A Love Letter to Crash Pads: MW Climbing Emphasizes Culture, Bouldering for AllApr 26, 2023 03:07PM ● By Emily Chen-Newton
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
After two years of success in Lincoln, MW Climbing Gym is opening a second location in Omaha this summer.
Wendy Huynh, who started the gym with her husband, Matt Beio, joked, “Most couples start off by building a chair or something together. We went all in—we built a gym.”
It was “the biggest IKEA furniture build you’ve ever seen,” Beio quipped.
Since MW Lincoln opened in 2021, the gym has gained a reputation for not only celebrating classically strong and advanced athletes, but also nontraditional climbers, newbies, and everyone in between.
Before falling in love, getting married, and co-owning two gyms together, Beio and Huynh were two strangers dragged into the climbing scene by mutual friends. However, they soon bonded over a shared fear of heights and the mounting stress of graduate school—Beio a chemistry student at the time, and Huynh studying behavioral neuroscience. They got to know each other through climbing, rapidly taking to the sport because of the “problem-solving aspect,” Huynh said.
In the early days, climbing provided the couple with much needed release valve and a “relentlessly positive” community. As they became more involved with climbing, their core belief that climbing spaces should be open and welcoming to everyone began to materialize.
“[Everyone should feel] that they belong in this space, because they do,” Huynh affirmed.
Beio and Huynh got engaged in 2019, after about four years of climbing together. Around the same time, the couple noticed the climbing community—the same that had provided footholds during times of stress, and new heights in their relationship—simply couldn’t sustain the sport’s growing popularity. There was a significant need for a new facility in Lincoln, and the blueprints for MW Climbing were drawn.
Beio and Huynh covered the costs of the Lincoln gym without borrowing through DIY construction, and “learning on the fly,” as Beio put it.
“The hardest thing that I had to learn was sewing,” Huynh reflected, adding that she broke dozens of needles in the process of making the mats for the gym, or “crash pads’’ in climbers’ lexicon. For the larger construction elements, they used the woodworking equipment and relied on instruction from the Nebraska Innovation Studio, which offers tools, space, and classes for Nebraska artists and entrepreneurs. Beio said Huynh has taken almost every class the Innovation Studio offers except welding.
“I do want to do welding eventually,” Huynh clarified.
For months the couple climbed over more than boulders, but “endless buckets of paint” and piles of fabric just to get in and out of bed. Not to mention, they had a wedding to plan.
“It might be cheesy,” Huynh beamed, stealing a glance at Beio, “but, I loved you more with each experience…having to work through those grueling labor intensive days, I was more and more sure that I picked the right person.”
This time around, they have a larger team of people helping build the 24,000-square-foot Omaha gym. Their passion, combined with extensive market research, convinced the couple it was the right move.
“I knew how to handle big data,” Huynh noted, a former statistics professor at Doane University. Meanwhile, Beio continues to teach chemistry at both Doane University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“We were very used to researching, and researching thoroughly,” Huynh reiterated.
Though she’s not a professor anymore, Huynh still uses her teaching experience when training and mentoring gym staff. Leading by example, Huynh and Beio strived to foster the gym’s characteristically inclusive environment.
Sarah Walker, who climbs at MW Lincoln, said she used to think, “climbing isn’t for curvy people. It’s just not.”
That was before she “fell in love with climbing” because of the thoughtful way the routes are designed at MW for a range of body types and skill levels.
They take special care that the lower level climbs are accessible but still require the puzzle-solving mindset that’s characteristic of bouldering. Huynh explained how they design bouldering routes with diversity and inclusion in mind, because each team member “has something unique to contribute…different body types, skill sets.”
“Trans people, fat women, women, people of color, they deserve athletic spaces too,” Walker said.
In Walker’s eyes, they’ve succeeded.
“Just go into the gym, look at who’s on the wall,” she said.
“Everybody knows everybody,” said Mark Ebers, whose wife Cathy threw him a surprise 60th birthday party at the gym. “It’s interesting the people you mix with, you know…with tattoos and piercings. And it’s like, ‘I wonder if I would ever talk to this guy outside of the gym?’ But there, it’s easy to do.”
Wendy, who’s Chinese American, said she doesn’t particularly use her identity to lead, it’s just who she is. But she emphasized representation does matter, whether in academics or sports.
“I’m proud of my heritage, I’m proud of my culture. And if that helps other folks feel safe, if it helps people feel seen, I’m all for it,” Huynh said. “There is intention with how I present myself and how I want our gym culture to be—and it revolves around the idea of inclusivity.”