While crowdfunding may be commonplace amongst start-up businesses, bands, and filmmakers, it has rarely been used by climbers, until last week when Alex Puccio posted a request for donations on the crowdfunding website RallyMe. Setting her goal at $10,000, Alex plans to use the money to fund her 2015 World Cup circuit travel expenses, where she hopes to, once and for all, clinch the title of World Cup Champion. Her request for funding has received a range of responses from the climbing community, from “I couldn’t think of a better cause worth supporting! So honored to be able to donate to see this hero make her mark on the world!” to “I feel insulted that Miss Puccio feels she’s entitled to money that could go to better causes.” With these two opinions and many in between it got us thinking about why the climbing community seems to be so polarized about Alex’s crowdfunding.
All In Favor
The IFSC determines the World Cup champion by combining an athlete’s top 5 scores in IFSC competitions, meaning that Alex needs enough money to travel to at least 5 different locations around the world. One supporter on Instagram says, “All those international flights and hotels – I am surprised 10k is enough to cover the expense. I totally support this fundraising effort and already donated.” Alex is currently working (outside of training) to independently earn the money in addition to receiving money from sponsors. Nevertheless, competing for the World Cup Circuit requires additional funding. In response to a negative comment on Instagram Alex clarified her work situation by saying, “I do have a job and work there about 5 days a week on top of training as a professional athlete which is also a full time job. So I do work just about everyday! I have one day a week where it is my own. And our sport just doesn’t have the money yet to support all the top athletes fully but I hope I can help change that for the younger generation!” After years of balancing and budgeting working and training as a pro athlete, Alex reached out for additional financial support from her friends, family, and fans.
Alex is undeniably the best female boulderer in the US and her fans want to see her be the best in the world. In past World Cup seasons she has placed 3rd (2011 & 2013) and 5th (2012 & 2014) overall. This year she is more focused on training and winning than ever before. Her fans have been following her training progress on Facebook and Instagram and have seen the fruits of her training in countless competitions including this year’s ABS Nationals, where she took home the title for the 9th year in a row. Alex is primed and ready for her most successful World Cup season yet. From the perspective of her supporters, it would be disappointing if a lack of funding prevented her success. Crowdfunding thus allows her fans to support her and be a part of her success on the world stage. One supporter sums it up, saying, “You rock, girl. Will definitely be donating. Would be such a shame if dollars were the only thing holding you back when you’ve already reached this level. Good job asking for help, we’ll get you there, and just keep crushing!”
For some, the implications of supporting Alex extend even further. Chalk Talk Podcast offered a broader rationale for donating, saying,”This is supporting American representation on the national stage. It is unfortunate that we don’t have a way to get our top athletes to all of these comps (though I hear USAC is working on it), that is why we have to show support individually.” This perspective views donating as a show of support not only for Alex but for all of our top climbers.
However, not everyone in the climbing community supports crowd funding professional climbers. Some outright oppose the idea of professional climbers being publicly funded while others believe the onus lies on the financial structures within the climbing community. Fingers have been pointed at sponsors, climbing gyms, USA Climbing, and the IFSC to better support professional climbers. One of Alex’s Instagram followers offered up this perspective, “As one of the strongest female climbers in the game I would think your sponsors would take care of you. The climbing industry is flooded with sponsored climbers so much so that the big names still have to ask for help.” Perhaps sponsors are spreading their funds around too thinly, or perhaps our sport simply isn’t creating enough revenue to support professional climbers sufficiently.
There currently seems to be at least two camps of climbers: competition focused and outdoor focused; the former being more concerned with excelling as competitive athletes and the latter being concerned with maintaining crags and seeking solitude in nature. (Yes, we understand that this is an oversimplification and that climbers can identify with both, but for the sake of argument try to see them as competing view points.) Those in the outdoor climber camp may be offended by the idea that Alex Puccio is asking them to fund her competitive pursuits, however, at the root of this opposition may be a desire to see more public funding for access and crag maintenance, and perhaps a fear of comp climbing being the future of the sport.
Alex’s crowdfunding effort brings up what is probably the most sensitive subject in climbing: money. The sport simultaneously glorifies the dirtbag lifestyle and requires expensive equipment. Add to that gym memberships and the cost of traveling to new crags and we’re talking about some serious dough. Members of the climbing community don’t seem to talk about money often, so when it is brought up it can immediately repulse people. After Alex responded to one particular negative commenter he replied to her, saying, “Thank you for responding to my comment. I’m sorry I came off as a jerk, but my first response when people ask for money is indignation. I think it’s a shame your sponsors don’t pay you enough that you have to ask your fan base for money.”
Crowdfunding has been a tremendous resource in other fields, and this is likely only the beginning of it for climbers. The negative responses to Alex’s call for donations are most likely less of a personal attack on her and more of a response to many current issues the climbing community is facing. We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic below, but no matter what side of the debate you fall on please be respectful of our community. It’s a pretty rad one.
Best of luck to Alex in the upcoming World Cup series!