Open for Business: Peoria business takes physical fitness to new heights

Open For Business

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Amanda Villiger is no stranger to the rocks, ropes, and heights of rock climbing. 

“I started climbing back in college. And you know, I went to school for something else, but climbing’s always been something I enjoyed,” she said.

Villiger is the gym manager of First Ascent Climbing and Fitness in Peoria. She’s been with the business ever since it opened in its Warehouse District location. Every day, she’s surrounded by what she loves.

“Something that’s unique about climbing is that it’s not just a physical challenge. It’s a mental challenge. And I think that it never gets boring,” said Villiger.

It’s a challenge that WMBD/WYZZ’s own Shelbey Roberts fearfully took on with the help of Villiger. The novice Roberts learned both the ropes and walls of rock climbing: free climb and belay. Belaying is a two-person technique where the person below uses their weight and rope to anchor the climber.

Villiger said, “Since we opened, just seeing people’s love for climbing extend from the bouldering area into this top rope space where people are using the auto belays, learning to belay for each other, finding their climbing partners and eventually becoming more advanced…”

The activity takes a balance of strength and bravery.

Villiger said, “One of our goals here is to make climbing accessible for people who want to try it. But it’s their first time and they’re nervous and you know maybe, they haven’t done this before. And it does take some learning and you know adjusting your body and learning how to work with your own body and in new and different ways to make it up a 50-foot wall.”

Roberts didn’t make much progress up the walls. But Villiger said it’s her staff’s goal to encourage all climbers, no matter if they’re fearfully five inches or fearlessly 50 feet off the ground.

“The climbing community is very unique. It’s not like a normal gym where you might feel a little nervous to talk to someone else. In the climbing gym, everybody is always talking to each other and helping each other out,” she said.

The climbing community at First Ascent looks very different after 2020. In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the building was closed for three months. Villiger said the facility underwent a massive deep clean before it reopened. While operations aren’t fully back to normal, every night staff members spray the walls with disinfectant. Climbers are also asked to wear masks while they’re climbing. 

“All the things that we used to do but on a little bit smaller scale just to make sure that you know we’re staying within our capacity limits and allowing everyone enough space to move around in the gym without feeling crowded,” said Villiger.

First Ascent Climbing and Fitness is located at 927 SW Washington St. in Peoria.

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