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Climbing's Power Couple: Regan Kennedy & Josh Muller

Two of Canada's top climbers dish on training, comps, and marrying a fellow climber.

Josh Muller and Regan Kennedy met at a local crag near Calgary, Alberta. A short while later, they quit their jobs and hit the road for eight months, exploring new rock. They've since married and settled in Calgary, where they continue to train, climb, and compete. We sat down with these two rockstar FrictionLabs Athletes to learn how they balance year-round climbing schedules while still giving back to their community.

Family Photo: Regan, Josh, and their dog, Jade.

How did you two meet?

JM: I met Regan at our local climbing area, Acephale, Alberta. I had just climbed my first 5.14 and she her first 5.13. Since then we have been pushing each other to be better climbers and people. We still climb at Acephale all of the time.

RK: I had always heard about these infamous ‘Muller Brothers, Josh and Luke,’ but hadn’t met them until I had been climbing for a couple of years.

What’s the best perk of marrying another climber? Are there any downsides?

JM: Climbers all want to spend their vacations climbing. Having a wife who is also a climber makes it a no-brainer that when we have time off, we go climbing.

RK: Perks are that we really understand the ups and downs and drives to climb. We understand and share the compromises to make trips happen etc . . . Downsides are that we both have goals and those aren’t always the same. He could be focusing on training while I'm focused on competition . . . It gives us a good opportunity to spend time with others in the community though.

When and how did you discover climbing? What made you stick with it?

JM: I started climbing when I was 5 years old with my dad and older brother. We started climbing at a place called Big Rock, which is a glacier erratic (a rock transported from its place of origin by glacial ice thousands of years ago) in the prairies of Alberta. I have always stayed with climbing because it has never gotten boring. I always meet new and amazing people, I always find myself traveling to new and exciting places, and I have never run out of things to do. I love the challenge of climbing, mental and physical.  

RK: I discovered climbing in my mid-twenties when an Italian exchange student came to my lab to do an internship. He wanted to climb at the local wall and asked if I wanted to join. I joined him (reluctantly), and ended up loving every minute of it. I stuck with it initially because I loved the challenge of learning the new movements. Ten years later (now) there are many more reasons to continue climbing, the number one being the community/friendships.

Have you always been athletic?

RK: Yes and no. When I was young I was in gymnastics and I ran track and field. But for about five years I was completely non-athletic before I started climbing.

You guys packed up your lives and spent eight months together on the road. Why did you do this and what did you take away from the experience?

JM: Regan and I packed up our lives and hit the road for 8 months. We had never lived together and had only been dating for a few months at that time. The first month or so was a bit touch and go. We were constantly in each other’s company with no breaks. We are both very different personalities too, Regan is a neat freak and I am a touch messy. Luckily I am super versatile and was able to change my ways to make things work….

We both decided to hit the road because neither of us loved our jobs or could stand the thought of spending a full winter in Canada. I had never done a long trip before so I was very excited to see what I was capable of given ample opportunity.

I personally took a lot away from this trip. It’s amazing what 8 months straight of rock climbing will do to your climbing. Spending month and months climbing in new areas on new rock, you tend to learn a lot about your climbing. I also took countless new friends away from this experience. Priceless.

Who were your early influencers and who do you look up to now?

JM: I’ll be honest, I don’t really look up to any one person. I love watching people work hard and challenge themselves but mostly I am very self-motivated. I love the challenge and I love pushing myself. I am also a very competitive person so in a comp situation I love chasing the best and being the best.

RK: Early on in my climbing I was influenced by my local climbing community in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. They believed in me and pushed me to really go for it. It definitely contributed to the climber I am today and how I approach my goals. Obviously, being Canadian, there are a few key people in the community that I would look up to, like Lev Pinter and Sonnie Trotter. The Weldon sisters were also always inspiring especially in the competition scene. I think as a new climber I tended to look up for inspiration, and now I find it everywhere. It’s in the dedication of the youth, it's in the work of the coaches, it’s in the challenge of the sport, it’s in the beauty of the climbing destinations, it’s in the new climber trying hard just to get to the top of the wall. 

I tend to be most inspired by people who are reaching their goals while maintaining regular 9-5 jobs and/or families. 

I think because that is my situation, I can relate to that more than a strictly professional climber. I will say, however, that the efforts the professional climbers are putting into the sport as far as development and pushing the standards are always mind-blowing and inspiring!!

How has your definition of success changed since the start of your career?

JM: My definition of success was once just focused on clipping chains or topping out boulders, the harder the better. These days I see success being more than the final outcome, I see success as meeting new people, learning something new, and finding a new challenge. 

