Tim Walsh and Lucas Kovalcik, owners of the Gravity Vault in Chatham, constantly hear that rock climbing must be only for extreme athletes.
"We both feel like the indoor rock climbing is still perceived as an intense or extreme sport," Walsh, 37, said. "We’ve worked really hard to change the perception of that. We want people to know that anybody can climb with us."
The two men will have the chance to make that point Monday when they will receive the award for the Small Business Administration (SPA) 2013 New Jersey Small Business Persons of the Year.
The two longtime friends, both natives of Bergen County, came up with the idea of the Gravity Vault in 2002. Both of them were climbers by that time. Kovalcik, 36, was living in California then, but came back to New Jersey for a visit. He went to dinner with Walsh and a mutual friend, the same friend who introduced the two men when all three of them were in high school.
"We discussed building New Jersey's largest indoor climbing facility," Walsh said. "And since that dinner we've never looked back."
The two men quit their jobs and invested in the first Gravity Vault, an indoor rock-climbing facility which opened in July 2005 in Upper Saddle River. A second facility opened in Chatham in 2009, the largest indoor climbing facility in New Jersey.
"We always had a plan of moving forward with multiple locations," Kovalcik said. "We identified Morris County as a possible location, and we found the absolute perfect building and space in Chatham."
The two have done their best to get involved in the Chathams. Their rock walls have been featured at the Chatham Borough Farmers Market and with the Mayor's Wellness Campaign, and they have sponsored a baseball and softball team, all of which helps open people's minds to the idea that climbing is not just for thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies.
"Most pf the people that climb with us are climbers we created," Walsh said. "They come to us with no prior climbing experience. We have classes starting at 5 years old. At one point we had almost 20 kids in our youngest class, Little Rockers, and at the end of the class to see those kids climb to the top of the wall is so rewarding."
The two also work hard to make the facility open and inviting. As a result they attract families, scout troops and climbing teams, not just individuals.
"We've worked hard to change the perception of what climbing actually is," Walsh said.
Bringing the sport from the sidelines to the mainstream is the partners' main goal, Kovalcik said. "It's a great honor to be named New Jersey Small Business Owners of the year. It just brings more light and attention to the sport, which is what we've both been striving for, being able to share our passion for climbing."
Ten years after that fateful dinner between high school friends, their professional philosophy has paid off.
"Do what you love, share it with others," Kovalcik said. "Being recognized for it is just the icing on the cake."
SBA New Jersey District Director Al Titone will present the partners with their award at 10:30 a.m. Monday, which is also the start of the 50th Anniversary of National Small Business Week.
The presentation will take place at the Chatham Gravity Vault at 40 Watchung Ave. The day will begin with facility tours and a reception, followed by the award ceremony and rock climbing demonstration.