional job? Or continue down this road to pursue the possibility of being a professional athlete?’
I made the decision to go back to school to become a licensed architect. Years after making that decision, I started to regret it. I was getting Rock & Ice delivered to my doorstep and seeing my friends on the cover. They had stuck out the dream and I was feeling like I’d lost part of my soul. In 2008 I was laid off and I thought ‘this is my window of opportunity to get back into the industry I loved so much.’ So I used my knowledge in construction and architecture as leverage to start EVO Rock + Fitness.”
How did the brand “EVO” come to be?
“I didn’t ever want to build just one climbing gym. I wanted to build upon the climbing community at large and evolve with it, which ultimately has become our mission: to empower people and strengthen communities.
As a coach, I was noticing a disconnect between new climbers and the climbing community at large. The gap of understanding between them was getting bigger and bigger and to me, that was a tragedy. So much of climbing isn’t really about climbing. It’s about relationship building and community building and having these life-changing experiences with people.
It’s about sitting around a campfire and hearing the history of a route or a place, or some crazy climber who was doing something before you. The story was being lost on the climbers and I wanted to bring them back, to where people felt like they were part of it—and that they were evolving with the story.”
How do you keep the story alive?
“We feature a wall of evolution in all of our gyms. It’s a museum type timeline that features notable ascents, changes in gear, and notable people in the climbing world.
We also have gym-to-crag clinics. It’s really important to us that the fundamental skill sets are taught to our customers; that they become empowered individuals, that we aren’t just creating a climbing gym that’s feeding people through an assembly line. And that’s where our staff comes in, too.
If the customers and staff embrace that and carry on the torch of bringing the story of climbing into the community then the story continues. If they’re dedicated to helping our members and customers evolve themselves then the story stays alive. That’s what it’s all about.”