Onsight Rock Gym

5335 Western Avenue

Knoxville, TN 37921

(865) 888-9123

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5335 Western Avenue
Knoxville, TN, 37921


Onsight Rock Gym is a brand new, world-class indoor rock climbing gym in Knoxville. Featuring over 12,000 sq feet of climbing surface and walls that soar over 50 feet tall, we are Knoxville's largest and tallest rock climbing gym. Onsight offers top rope/lead climbing and bouldering for all ages and abilities as well as a wide array of programming for adults and youth. Onsight even has a separate climbing room for private parties and events. We are proud to be a part of Knoxville's community! 


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Climbing Through Life's Cruxes

Yolanda Chen


"You're not good enough!" "You're not strong enough!" "You're not in shape like you used to be!" These are all things you have probably heard while trying out climbing. For me though, these words brought me into the climbing world...

It was my birthday. Instead of it being an amazing day, it was the day I starting packing because my husband had decided to leave me. I thought my life was over. Everything I had planned for the future was gone. I was headed to Knoxville to move into my parent's basement with my two dogs until I could figure out my next move. I was not only heartbroken, but my spirit was broken as well. I wasn't good enough, pretty enough, strong enough. I did the only thing I knew to do. I went outdoors. I am an avid hiker and backpacker so I hit the trail. Along the way, I reconnected with an old friend who had gotten me into whitewater sports like kayaking and rafting. His new thing was rock climbing and I was desperate for anything to distract me. I decided to give it a try.

I remember the first few times I climbed outside. I was in a super negative 'I can't' attitude. I couldn't pull myself up, I couldn't stay on the wall, I couldn't get to the top flawlessly. Everything my ex had said to me was bleeding over into my new life and I hated myself for letting him ruin my new life. I made the decision to really try and not let him control my thoughts anymore. I started climbing every Sunday. My friend helped me and I slowly got into a better mentality. Every time I fell, I didn't look at it as a failure. I looked at it as a way to grow. To look at the problem in a new way and see how I could change some things around to make it to the next hold. I wasn't always trying to get to the top anymore. I wanted to climb clean and hit my holds one higher at a time. I slowly felt my self-confidence coming back. I felt empowered every time I put on my harness. I watched other climbers, not with envy, but with awe, trying to learn their different techniques. Being outside put me in that healing environment but climbing gave me a sense of purpose, a way to grow stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Climbing was not easy though. Not only am I afraid of heights, but I have a fear of falling as well. Go figure, right?! Learning to trust my partner, my gear, and myself; especially after all my trust was shattered; was also very difficult. Overcoming these fears became my priority. During my weekly climbs, I would have my partner keep my slack super tight so I never got that feeling of falling off the wall. I also would have him lower me annoyingly slow till I started feeling more comfortable. I slowly started working harder routes and taking more falls because of it. The cool thing was, I noticed they weren't as scary as I thought! I was beginning to trust myself in setting my gear up properly and trusting my partner to make sure I was safe to climb as well. Next thing I knew, I was barely flinching if I missed a hold and fell. I was also noticing that my partner held me with a looser rope so I was climbing more on my own. I never felt so confident in my life! I even started to lead climb super easy routes as my next personal challenge.

This is what brought me to Onsight Rock Gym. I had only climbed outside with my friend throughout the summer and with my summer job ending, I knew I needed something different. I heard about Onsight from a friend and decided to apply. When I got the job I was so nervous because I was so new at climbing. I needn't of worried! The rock climbing community turned out to be like many of the other Knoxville outdoor communities like paddling or hiking. They accept you for who you are and only try to help make you better, not make you feel belittled because of your lack of knowledge. Anyone is welcome to try, no matter their skill level or physical capabilities. I learned in leaps and bounds and have found friends with similar interests in this new life of mine. I have bettered my climbing technique while being at the gym and met so many awesome people who have started including me in their climbs. I love getting to come to Onsight whether it's to work on problems through bouldering or work on my endurance through top-roping. I still struggle, but rock climbing has taught me to be strong, to strive to reach the top, but it also taught me to work the problems and enjoy the challenges along the way. Climbing makes me feel empowered and confident in my life and in myself. Never give up, no matter how deep a hole you're in. Something will come along to get you out. Lucky for me it was a rope and harness.

