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Why I Love Rock Climbing as a Person With a Disability

I was born with spina bifida, which left me unable to move my legs. I have used a wheelchair as my mode of transportation my whole life. I lived in the woods in northern Maine, so I spent a lot of my growing-up years in the outdoors, either hunting and fishing with my dad or just being in the woods around our home.

When I entered junior high, I met a man who would influence the rest of my life  — my Phys. Ed. teacher Bob Dyer. He was the first person to really push me to go beyond the fence and test my limits. One of the first things he said to me was “How many push-ups can you do?” He suggested 20, so I did 40. I think that was my first mistake, and also the best thing I could have done. I set the bar a little too high, and he expected that from me from then on out. He made sure I was involved in as many activities as possible, even taking a week each year to take me skiing at Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation.

It was definitely Mr. Dyer who started me on a life of adventure. About 5 years ago, when I would see a friend of mine, Nick Hall, post pictures of his adventures online, I started to think about the possibilities of bigger adventures. He was a ranger at Mt. Rainier, and unfortunately lost his life while performing his duties during a rescue mission. After this tragic event, I decided I wanted to try to find a way to be able to witness the views he had seen atop Rainier for myself.

I knew that Mark Wellman had been the first paraplegic to climb El Capitan in 1989, but I hadn’t seen much about climbing since reading about his attempt. I decided to do some research and found an organization called Paradox Sports. Paradox Sports is an organization that empowers people of all abilities to rock and ice climb, among other sports. I noticed they were doing a rock climbing event in the Shawagunk Mountains that October, and I signed up.

During the Gunks event I met a bunch of amazing like-minded adventuresome people, whose only mission was to make it possible for other people to enjoy adventure too. I immediately knew this was the group for me. I was able to learn a lot of techniques for sit climbing that weekend from Sean O’ Neill, an accomplished sit climber, who is now a great friend. I also gained a wealth of knowledge from the able-bodied guides who helped put on the event, including Nate McKenzie and Gary Dunn. They both continue to push and inspire me to greater endeavors. I found out that weekend that Sean lived an hour from me, and have been learning from him ever since. I have been back to the Gunks for this event the last 3 years and will be attending again this year.

I have done one other climb with the help of Nate McKenzie, Betsy Smith and Alan Kline. They enabled me to climb Book of Solemnity route on Cathedral Ledge in North Conway, NH by setting ropes and managing all the safety for me while I did pull up after pull up. It took most of the day but I eventually reached the top of my first multi pitch climb.

That climb really sealed my passion for the challenge of rock climbing. Looking up at the summit and down at where I had been started a fire in me that made me crave challenge. I find I am most happy when struggling to push myself to a goal that might seem unattainable, but when attained gives me the greatest sense of accomplishment of anything I have ever done.

Follow this journey on Go Beyond the Fence.

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