LYONS, Colo. (KDVR) — A Boulder County woman is hoping to inspire young people into unique professional paths by combining their hobbies and their careers.
Lexi Kimes describes herself as a 27-year-old outdoor enthusiast. Originally from Florida, she moved to Colorado to be closer to the mountains.
“I love rock climbing,” she said. “We eat, sleep and breathe climbing.”
Her passion for the sport started in college, where she was a competitive climber.
“It’s not only physical, it’s very mental. You’re basically figuring out puzzles on the wall,” she said.
However, hobbies do not usually pay the bills.
“There’s very few rock climbers or pro rock climbers,” Kimes said. “I was thinking how can I stay being outside and climbing and doing the things I love on a daily basis, so that’s kind of what drove me to where I am today.”
She now is a structural engineer for HDR, an engineering firm with offices in Denver.
“I’m basically a rock climbing bridge inspector,” Kimes said.
Turning a rock-climbing passion into a career
Friday morning, she was both high above and down below a bridge along the St. Vrain River in Lyons that had been rebuilt after the 2013 floods.
“This is one of the beautiful bridges in Boulder County and honestly one of my favorites that I’ve been on because of the gorgeous view and just the beautiful flowing river underneath. You can’t get much better than this as a bridge inspector,” Kimes said.
She said she did not know the career she is currently in existed until she attended an seminar in college featuring alumni talking about their careers.
“There was this woman there dressed in jeans and work boots and she’s like, ‘I inspect bridges, I travel across the country and get out there on ropes,’ and as soon as I saw her, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. She inspired me, and now I’m here today doing the same thing,” Kimes said.
In a typical day, she will work with a team to inspect six to eight bridges. Her work can take her to any of the nearly 9,000 bridges in Colorado or even to bridges across the country.
“Our main job is to preserve the structural integrity of these bridges for the safety of the public,” Kimes said. “These bridges, federally mandated, are inspected every two years at minimum so we get out there and really just look for any defects that could cause potential harm to the public.”
Often, inspections require more common equipment like ladders for inspection. However, occasionally bridges that are taller or higher above ground will require Kimes and her colleagues to climb ropes to reach areas that need to be inspected.
“With bridge climbing, you’re in all different positions. You’re not just going straight up. So you’re hanging onto a steel member. Getting a huge heel hook and climbing upside down just to get across the bridge,” she said.
‘Women in engineering is really important’
While she describes her work as calming yet adventurous, she is also a trailblazer.
“Women in engineering is really important. It’s definitely a male-dominated field,” HDR structural engineer Matthew Bruno said. “I’ve got two daughters of my own and they’re young and they see these women in engineering, and they’re super excited about it, like, ‘I want to aspire to be like them.’”
For Kimes, she said serving as an inspiration to younger people is an added bonus on top of an already epic profession.
“If I can inspire some young person, young girl out there today, to get out there and just follow their dreams and know that there’s no limitations, then that’s the biggest takeaway I could give anybody,” she said.