Transgender citizens are facing countless uphill battles across the United States, from legal opposition to healthcare for trans youth to rules being instated against trans athletes. Even in the face of such opposition, trans folks continue to scale those seemingly insurmountable heights — something climber Cat Runner is all too familiar with.

Earlier this year, Runner faced off against nine other hopefuls in Jason Momoa’s new HBO climbing competition show, The Climb. He went into the competition with fears that he may be “checking a diversity box” and wouldn’t be given a fair shot amongst the slate of otherwise entirely cis competitors. Instead, his tenacity and skill took him straight to the top.

In the nail-biting finale, the top two competitors took to the towering Cova del Diablo cliffs in Mallorca, Spain. Runner had never done a free solo climb over open water before, especially not several stories up. Even with the newly added difficulty, he pulled himself up above the rest and secured the win — as well as the grand prize of $100,000.

While the prize was life-changing for him personally, Runner recognizes the impact an athlete like himself winning the title has for others like him in the climbing community, which is often thought of primarily as cis, white, and male.

“Conversations regarding race, queerness, transness, whatever, it needs to exist in the climbing community because I exist in the climbing community,” he told the Louisville Courier Journal. “That’s part of my life; I want to talk about it.”

He’s done plenty more than talk about it, of course. Even before appearing on the show, his drive for representation and community within the climbing space led him to found the Queer Climber’s Network, which helps coordinate and connect people to LGBTQ-focused climbing groups and events across the globe. The network works directly with over 60 queer climbing organizations worldwide, from the network’s base in Louisville to the ClimbingQTs group in Singapore, the Rock Wallabies group in Perth, and more.

The network also connects climbers from marginalized groups to scholarships, grants, and gear — all great accessibility efforts for a sport that can get pricey pretty quickly.

Mostly, Runner is making the climbing world the kind of space he needed when he was first entering it as a teen years ago. In addition to helping make strides in visibility and accessibility for other climbers, he’s showing that success in anything is possible as your truest self.

“Figuring out how to navigate the world as this other person where I feel comfortable and confident and doing that in the climbing space, where I found myself as a climber—they merge together,” he told Outside Online. “It’s very special. I’ve never feel more at peace with myself and so grounded and aligned.”

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