Kelly Sellers Onsight Rock Gym Staff

What It Takes

Yolanda Chen

 Picture courtesy of Francis Fontaine Photographe -

Picture courtesy of Francis Fontaine Photographe -

Wake up. Eat Breakfast. Climb. Lunch at work. Train. Eat Dinner. Read. Sleep. Repeat.

This is a regular day for me. I literally eat, drink, and breathe rock climbing, and as a result, I see progress in my everyday life. I’ve heard many times over, “man, I wish I was better,” or “how do I get stronger at rock climbing?” The first thing that pops in my mind, but I rarely ask the question, “do you have what it takes?” There are so many aspects to consider when looking to increase one’s climbing ability: nutrition, technique, arm strength, footwork, finger strength, coordination, core tension… and the list goes on. Just looking at the multitude of training areas is intimidating and many people become mentally defeated at this point. Without even trying, people decide it is too hard or have excuses for not pushing themselves. When it comes down to it, it isn’t the people who are already strong that have what it takes, but those with passion, those with determination, and those who can push themselves in spite of setbacks or failures. In reality, everyone has what it takes to become a stronger, better climber, but don’t know where to start.

There are only a couple things you need to do to be on the way to becoming a better rock climber.

Step One: Be positive. Start your day with positivity and you have a higher chance of succeeding in your day to day tasks. Personally, I like to listen to motivational speakers like Les Brown. My mood feeds off of the energy and the motivation that these speeches provide. Find a routine that keeps you positive about your day and practice it every single day.

Step Two: Determine one aspect you want to improve on. In many cases, people will become motivated to change their life and try to take on too many changes at once. This usually leads to becoming overwhelmed and loss of motivation. To avoid this, we pick one single thing to improve, and we can add on later. For example, we will start with nutrition. Maybe on day one, replace one unhealthy meal, with a healthier option. Once all of your meals are healthy, then move onto more advanced nutrition goals. Don’t take on too much at once, or you’ll become overwhelmed.

Step Three: Think about what you want to improve on every single day. Even if you forgot to do it, as long as you think about what you want to accomplish. Want to start brushing your teeth in the morning? Try to commit to brushing your teeth every morning. Until you’re in the routine, you will forget sometimes, but as long as you remember and remind yourself at some point in time, you’ll begin to fall into the routine. It works the same way for anything related to self improvement.

Step Four: Commit to your decision. If you want to succeed in anything, do not let exterior influences sway you from your decision. Sometimes this means sacrificing time for other activities. It’s all about priorities.

Climbing was never my first priority until recently. I always prefered a relaxing life. Sure, I worked at a climbing gym, I’d go outdoors occasionally, and I climbed probably five times a week, but I never had the drive I have now. Instead of waking up early to go work out, I’d prefer sleeping for an extra couple hours. I’d go home and play video games for hours on end until my brain hurt. I’d cut a workout short just to go hang out with friends and in the process, my diet was horrible. I realized that if I wanted to improve my climbing ability, I would need to sacrifice some of the activities I like doing outside of climbing, so I could succeed to my fullest potential in rock climbing. Now I’m not telling you to drop everything to start training for rock climbing, but maybe next time you have a choice between doing something beneficial for your climbing and doing something that might not help you in that direction, consider your priorities. There are many relationships that I have lost, both social and romantic, because of my chosen priorities, and that is probably the most difficult decision to make. It just depends if you are going to prioritize your relationships over your personal development.

With enough passion and determination, anyone can be a great rock climber, but without commitment, you’ll find yourself hitting plateaus. If you want to push yourself to become a better climber, there is not an easy fix and you may have to sacrifice time spent doing other things. As difficult of a decision as it is, pushing yourself to do something you truly love yields satisfaction like no other.

I only have one question for you. Do you have what it takes?

