Climbing gym that serves minority youth of Globeville threatened with eviction

Amayah Burgos began training at the Beast Fingers indoor climbing gym in Denver’s Globeville neighborhood when she was six years old, quickly falling in love with it. She adores her coach, Aman Anderson, who has operated the gym since 2017 with the goal of serving that underprivileged community, especially its children.

“This is like a second home to me,” said Burgos, now 11. “I basically grew up here. This place is very important to me. He can make all the kids happy, and he’ll focus on every person so it makes everybody feel like they belong here.”

But Anderson is in danger of losing the gym. Adidas, the multinational sports apparel and footwear company that was the gym’s primary sponsor, effectively subsidizing the operation, drastically cut its funding last fall. Anderson got behind on his rent and is facing eviction, with a court appearance set for Wednesday.

Anderson closed the gym last week after receiving his summons to appear in Adams County court on Jan. 6. Still, there is also hope this week for a last-minute reprieve.

“It’s heartbreaking that this place might shut down,” said Amayah’s mother, Desiree Burgos. “It’s opened up a lot of ideas and doors in her mind. Her goal is to go to the Olympics, because they added climbing.”

Burgos, who is Black, commutes from her home in Lakewood but most of the Beast Fingers kids live in Globeville.

“My kids love going over there,” said Carmen Calvin, who lives in an apartment building a block from the gym. “We have a rec center right across the street from us. Beast Fingers is on the other side of us. My kids go to Beast Fingers instead of the rec center, and they have a PlayStation at the rec center. That says a lot.”

Greg Thomsen, a retired executive with Adidas’ outdoor division who was instrumental in arranging the company’s support for the gym, says Anderson provides an “invaluable service” for the neighborhood. Thomsen came to know Anderson when he was a competitive climber sponsored by Adidas.

“It’s so great to help kids who have no other place to go,” Thomsen said. “He’s almost like a father figure to some of the kids. He’s teaching them commitment and focus and regimens, all these great tools they are maybe not getting without that.”

He’s also an excellent coach, Thomsen said.

“A lot of his athletes have gone on to win competitions, and they’re not from an area that’s able to pay for a lot of travel or gear,” Thomsen said. “He gives them shoes, he gives them equipment, he pretty much commits his whole life to helping their lives. He’s the real deal.”

Beast Fingers is located two blocks south of the Grizzly Rose on North Broadway. The neighborhood is a largely industrial area just east of Interstate 25 with small homes and apartment buildings sprinkled among  warehouses, junk and scrap metal yards, meat processing plants and industrial parks. Its residents are 68% Hispanic, according to a City of Denver report, and household income is just over half the average in Denver. Across the street from the gym, there are people living in RVs, a camping trailer and a pickup truck just a few feet from I-25.

“It just shows how the community at large is struggling,” said Anderson, who grew up in a poor area of Orlando, Fla. “Globeville is one of the most underserved groups in Colorado. We have one community center. We have no daycares. There is one grocery store.”

Calvin has four boys. Her two oldest, ages 12 and 9, work out at Beast Fingers.

“It’s a bad neighborhood,” Calvin said. “I wouldn’t say horrible, because I’ve lived in worse, but there’s always guns shooting and really bad influences. I love that my kids can go over there and not be around any of the negative stuff.”

Anderson has tried to make his gym a refuge from the challenges Globeville residents face. The gym attracts 12 to 20 kids on a typical night.

“What I have tried to reinforce with the families and kids who come here is that when you walk in here, all that stays out there, you don’t have to think about that,” Anderson said. “Their struggles stay outside. We’ve coached kids who have dropped out of school, and we had to convince them to go back. Kids run away from home. Kids struggle to maintain academics. Throughout the years we’ve been here, it’s been a constant, ‘Forget that, you’re in here, this is your time.’”

The gym was not immune from worldwide economic pressures, though. Adidas has faced its own financial challenges. Its sales in China took a big hit from the COVID-19 lockdown. It pulled its distribution and sales operations out of Russia because of the war in Ukraine.

It suffered another blow in October when it severed its partnership with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, in response to the uproar over the rapper’s highly publicized anti-Semitic remarks. In announcing the decision to end the partnership, which involved Yeezy brand footwear, Adidas said it would reduce the company’s net 2022 income by nearly $250 million.

While no longer associated with Adidas, Thomsen has been actively encouraging his old contacts in the outdoor industry to consider supporting Anderson to help him keep the gym going.

“He could use the help, and he’s such a good person,” said Thomsen, who owned Golden-based Mountainsmith from 2002 to 2007. “There’s no place to go. They can’t afford to go to one of the other gyms and pay $100 a month. He’s trying so hard to make this work.”

Anderson tries to keep fees low, but after Adidas cut his funding, he raised drop-in rates from $15 to $30 and monthly membership fees from $45 to $100 in hopes of covering his rent. There also is a community fundraising effort. As of last week, Anderson had collected about $9,000 in donations to keep the gym open, but his back rent exceeds $12,000.

Over the weekend, Anderson heard from Michael Kadous, general manager for Adidas Outdoor-North America, who told Anderson he would make up the difference so he can pay his back rent and avoid eviction. It’s unclear whether there will be more to help Anderson pay his rent going forward.

In an email to The Denver Post on Sunday, Kadous wrote: “While we cannot comment on the financial specifics of our partnership, our support will continue through 2023 with a focus on the Beast Fingers programs that offer more young people in the Denver area the opportunity to join this community, try climbing and develop their skills in this sport.”

Gym finances haven’t been Anderson’s only challenge. In September of 2021, he was rear-ended on I-25 near the Colfax exit, leaving him unconscious for 30 minutes. He suffered soft-tissue injuries to his lower spine that still cause him pain. His memory isn’t quite as good as it was before the crash, and he concedes that the effects of the accident decreased the amount of energy he could devote to the gym. The effects of the accident could have been much worse, though.

“I missed death by like half an inch,” he said.

Thomsen sees corporate support for Beast Fingers and other sports programs for marginalized populations as more than philanthropic. As the ski industry expands efforts to promote more diversity on its slopes and in its workforce, so is the outdoor industry as a whole.

“The whole industry is focused on how you make the outdoor industry more diverse,” Thomsen said. “We know the demographics in the future. If you don’t bring in more different people from different areas, the outdoor world will get smaller and smaller because there just won’t be as many people doing it. If you don’t start now, you’re going to miss bringing in an entire new generation of outdoor enthusiasts and environmental supporters. It’s critical. Really critical.”

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