Chris and Pam Schmick had spent six months cleaning out the scrap metal from their abandoned silos and just finished drilling thousands of holes in its walls. With little time to spare, they prepared for their climbing gym's grand opening on September 2, 1995—a date on which they had already agreed to hold a regional JCCA competition. The effort they've expended in the nearly 20 intervening years shows: today, climbers scramble on top ropes, lead ropes, and more than 20,000 square feet of lava-free climbing surface.
Instructors prepare visitors to surmount the gym's features in a range of classes, such as Rock Gym 101, which is an introduction to top-rope climbing that covers climbing safety, basic technique, and equipment. Once climbers are equipped with gear from the pro-shop, staff shows them around a multi-level bouldering cave, a main climbing area with 30-foot walls shaped by arêtes, cracks, and waves, and the building's five original silos. Elsewhere inside the gym, six auto-belays safely cradle visitors who wish to climb without taking a class.
Joe Montalto was riding high after his first-place finish in the Illinois state wakeboarding championship. It was one step away from national recognition and sponsorship, and he hit the water hard to prepare. Joe was mastering a front flip 180 when he missed the wake and landed in the flat water, tearing his ACL and ending any chance he had at competing professionally. After such a career-altering accident, no one would have blamed him for leaving the sport, but he defied expectation. After years of rehabilitation with his wakeboard, Joe still rides the water regularly and spends each summer inducting new riders into the sport he loves with his company, Ride Lab Wakeboard School. He and his cousin, Cody Jarosch, lead groups onto the water to catch their first jump inside the wake. He also coaches competitive boarders for more serious competition, hosts summer camps, coaches collegiate clubs in between private lessons, and demos Ronix gear for anyone. In addition to his wakeboard lessons, Joe designs clothing bearing Ride Lab's insignia and shoots and edits film for his riders.
Janée Matteson is a little wary of technology. The more ubiquitous it becomes, she finds, it has more potential to keep kids indoors (a trend she has dubbed “acute nature deficit disorder”). Janée, whose family’s roots have been growing in Morris for nearly 200 years, basically spent her entire childhood outside, learning fur trapping and duck hunting with her father on the banks of the Illinois River. So in addition to her deep passion for the outdoors, founding Kayak Morris was largely inspired by doing whatever she could to help kids, their families, and domesticated teddy bears spend more time in nature.
Kayak Morris offers kayak and canoe lessons, and in addition, patrons can borrow their largely new fleet for leisurely trips along the Illinois River, Mazon River, or Illinois and Michigan Canal, which are home to wildlife such as great-blue herons, bald eagles, coyotes and red-tailed hawks. The staff also lead guided ecotours, which teach kids and adults about natural resources and what they can do to preserve and protect them for future generations. Family-focused private campgrounds is adjacent to the State Park along the rivers’ sandy shores invite groups to stay for monthly Glampouts (glamorous campouts) and spend their days taking advantage of potluck dinners, hiking, fishing, bike rentals, or guided kayak tours and to spend their nights watching a movie on Morris’ outdoor projection screen as campfires crackle nearby.
Understanding that each child learns differently, the staff members of Sylvan Learning’s numerous study centers design custom lesson programs. Based on the results of standardized testing, diagnostic tools, and one-on-one interviews, the staff works with students to help them firmly grasp basic skills such as reading, writing, math, and how to remember facts without tattooing them to their chests. Programs target students in kindergarten through grade 12 and mold to various learning styles, helping kids feel more comfortable in the classroom. Afterschool or summer classes can ready high-school students for the rigors of the ACT or the SAT, or they can help students wow college-admissions officers with their superior writing skills, exemplary test scores, and willingness to arm-wrestle the school mascot.
Dirt Runner races don't just challenge athletes—they push them to their limits. Set on rough terrain with a more than 1,200-foot change in elevation, the roughly 5K course is rife with agility and strength-testing obstacles. Those range from complex military-style structures to towering fences that require scaling. After completing the course, participants unwind at post-race festivities with food and music.
From May until winter, the USHPA-certified instructors of Hang Glide Chicago spend their weekends accompanying passengers on tandem hang-gliding flights. Flight school sessions acclimate beginners to the sport before they board gliders, which are then towed into the air by a small plane. As flyers are released for their 2,500-foot free flight, they can steer their glider or let instructors guide the way as they take in the surrounding vistas. Students are welcome to bring their own cameras (wrist straps are recommended) or arrange to have their flight recorded by Hang Glide?s HD-panoramic video equipment or their instructor?s photographic memory. Flights take place from sunrise to sunset, and patrons can extend their experience by taking advantage of facilities that include camping grounds, bathrooms with showers, and a lake for kayaking or catch-and-release fishing.