The energy is high as we pair up for another night of rock climbing at our local gym. Minor hand and knee scrapes are common at these events, but all you notice are the smiles stretched wide across everyone’s face. As one climber rolls her wheelchair over to get her harness, another asks, “Can you hand me my leg?”, and I pass him his prosthesis. This is the world of adaptive climbing. Our climbing partners have various physical disabilities such as limb difference or amputation, visual impairment, and paralysis.
Rock climbing is the main activity provided by Paradox Sports, a non-profit based in Boulder, Colorado. Paradox is an incredible organization which creates physical adaptive sports communities for sports ranging from rafting and stand-up paddleboarding, to mountaineering, rock, and ice climbing.
Climbing, my personal love, breaks the barriers of perceived limits – a great metaphor for working through the challenges some people face when living with a disability. We all adapt to get through physical and emotional obstacles in our lives. In order to successfully ascend a route, you must overcome both physical and emotional obstacles. It is a full body workout and you glean an intimate understanding of your unique body mechanics. You also learn to mentally let go of insecurities, doubt, and fear giving way to trust, belief and conviction.
There is a distinct bond that happens between climbing partners during these gritty moments. You give your belayer the honor of your life in their hands. They become your safety line and the difference between a catch and a fall.
Then a deeper connection happens. They watch the transformation of you getting out of your comfort zone, harnessing your inner strength and pushing beyond what you think you can do. These are vulnerable but proud life moments. You feel closer with those that are a witness to these kinds of mini triumphs.
In adaptive climbing, perceived barriers often stem from societal judgment or stigmas. Paradox builds a community around adaptive sports because the experience can be as life changing for the witness as it is for the climber. The shift in perception is important for everyone. Together we redefine what it means for any of us to be differently-abled.
Maureen Beck, a Paradox Sports ambassador, epitomizes this mantra. She was born without her left arm a few inches below her elbow. Since starting rock climbing at the age of 12, she has become an accomplished and world-recognized climber.
But it’s Maureen’s attitude and perspective that make her an inspiration. When she chose to play soccer as a kid, despite having only one hand, she picked the position of goalie! No one can define rules and limits on what she can do, except for her.
Through a healthy outlook, Maureen has never let her limb difference limit her. She doesn’t see it as an absence of a full arm; she finds the positives. In climbing she boasts, “I don’t have fingers to get tired!” Maureen has made the decision to not make excuses. She embraces the creative process of adapting and doesn’t let anything get in the way of her goals for a full and happy life of adventure.
Everyone’s body and mind function a little differently. I’m drawn to the powerful time and space that rock climbing offers to pay attention to the core you. We get to know ourselves and what we’re made of. We adjust our movements to sync our body with the natural flow of the rock. The connection I feel with my climbing partners, myself and the nature around me are incredibly powerful.
Whether you are missing fingers, lost the use of your legs, or have emotional barriers in your way, you have a choice. You can let it define you and your limits, or you can adapt and find your best route through life.