I can just see my friend Mary’s face, open-mouthed in disbelief. And it is unbelievable in a funny sort of way. My mom burst out laughing when I told her I was going. “Of course you are,” she said. Because so far, (mostly with Brooks) I’ve played tennis, billiards and power soccer. I’ve waterskied, snow skied, surfed, bowled and ridden a horse — all since I’ve been in the wheelchair. Now I can add rock climbing to the list.
It’s not bravery, though Mary would disagree. (And I suppose next to her, I am brave. Sorry, Mary.) But really, these adaptive sports have gear that keep you much safer than you’d be if you were doing the real thing. And I wasn’t hanging off a cliff. We’re in Florida, after all. It was a rock climbing gym.
But I do have a whole new respect for rock climbers — indoors or out. In addition to revealing just how out of shape I am, out of my safety harness, it looked scary! I didn’t reach for hand or footholds, (I never could’ve managed that) but many people in the group did. I was in a comfortable swing compared to these daredevils. Look at this picture to really get the idea. That’s 45 feet up!
It was all part of a special rock climbing clinic with Mark Wellman, two-time Paralympian and the first paraplegic to climb the faces of El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. The night before we hit the climbing gym, we heard Mark’s story of the rock climbing accident that left him paralyzed and his inspiring road to recovery. Then we watched his film, Beyond Barriers, in which various disabled athletes take part in some pretty extreme sports. Imagine watching three disabled mountain climbers, one of them blind! There was also a girl born with just one leg, who surfed standing up on a customized piece of PVC pipe. There was a paraplegic handglider, paraplegic diver and a quadriplegic sailor who operated his special sailboat with just a mouth stick! All further proof to me that there’s a spirit inside some that just won’t be quieted. That most determined and adventurous people are that way regardless of what happens to them. It’s attitude not circumstance. They’ll find a way.
In truth, I wished the event and the message could’ve been a little more inclusive. Most quadriplegics could not attend because they lack grip in the hands and fingers. I don’t know the particulars of climbing equipment and it must have been considered, but most other adaptive sports have gloves that attach a person’s hands to any bar necessary. And watching amazing athletes may not reach those of us who are far from athletic. Personally, I’d rather inspire someone just to get off the couch, get out of the house or make a new friend!
But that’s the great thing about the Brooks Program. There’s something for everyone, from extreme sports to eating fries and gabbing at the local bowling alley. In the end, it’s about breaking the mold and challenging the stereotype of what a disabled person can and can’t do. Plus, I get to watch people’s faces when I tell them I went rock climbing. Priceless.