An interview with rock climber and Rise RVA founder, Annette Bennett
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article written by Eric Gasa
To quote the Marvin Gaye classic, there ain’t no mountain high enough for the likes of avid rock climber and Rise RVA founder, Annette Bennett. Rise RVA’s mission is to inspire kids to engage with their natural world and community through rock climbing. No matter the incline or challenge, the committed folks at Rise RVA are dedicated to their craft and pupils.
On the latest episode of the Life in Motion podcast, Bennett takes some time to discuss Rise RVA, her passion for rock climbing, and her lifelong dedication to service.
“I grew up in a very large family,” Bennett begins. “Nine kids in one house. My father was a minister so we didn’t have a lot of money growing up. Our vacations were actually mission trips to help orphans and provide meals to those who lived in villages or didn’t have running water or electricity.”
It’s no surprise but this is where Bennett’s passion for helping others came from. While other kids were busy playing little league, Bennett was 6-years-old with her family volunteering in Jamaica, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.
Growing up financially burdened, Bennett also took the needs of affordable healthcare very seriously. When she was 20, she began learning about clinical research and later founded Clinical Research Partners in 2011, a program that provides free medicine, visits, and specialists to those without insurance.
This hands-on, compassionate approach is a defining trait of Bennett’s and one that she certainly holds dear.
“Serving others definitely molded me into the person I am today. If I set my mind to do something, I can make a change and impact others. I can serve people around me, no matter their race, their religion, or what they believe in from a political standpoint, I think it humbles you and makes you look directly into that person’s heart.”
It’s with this servant’s heart in mind that Bennett discovered rock climbing during a company team building exercise in 2018. She says ever since that day in October, climbing is all she’s wanted to do. Bennett personally loves the unique mental and physical challenges that come with each and every climb.
“You’re constantly encouraging yourself that you can do this,” she says, “And that can be applied to our lives every day. You are good enough. You can get into that school.”
In February of 2019, Bennett’s life changed forever when she lost her brother to colon cancer. As dedicated as her sister, Bennet’s brother had done a lot of community work in Virginia. With her business now established and thriving, Bennett decided to head back to Richmond to do as her late brother did: help people.
With her passion for rock climbing in mind, Bennett decided to start a program that would teach kids how to climb, and channel their energy in a positive way. Later that year, Rise RVA secured funding from Richmond public schools and was on its way to enrolling kids.
In partnership with the Richmond public school system, Bennett and Rise RVA provide students with team building, and individual rock climbing lessons during their homeroom hour. But the support doesn’t end there.
“If these students really want to take it to the next level, we want to provide them with the financial support and coaching to get there,” she continues.
With rock climbing now being an Olympic sport, Bennett simply wants to give kids the tools and opportunities to achieve their goals, no matter how high.
Unfortunately, with COVID, Rise RVA has been on a bit of a break, but Bennett remains motivated as ever to hit the ground running again when things get back to normal. Bennett is more than happy to create a fun environment where kids can just be themselves for a few hours a day.
“I don't know of any child who doesn’t enjoy climbing!” Bennett shares. “They all seem to have a smile on their face, and at the end of the day seeing that smile means a lot to us.”
If there is one thing of Bennett’s that shines through, it’s certainly her earnestness and dedication to making others truly happy. She shares one especially touching story about a little girl who decided she was afraid of heights while halfway up the rock wall. The little girl had her mind made up that she couldn’t do this, but as her friends cheered her on she climbed triumphantly to the top of the wall.
What seemed like a brief little scene in a middle school was a long lasting moment and lesson for a little girl. These are the kind of memories that Bennett hopes to create for countless other kids. From valley lows, to mountain highs, no matter the hardship you will find Annette Bennett hard at work with a smile on her face.
If you’re interested in supporting Rise RVA check out their website www.weriserva.org where you can sponsor students for only $25! It’s a small price that certainly goes a long a way. And as for the rest of Anette Bennett’s interview check out the full broadcast on the Life in Motion podcast with Jeremy Lux on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.