UNO Alumna builds first climbing gym in Nebraska


By Kelly Bast

When University of Nebraska at Omaha alumna Sarahjoy Allen decided her master’s degree in architectural engineering wasn’t as satisfying as she had envisioned, her career took a 360.

She decided to build her own rock climbing gym instead.

After eight years of careful honing, Allen created a business plan to open Approach Climbing Gym, the first full-service indoor rock climbing facility in Nebraska.

“I just kind of got tired of working for someone else and trying to do it their way,” Allen said. “Their way wasn’t working for me.”

Along with her husband Brian, Allen transformed a 12,000-square-foot warehouse off of 72nd and L Streets into a space devoted to top roping, lead climbing and bouldering. Located adjacent to the Big Papio Trail, the gym opened to the public in late August.

The former engineer was first introduced to the sport while completing her studies at UNO. Over a game of racquetball, a friend encouraged Allen to try rock climbing.

“I didn’t think I would like it because I was afraid of heights,” she said.

Eventually, Allen learned to take control of that fear. She capitalized on her free time to climb everywhere from indoor facilities to outdoor destinations all over the country.

“It’s solving problems. I’m a engineer, so that’s my natural MO,” Allen said. “Climbing came very natural.”

When it came time to design Approach, Allen wasn’t simply going to build a replica of the rock wall she began climbing on during her years at UNO. Unlike the student-managed model at HPER, Approach distinguishes itself in its ability to pay professional route setters and develop a program around it.

To Katlyn Nimtz, a senior exercise science major and rock wall supervisor at HPER, while the routes are well set, the size of the walls at Approach leave something to be desired.

“The top roping is kind of short and small, so we knocked out 20 routes in two hours,” she said.
With 6,000 square feet of climbing area, Approach offers almost double the space as HPER’s wall, yet stands only 25 feet at its tallest point.

“I think the top roping is better at UNO, but it’s a really good place for bouldering in general,” Nimtz said.

Beyond top roping and bouldering, Approach also has a children’s room dedicated to climbers five years old and under, as well as a large training area.

“I want it to be a great experience for people and make it accessible to everybody,” Allen said. “So kids, elderly, fit, unfit, tall, short—everybody in between. If you want to try climbing, try climbing.”
Allen is currently the sole personal trainer at Approach, helping people reach their goals—both rock climbing and otherwise.

“There are people who want to get really strong, cross train, and you know, do American Ninja Warrior,” Allen said. “I hear that all the time. All the time.”
It may not be the engineering career Allen thought she’d pursue after college, but it satisfied a challenge she craved.

“Being able to be with my family, taking the calculated risk and working for myself—I think it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” Allen said. “If you don’t like how someone else is doing it, do it yourself.”