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Climbers Against Cancer | Denver Bouldering Club | CU Cancer Center

Climbing Against Cancer: How an Annual Event is Supporting Investigator-Initiated Trials

Heart and Soul: How the Denver Bouldering Club’s annual event is making inroads at the CU Cancer Center

minute read

Colorado is known for adventure – from kayaking to skiing, horseback riding to rock climbing, and everything in between. These sports take full advantage of the beauty and challenge of Colorado’s landscape, and often come to define a group of like-minded and spirited individuals who share a passion for adrenaline, community, and focus.

A Denver native, Tom Betterton founded the Denver Bouldering Club (DBC) in 2009 after developing a life-long passion for rock climbing and noticing increasing popularity in the sport, especially in the Rocky Mountain Region.

A naturally energetic group, they decided to host an annual fundraiser which began benefitting the University of Colorado Cancer Center in 2019. Structured like a typical climbing competition, the event offers a variety of routes that account for different levels of skill, and individuals of similar capabilities race one another. While based on competition, the spirit of Heart and Soul is far from cutthroat.

“The environment is incredibly supportive; you can have professionals cheering on their competitors and discussing route tactics with each other, and recreational climbers mingling with some of the top talent in the sport. It’s a fantastically inspiring environment to be a part of,” Tom says.

The organizers and participants are there for a common purpose – to contribute to innovative research at the CU Cancer Center. When the event began, Tom noted that they all had a connection to cancer in some way and wanted to help in any way they could.

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“The DBC was started because we are an outdoorsy, active group of people that wants to create excitement for the sport of outdoor rock climbing. We knew that we could channel our passion for climbing into a good cause, and cancer research seemed to hit home for almost all of us when we were first setting up this event.”

While there is no shortage of foundations and institutions working each day to combat cancer, Tom and his community at DBC were inspired by the idea that they could have an impact on Colorado.

“We loved the idea of working with the CU Cancer Center because they have consistently been on the cutting edge of cancer cures and treatments. It means the world to us to have such an impactful partner in the fight against cancer right in our backyard.”

When choosing a designation for their philanthropy, they knew they wanted their dollars to go straight to the researchers doing the work – the ones leaving no stone left unturned in the quest to better predict, understand, treat and eliminate cancer. With 75% of their funding each year going to investigator-initiated trials, leading-edge researchers at the CU Cancer Center are exploring ideas and approaches that are high in risk and high in reward. The remaining funding supports the Cancer Patient Assistance Fund, as an homage to the strength and resilience of the patients and families actively in battles with cancer. They felt it critical to tackle cancer from both ends of the spectrum by supporting research as well as the patients receiving treatment.

Richard Schulick, MD, MBA, director of the CU Cancer Center, is confident that we will be able to cure cancer one day, but that philanthropy will play a role in accelerating that timeline. “There is nothing more inspiring than a community coming together to support our work and the families under our care. It means the world to us to be recognized in this way. This event is a lot of hard work, and it motivates us to have such a dedicated team on our side.”

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The event itself requires almost a year of planning. Occurring every February, they begin planning the next year’s event just a few months later. Community continues to be a thread running through the inspiration for the event – route setters, organizers, volunteers, and the DBC community all unite to make the vent a success in the interest of serving others.

“This year we surpassed $100,000 in total event donations, which we couldn’t be happier with. Our only hope moving forward is that we can continue with the momentum we’ve created, and also bring attention not only to grow the sport of climbing, but show how the sport can help our community heal,” Tom says.

When asked about the future of the event, Tom extends a warm invitation to climbers of all skill levels to attend next year. “Even if Heart & Soul is going to be your first time climbing, trust me when I say you won’t find a more supportive group of athletes,” he says.