A Syrian-American climber with Alaskan mountain dreams, with hopes to bolster his guiding skills. An Assyrian-American climber with a budding non-profit for climbers of color, looking to push her sport climbing grade. An indigenous climber looking to move the needle on representation in the outdoor industry and boulder harder. A gay climber looking to up his game on the rock and grow his non-profit that brings LGBTQ+ folx into the outdoors.
These are just a few of the individuals from the inaugural class of SCARPA’s Athlete Mentorship Initiative (SAMI). Over the course of a year, those four and 27 others in the cohort were each paired up with one of SCARPA’s professional athletes—people like Jordan Cannon, Nathaniel Coleman, Will Gadd, Nikki Smith, and Alex Puccio, to name just a few. They were kitted out with gear from SCARPA and partners like Arc’teryx, Patagonia, The North Face, Rab and Mountain Hardwear and received personalized support from the SCARPA leadership team—including North American CEO Kim Miller. With all of these resources at their fingertips, the group accomplished amazing things, from building organizations aimed at broadening diversity in the sport, to tackling dream climbs.
“I think long term we’re going to see more leaders from different backgrounds in our industry. CEOs and founders and athletes, just infiltrating the whole space, from the inside out, and I think that’s how change happens,” mentee Shara Zaia said. “SAMI is a step in that direction.”
SCARPA is now ready to help the next batch of mentees achieve their own goals and continue changing the face of the sport and industry. Below are some snapshots of the SAMI experience from the first graduates.
The single biggest takeaway? It’s all about the people.
Patrick Dunn, 36, Founder of OUT in the Wild
Not long after he founded OUT in the Wild, a company through which he planned to introduce fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community to the outdoors, Patrick Dunn realized, “For what I was trying to do with my organization, I needed a lot more resources—financial, but also relationships—to try to make it successful.”
As a member of the first cohort in the SCARPA Athlete Mentorship initiative, he got that.
“Being a part of SAMI and associated with SCARPA made a huge difference,” Dunn said. “Instead of just flailing through it on my own, they gave me the opportunity to learn how to do it well and how to do it right. I have connections with a lot of other brands now.”
Equally as valuable for Dunn as the best-practices guidance and industry connections that SAMI gave him, was the relationship that he developed with his mentor, Jordan Cannon.
“OUT in the Wild has also gained a lot more visibility through my connection with Jordan Cannon and his support,” said Dunn. “He came out of the closet last May, which was super cool for me personally—there hasn’t been an out gay male professional climber before him. And then in my climbing specifically, he helped me understand how to really focus my energy on the goals that I have. We also did a three-week cross-country roadtrip together, one of the coolest opportunities I could have ever hoped for!”
Shara Zaia, 30, Founder of Cruxing in Color
At the first Cruxing in Color meetup that Shara Zaia organized in September 2020, there were seven people. Before long the meet ups were attracting 60, 70, even 80 people. But Zaia had lofty goals for the organization and its mission of restoring power to self-identified climbers of color in Colorado. Just as the SCARPA Athlete Mentorship Initiative helped Dunn take OUT in the Wild to the next level, it helped Zaia develop Cruxing in Color.
“SAMI gave me the tools to help grow Cruxing in Color and amplify it in the community,” Zaia said. “They really helped me with my fundraiser—in one night we raised over $11,000 at Movement RiNo. It was my first large event so it was great to have experts to turn to.”
The connections she made through SCARPA were the biggest benefit to Zaia. “Honestly, the outdoor industry is about who you know,” she said. “More than anything, this program has been about the people I’ve met. Some of my best friends are the other mentees, and some of us are working on projects together. I now work for the American Alpine Club, and another friend and fellow mentee works for the Access Fund, and we’re collaborating on projects together.”
Stefan Hadeed, 31, AMGA Apprentice Rock Guide
Not all the SAMI mentees were focused on growing organizations, some, like Stefan Hadeed, had big climbing goals they wanted to take on.
“I wanted to try to dip my toes into the world of professional climbing a bit and also develop my guiding skills. SCARPA has helped support me on some courses and helped me make connections to other companies,” Hadeed said. He and his mentor, Jesse Huey, got out and climbed together often, even teaming up for an ascent of Moonlight Buttress, in Zion National Park, Utah. Huey, Hadeed said, helped him define and articulate achievable but challenging climbing goals to work toward.
“The main goal I set was to go to Alaska to try to climb the Moonflower Buttress on Mt. Hunter,” Hadeed explained. “And I’m going to go up to try it next month! Jesse and everyone at SCARPA gave me a ton of support from beginning to end.”
Shara Zaia’s fellow mentee friend at the Access Fund with whom she now collaborates? That’s Briana Mazzolini-Blanchard, a boulderer whose mentor in SAMI was Marina Inoue.
As part of SAMI, each mentee had to complete a capstone project, and for hers, Mazzolini-Blanchard teamed up with another mentee, Skye Kolealani Razon-Olds. They developed the Indigenous Field Guide, which, Mazzolini-Blanchard explained, is “a site that provides resources on how to recreate outdoors through the lens of Indigenous people and their experience.”
“Indigenous erasure is so real,” Mazzolini-Blanchard said. “With the Indigenous Field Guide, you’ll eventually be able to see this huge list of indigenous people working in our industry to amplify indigenous voices, as well as what brands and organizations have signed on to our Pledge. It’s just one part in changing the way we recreate outside.”
And, once again: Mazzolini-Blanchard’s biggest takeaway was the exceptional people with whom she forged deep relationships. “A program like this collects a group of strong and powerful people in one place where we get our voices elevated and have real impact,” she said. “That’s invaluable.”
The SCARPA Athlete Mentorship Initiative (SAMI) connects and engages SCARPA Athlete team members with accomplished athletes from historically marginalized communities. SAMI provides participants with opportunities for personal, athletic and career development while trying to create a more inclusive and diverse community of athletes.