Wildcat Tracks: David Chancellor ’98
For this issue of Wildcat Tracks, we asked local entrepreneur and alumni David Chancellor to share his journey from his time spent at Westminster to becoming co-owner of Climb So iLL—a successful urban climbing destination, So iLL—a line of climbing gear and most recently kicking off a collaboration with TOMS shoes. Here is David’s story in his own words:
“The choices we make dictate the life we lead, to thine own self be true.” This was the theme from my Life Skills class taught by Susan Pike in 1998. Little did I know how important that sentence would be in shaping the path of my life.
I was not a great student; in fact, I was not even a “good” student. I found my classroom efforts to be the bare minimum. For me, high school was about survival. I was trying to tread water while my classmates did backflips off the high dive. The only exception to this was when a topic or teacher captivated my (very short) attention span. I believe that God has built us all to be different and therefore, following the typical school trajectory was not for me. Luckily, we need all types of people to make the world go round and I just so happen to be camping out where the sidewalk ends.
My journey begins with a love for people. In fact, it’s been woven into my fabric. For better or worse, this is the gift in which I have been blessed. In my humble perspective, people are the engine that makes the world move. Peoples’ stories, their hearts, and core values fascinate me. I find meaning in what can be gained from a simple exchange of words. Every situation, interaction, and discussion is a teachable moment that may open the door to amazing opportunities. This has been the guiding principle during my daily walk.
In high school, I discovered a passion that would fuel the next 20 years of my life. Rock climbing was something that did not fit the mold. It allowed me the opportunity to explore an outdoor playground and disconnect from the daily grind. After high school, I spent two years traveling and climbing. My travels took me to areas like Utah, Colorado, Yosemite and Joshua Tree, as well as other amazing destinations. Life on the road can be a lonely place, so naturally, you gravitate towards people. I connected with adventure seekers, pro climbers, and photographers from all over the world. We shared many nights over campfires, sunrises, hiking and scaling the boulders. These interactions cultivated relationships that are now the backbone for everything I do.
I started So iLL Holds with my brother Dan back in 2002. So iLL has grown over the years and is now a leader in the outdoor industry. Our product line includes climbing grips, lifestyle clothing, footwear and accessories for the indoor and outdoor enthusiasts. Our products are distributed to 15 countries, REI and also showcased by the best athletes in the world. At the time, my climbing journeys felt like a never-ending adventure; but in reality, the people I met so many years ago are now the retail buyers, international distributors, gym owners and industry leaders that help sustain our business. Little did I know then what I know now, that people and relationships were the catalyst for everything moving forward.
Ten years after we launched So iLL Holds, my brother Dan and I opened an indoor climbing gym called Climb So iLL in March of 2012. The building was the power plant for the old City Hospital, which was built in 1937 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places located in Lafayette Square. During the design, we preserved the industrial character of the space (brick, concrete floors and gritty patina) and accented it with 55ft tall climbing walls. This was one of the biggest achievements of my life and came with a relentless workload as we rushed toward opening. Throughout my efforts, I’ve realized that nothing of value comes easily; it comes with a grind, perseverance, and hard work. This project began with just an initial concept and as we shared our vision, people came out to support our dream. These relationships fueled the project, adding value in uncharted territory. As I look back on these past 6+ years, I find that this project is bigger than me, as well as everyone else involved. It is the people that have helped make this pipe dream a success. These people are now members at the gym. They gather at a place that promotes community and fitness. They put down their phones and really connect with each other on another level. Since our grand opening, people have met at the gym, gotten engaged at the gym, and are starting to have babies (just hopefully not at the gym). It is my hope that this facility cultivates a sense of community for years to come.
Within the past year, my brother Dan approached me with a strong desire to give back and support the community that has helped us over the years. This came about with a project called 1Climb. The goal is to introduce 100,000 kids to rock climbing. Climbing changed my life and we want to impact kids with the ability to redirect their paths. The project has gained traction through various partnerships with TOMS shoes, actor Jason Momoa and pro climber Kevin Jorgeson. The team focused on a strategic partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the US and the underserved communities that these children live in. The plan is to introduce these kids to their local climbing gym or bring climbing to them by building a climbing wall at their facility. Our pilot project was the Boys and Girls Club in St. Louis, located on S. Grand. Our next wall is in LA and is slated to open the end of August. These projects are about people coming together for a common goal and adding value to people’s lives.
When you get older you begin thinking about legacy and there are several thoughts that come to mind. It is definitely hard to sum up nearly two decades of hard work, late nights, stress, and risk, but when you find something that brings you joy, you double down and go all in. If I’m going to fail, I would rather fail at something I am passionate about. I want to continue being a great husband to my wife Jamie, and I want my sons Milo and Maverick to pursue their passions relentlessly. I want them to see that marriage and kids does not mean you have to give up on life but rather be the motivation to do big things. I tell them to find the things that bring them joy and do that every day. I want them to dream big and find an unshakeable love for God. As I reflect on my journey, I find that in the middle of true adversity is the true test of character and how we respond is what separates most people from one another. Keep a steady hand and stay the course.
This alumni spotlight was originally featured in the August 2018 issue of our alumni newsletter, Wildcat Tracks.