Chile: Late Mountaineer Mohr Continues Helping Nation’s Youth

Chilean mountaineer Juan Pablo Mohr wanted to give children a chance to reach their own summits
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By Charis McGowan
Santiago, Chile

 

BBC- The late mountaineer Juan Pablo Mohr imagined sport in everything. Whether it was a city wall or a mountain slope, Mohr would see its sporting potential.

His hometown of Santiago – Chile’s bustling capital surrounded by the snow-capped Andes mountains – was the perfect place to cultivate that passion.

As a child, Mohr threw himself into urban sports including skateboarding and parkour, before setting his sights on the mountains that loomed above the city.

He became Chile’s most accomplished climber; he is the fastest person in the world to climb both Everest (8,848m) and Lhotse (8,516m) in less than a week without oxygen.

But last year, he tragically died on K2 (8,611m), the deadliest mountain in the world, while attempting to break the record for climbing it during winter without oxygen. He was 34 years old and a father of three.

From wasteland to playground

Despite his record-breaking achievements abroad, Mohr never forgot his home city.

In 2013, he founded the non-profit organisation Deporte Libre, which installs climbing and sporting equipment on abandoned urban infrastructure in schools and public spaces.

A child uses one of the climbing walls installed by Deporte LibreImage source, Macarena Norambuena
Image caption,

The idea is to give children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods access to space for play

“He would always return from climbing expeditions full of energy, and wanted to bring those good vibes to the city, connecting people to the mountains,” recalls Federico Scheuch, Mohr’s cousin and former manager, who works for Deporte Libre.

Outdoor sports are inaccessible to millions of Chileans, despite Chile being one of the world’s top destinations for adventure travelling.

“Sport in Chile is accessible only to the wealthy,” says Pedro Anguita, who co-founded Deporte Libre with Mohr after they met while studying architecture.

“We work to make sport a human right and this is the legacy of Juan Pablo.”

According to the most recent government national survey on sporting and health published in 2017, over 85% of Chile’s population is sedentary, meaning they do less than 100 minutes of physical activity per week.

It also has some of the world’s highest rates of child obesity, World Health Organization figures suggest.

A 2021 Ipsos report found that Chile ranked among the lowest in the world for weekly sporting activity, with a total of 3.7 hours a week.

Mr Anguita says the country’s staggering levels of inequalities are to blame, adding that there is an “absolute urgency” to make sport more accessible.

Luz María Espinoza has brought her five-year-old son Max to one of Deporte Libre’s playgrounds in La Pintana, a district in the south of Santiago.

The space, which was inaugurated in January, is equipped with a colourful climbing wall and a zig-zag tunnel shaped like a mountain.

Co-designed by international non-profit United Way and with financial backing from Dutch child rights organisation Bernard van Leer, the playground was built imagining the city from a child’s point of view.

Ms Espinoza welcomes the initiative. She says her son is overweight and lacks physical activity. He desperately wants to go outside and play, but her neighbourhood is unsafe.

Ten minors were killed in La Pintana by stray bullets in 2020 and 2021, a higher number than in any other Chilean district, according to local media.

Ms Espinoza says that shootouts are a daily occurrence in her street and Max lives in fear, “he hides under the table every time he hears bullets”.

She says that the area has been abandoned by the authorities and is controlled by drug gangs.

Deporte Libre’s playground is the only safe place she can bring Max to play. “Where else is he going to go? He can’t play outside on the street.”

The day she visited with Max, Deporte Libre was hosting its last child fitness class. The classes ran twice a week for months, but ran out of funding.

A child runs towards a woman at the playground created by Deporte LibreImage source, Macarena Norambuena
Image caption,

Funding for exercise classes has run out

Ms Espinoza fears the playground could be taken over by drug dealers once the classes stop, and hopes the Deporte Libre team can return soon.

“The classes are indispensable to us. We want to break the cycle of children seeing adults using public spaces to take drugs because children mirror what they see.”

Climbing high

Deporte Libre was originally founded to transform two abandoned 40m-high water silos into a community gym. Juan Pablo Mohr and Pedro Anguita came across the site by chance and immediately saw its climbing potential.

View of the silos Deporte Libre turned into climbing wallsImage source, Courtesy of Deporte Libre
Image caption,

Pedro Anguita and JP Mohr thought the silos looked perfect for climbing
A person climbs up the climbing wall at the side of an old silo in SantiagoImage source, Charis McGowan

Not only did they turn Los Silos into the highest urban climbing park in Latin America, it also became home to their foundation’s headquarters.

A team of full-time employees runs the bustling urban sports centre which aims to serve everyone in the city.

“We continue working to this day as if he were still here beside us,” says Pedro Anguita of the void left by his friend JP Mohr’s death.

Pedro Anguita stands in front of one of the climbing walls at the community gymImage source, Macarena Norambuena
Image caption,

Pedor Anguita says JP Mohr created a lasting legacy

Federico Scheuch says that his cousin’s philosophy was to create a world where everyone could set and achieve their sporting goals and take pride in their accomplishments.

“He always said that everyone has their own summits. His could be Everest, but for others, it could be running around the block,” he explains.

“That, in some way, we all have the capacity to reach our peaks.”

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