Memphis Rox Climbing Gym Offers Mid-South Rocky Mountain High

By Don Wade

Kathy Enfroy learned about Memphis Rox organically, which in 2018 means through a friend via social media. So she came to check out Memphis Rox Climbing & Community in Soulsville for herself. She had such a good time that on a recent Monday morning she had returned and brought her husband, Austin Enfroy, and their 4-year-old daughter, Madeline, with her.

Micah Smith, a 22-year-old from Hernando, Mississippi, drives to Memphis Rox on a regular basis to use its climbing walls. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

Memphis Rox Climbing & Community in Soulsville is open to everyone, regardless of economic status. No one is turned away if they can’t pay. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

“It’s just different,” said Kathy Enfroy, who lives in Olive Branch. “It’s cool and a good workout. And I like what this place is about.”

Memphis Rox opened several weeks ago. It doesn’t bring the Rocky Mountains to Memphis, but it does provide a 28,000-foot climbing gym and walls that, while topping out at 45 feet, look much higher when standing at the base of them and considering a climb to the top.

Hollywood filmmaker Tom Shadyac, through his nonprofit organization One Family Memphis, is trying to restore the bankrupt Soulsville Town Center development. The climbing gym is one part of that and goes toward the mission of engaging community in creative ways and making a positive impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

Shadyac, of course, has strong ties here. His late father, Richard Shadyac, served as chief executive officer of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness arm of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Today, Tom’s brother Rick Shadyac is ALSAC’s chief executive.

Tom Shadyac’s movies include “The Nutty Professor,” “Bruce Almighty,” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” Shadyac’s vision for the One Family campus in Soulsville also includes a film studio/film school, restaurant and art school.

Already, Memphis Rox offers rock climbing classes (such as bouldering and top rope) and has a fitness area, yoga classes and a pay-it-forward juice bar.

The only non-negotiable requirement at the gym is signing a liability waiver. Kian Koleini, who is one of the gym’s managers, says no one will be turned away if they can’t pay. Daily use pricing is $10 for youth and $12 for adults, but the amount is suggested, not mandated. He says some people opt to provide five hours of volunteer time in lieu of paying the monthly membership fee of $55.

“We have no economic barriers,” Koleini said. “This is a gym for everyone.”

Word is getting around and Memphis Rox already has engaged with several schools and youth organizations. Still, the gym is at the beginning of its ascent to public awareness.

“Basically, nobody knows what rock climbing is in Memphis,” said Chris Dean, who is director of community outreach.

Not that this is just about rock climbing. Rather, that’s the hook, or to use a rock climbing term, the “hold” for fostering engagement. Koleini describes rock climbing as “doing a puzzle while pushing your body to its physical limit.”

But it’s about even more than problem-solving and physical exertion. It’s a space for learning about others and yourself. After all, it’s just about impossible to be climbing a 45-foot wall while texting or otherwise lost in technology.

“You get away from the world,” Dean said. “Nothing from outside can really affect you in here. You just gotta be.”

To that point, Dean, 26, says he sees kids and adults letting their guard down in ways they normally might not in everyday life. Truth has a way of coming out when staring at a wall and not really sure how you’re going to climb to the top.

“You get that, `I’m afraid of heights,’” Dean said. “Out on the street, you can’t get a man to admit he’s afraid of nothing.”

Once people commit to attacking that fear, Dean says, something else happens: They start to push away other excuses, from not trusting the wall to believing they’re too old, and begin relating with one another.

“People start climbing and talking,” he said. “It’s not just a rock climbing gym but a place where you can meet anybody – black, white, Mexican, Brazilian. ...

“It’s a natural high coming here and just being around happy people.”