We went climbing with ‘The Climb’ winner Cat Runner

The 24-year-old transgender climber took home $100,000 in cash and an outdoor clothing sponsorship on the HBO Max show.

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Katie had the opportunity to climb with Cat and catch up after he won the competition.

Photo by LOUtoday

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Hi, Senior City Editor Katie here. 👋

Cat Runner is almost as permanent in Climb NuLu as the colorful handholds on the climbing gym’s walls. After all, he’s been scaling them since he was in high school at Francis Parker School of Louisville — then called St. Francis.

So I thought it would be the best place to catch up with him since winning HBO Max’s new elimination-style climbing show “The Climb” — complete with a $100,000 prize and a PrAna clothing brand sponsorship (worth another $100,000) to boot.

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Cat climbing in Majorca, Spain in episode two.

Photo courtesy of HBO Max

🥇 Meet Cat

We sat on a chalk-dusted wooden bench surrounded by school-age kids who just arrived to climb as a group. They were same age range Cat was when he first got into climbing.

“Climbing is a pure form of movement I’ve been doing ever since I was little, as most people do,” Cat said. “You go to playgrounds and climb trees, and as you get older that kind of tapers off. I climbed in my youth from a recreational standpoint. Just for fun. There wasn’t this seriousness or analytical approach to it like there is now — which I’ve been doing seven years in May.”

When the 24-year-old isn’t at Climb Nulu, he’s at his Lyndon home or at work. Cat is also a professional photographer at Andrew Kung Group, but he also loves to bring his dog Ramona to Cherokee Park, take photos of his friends playing ultimate frisbee, or grab a bite to eat from his favorite Louisville restaurant Ramsi’s Cafe on the World. Pro tip: His go-to is the tortellini graciella.

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“The Climb” was hosted by professional climbers Chris Sharma and Megan Martin.

Photo courtesy of HBO Max

🎬 On the show

During the show, Cat — along with nine other amateur rock climbers traveled around five countries competing in rock climbing challenges covering multiple disciplines, from bouldering to “trad” climbing.

But unlike other competition shows, the narrative isn’t competitive. It’s communal, with the contestants rooting for one another the whole time — and Cat’s Southern hospitality was ever present in every challenge. Watch: Episode seven “The Spire” when the contestants sumo wrestle in padded climbing mats.

“It’s really interesting to watch this competition because it’s almost like no one is climbing to win,” he said. “You’re climbing not to lose. We enjoyed eachother’s company, and when climbing you always want to do your personal best, but we equally cared for one another and were always sad when someone left.”

For Cat, it was the first time he climbed internationally. “It was the first trip I was on for longer than a week,” he said. “We filmed it for six weeks, took a break for the holidays, and then filmed the final six weeks.”

While there are many specific memories that made every country they visited significant, his favorite country was Jordan and his favorite place to climb was in Riglos, Spain, “even though the rock was the worst quality.”

Our favorite moment? When Cat realizes he won the competition during the deep-water soloing challenge while sitting in a boat with actor Jason Momoa.

“This is a once in a lifetime thing. Nothing like it will ever compare. Winning this gives me a lot of fluidity of what I can do from here,” he said on the show. “Now that I’ve reached this point in my growth I know this will be life-changing for others. There will be another trans kid out there that will watch this or see it or share about it and will be the push they need to get what they want. The sky’s the limit.”

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Cat started a monthly queer and trans climbers meet-up at Climb NuLu after his win on the show.

Photo courtesy of HBO Max

🪢 Back to reality

Filming for the show wrapped more than a year ago, and after returning to Louisville, Cat went back to work as a photographer and his normal routine — all while keeping that he won a secret.

“With the prize money, you know it’s coming, but you can’t put your life on pause waiting for it to happen, so throughout this whole time I’ve been planning things I’m going to do regardless and when the prize money goes into effect, it’s going to give me some levity to take care of myself and give me the freedom to do other things.”

Cat’s passion for community work, specifically making the climbing community accessible and inclusive, is one of the things driving him right now. He’s already set up the Queer Climber’s Networkwhich was an idea he had on the show — but officially started working on post-filming.

The network helps LGBTQ+ climbers connect. So far resources include:

  • Help finding a coach, guide, or meet-ups
  • Creating a Louisville queer and trans climbing club — which meets the first and third Tuesday of every month at Climb NuLu
  • Scholarship and grants for climbing courses
  • A gear collective that redistributes outdoor equipment

In addition to working on expanding programming in the Queer Climber’s Network, he’s also looking forward to more climbing trips. “I also use climbing for fun to refresh myself to get back into the nitty gritty of community work. It’s all about balance.”

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