Finishing a climb is still very important to me but I now see the value in the process.

What’s going through your head as you’re pushing yourself through a super tough move? Do you have a mantra?

RK: Calm strong and focus. That’s my mantra. My mind is by far the weakest link in my climbing, I have employed positive self talk and mantras to calm myself down, especially on a rope!

Regan in South Africa.
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Do you see obstacles for women in the climbing industry?

RK: Honestly, I don’t see many obstacles for women. From time to time I come across articles or social media posts about women being accused of using sexuality to sell climbing or get sponsors. I see the problem in general is that people are comparing themselves to other people. I think you should be comparing yourself (and your performance) only to yourself. Only you can set limitations for yourself, no one’s opinions or actions can set limitations on you. I don’t feel restricted or that I have come across any obstacles unless they have been my own (like a weakness for example). Another sort-of obstacle would be time, and time doesn’t discriminate between men and women; either you have the time and money to travel and climb, or you don't.

Tell us about your work with youth in the Calgary climbing community.

RK: We train alongside a lot of talented youth in Calgary. Sometimes they qualify for national or international events and can’t make it for financial reasons. I (among many other people) were particularly inspired by one athlete who worked tirelessly both in training and in the community to make international events happen for herself. I thought, how can I/we help her? With her in mind, we created a bursary program for ACA (Alberta Climbing Association) registered youth. We have two bursaries available: one for youth attending worlds and one for youth who are not. For those attending they have to 1) have qualified and 2) shown stewardship in the community. For those not attending worlds, the bursaries are smaller and focus on involvement in the community.

Where does the money come from? I reached out to all of my industry contacts and they graciously donate product that we use to hold silent auctions. We hold the auctions at local youth competitions. The parents and community are really excited about the initiative and participate fully in the auctions. This year we raised $7,500 and were able to give six bursaries to youth who qualified for worlds in China or were amazing stewards in our community! We have had tremendous support both from the climbing industry and local climbing community.

You (Josh) cofounded Calgary’s first bouldering-specific climbing facility, the Bolder Climbing Community. How did this come to be?

JM: This is still a work in progress. Should be open early 2017.

Bolder Climbing is a bouldering only gym. We will have a young, trendy, clean atmosphere. We hope to put a huge amount of focus on developing and engaging community. This project was the product of a few things in my life. I hated my job/industry, I was no longer inspired by our current climbing facility, and there is a recession in Calgary. This all lead me to wonder if it was possible to open a bouldering gym. I approached a couple close friends about the idea and they were instantly sold so we went after it with all our might.

What does your training routine look like? How does it change during the year as you move from outdoor sport climbing, indoor/outdoor bouldering, and comps?

RK: I honestly feel a bit overwhelmed by this aspect of our climbing life. We basically have no ‘off season’—we go from indoor training/competition directly into outdoor sport climbing. In the winter I am in the climbing gym bouldering and training for comps. I will also try and travel twice during the winter to a bouldering destination (Hueco, Bishop, Vegas, Joes). I also see a personal trainer at Revolution Human Performance who works with me on a unique cross training program. The winters are very full. Once spring rolls around and we can climb outside, I spend much less time in the gym and focus mostly on sport climbing. Our approaches to sport climbing crags are big and I count them as cardio, so between the hiking and climbing that’s pretty much all I do in the summer.

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How do you balance a year-round training schedule and still find time to travel, relax?

RK: Haha! This is definitely something that has been weighing on me lately. I do feel exhausted and ready for a change. I think the change is going to come from quality of training versus quantity. This will allow some down time or time for other hobbies.

What's your favorite FrictionLabs product?

JM: Gorilla Grip!!!

What was your “aha!” moment with FrictionLabs?

RK: We got a small sample of FrictionLabs chalk in 2013 at the Red River Gorge. We were told not to mix it with anything so we didn’t; we started a new chalk bag with our little sample. I was working a route at the mother lode area and when I used the chalk something was different, I wasn’t as sweaty, my hands stuck better, I could loosen my grip, I didn’t feel as pumped…I knew this chalk was something special! I have a friend who is notoriously a non-believer in things. When she tried FrictionLabs and loved it, thought it actually made a difference in her climbing, I knew it was legit!! Haha.

When you’re not climbing you’re...

RK: Working on prepping a lesson for school. Cooking. Chilling with Josh and our dog Jade.

JM: Either training for climbing or opening a climbing gym.

 

(Video above: Josh crushing Esperanza V14 in Hueco Tanks State Park )

Where can readers learn more about you?

Learn more about Josh through his website, Instagram, Facebook, and Bolder Climbing's website.

Regan keeps it real on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

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