John Bates Amateur Professional Rock Climber

This Gumby Climber

Yolanda Chen


"What am I doing up here?" I ask myself. I peek over the edge timidly, not wanting to take in the full exposure. In a brief moment, I spot the front desk, a couple of people climbing and notice that no one is looking this way. My hands are sweating. Everything is sweating. Devin and I had just climbed up the back side of our steepest, tallest wall. We're in the gym and he had agreed to show me some basics of route setting. I shakily attach myself to the anchor on the other side, worried my feet will slip. I was safe, but it didn't feel that way. "Don't over think it. Just get moving," I tell myself. All I had to do was climb over the top, relax in my harness and hang from the anchor. I peek over the edge one more time. "Why do I even climb? This is too scary."

Rewind ten years and I'm on a four story roof in Milwaukee, Wisconsin removing shingles. It's steep. I never did well on anything over a couple stories. I'm glued to the roof on my "jack", a two by four platform to keep me from sliding off and I'm mildly panicking. My boss is casually standing on the edge next to a ladder, eating an apple. All I want is to get back on the ground. "I'm freaking out," I tell my boss. He shrugs and gestures downwards.. Getting on the ladder to go down is hard for me. Doubting it will stay still. Worrying i might kick the thing over and dangle from a gutter before plummeting down. I get myself on and the joy I feel at the bottom is awesome. That wasn't the first or last time I would freak out on a roof. For years after I would dream about being on unstable structures high off the ground. Overwhelmed with fear. Only able to lay flat.

I've been climbing for a year and am very much a novice. My first gym had twenty foot walls and that scared me. The next forty and then sixty. The higher I got the more comfortable I became. Growth comes quickly early on and my ego grew with it. I regularly gauged myself against other climbers; how old they were, how long they had been climbing, what kind of shape they appeared to be in. I started leading early and let that go to my head too. If you didn't lead or take whippers you weren't on my level. I mean, I didn't really think like that, but humility hadn't found it's way in yet. I wrote off harder climbs as something I would eventually crush. Over confident climbing 5.10 in a gym, but super psyched to climb. Big deal right?


Back to the present. Devin is smiling at me. "Let me know if you start freaking out," he says brightly. I'm an up and coming gumby scared stiff. There's an interesting thing that happens when I'm this scared. Once committed something inside starts to bubble up. A mix of excitement and adrenaline. I feel giddy. I check my knots for the eighth time and clamber over the wall. Shaking and stubborn, hoping no one is watching. I have the impression that I'll be able to relax now. I look down. Bad idea. My nerves are shot. I can see a hint of concern in Devin's eye. I realize I'm covered in sweat. He passes me a drill. My hands are shaking as I strip a hold off the wall. Any delusions of having a future as a setter vanish. I soldier up and stick with it for another ten feet downwards eventually putting myself in a position where my only option is to keep lowering. I appreciate the opportunity. Route setting is extremely hard work. Something I could get used to but am not cut out for. I feel super small.


I continue to ponder why I even climb. Especially being so afraid of heights. Is it the adrenaline rush? Conquering fears? Maybe a bit of both? I really think it has more to do with the humbling nature of climbing. It's a polite sort of humbling. The wall doesn't say you suck when we fail, although we may think it. The wall just sits there. It welcomes our excitement, fear, anxiety and excuses. The wall doesn't retreat but we do. I keep asking myself why I climb. Is that enough? To be humbled? Not quite. I think of the camaraderie. The relationships. The encouraging nature of climbing with friends and strangers.


I work behind the desk and I see the same faces come in; happy, sad, excited, maybe frustrated. Beat up after a long day. I watch as people crush it. I watch people struggle. I love seeing people succeed and even more-so love to see a climber's response to failure. It's so satisfying to see a person repeatedly fail and keep at it. To see them stay psyched and focused, smiling or maybe angry. Determined. When they finally stick a troublesome move everyone watching feels that satisfaction. It's rare to see anyone leave in a bad mood. I think that's it. It's not really about being a better climber, and definitely not about being better than anybody else. It's being part of an encouraging community. I realize that all my ego in climbing is a total waste. Just climb and have fun. Don't worry about the grades. You're in a spot to try hard and have a good time. Let the community lift you up the wall.