The Most Tenacious Climbers You’ve Never Heard Of

Meet Mau­reen Beck, a com­pet­i­tive rock climber who has won four nation­al titles, coach­es a climb­ing team, and has trav­eled all over the world. She recent­ly took first in her divi­sion at the Inter­na­tion­al Fed­er­a­tion of Sport Climb­ing World Cham­pi­onships in Spain. Oh, and she was born with only one hand.

Maureen Beck |

Adap­tive Climbing
That doesn’t stop her, though. Beck is a self-pro­claimed evan­ge­list of “adap­tive climb­ing,” a sport that empow­ers climbers with per­ma­nent dis­abil­i­ties to pull on plas­tic and head for the hills. With appro­pri­ate coach­ing and specif­i­cal­ly designed gear, more climbers than ever are find­ing it pos­si­ble to real­ize their dreams. Amputees, para­plegics, and even blind climbers are join­ing teams, orga­niz­ing trips, sum­mit­ing big moun­tains, and even com­pet­ing inter­na­tion­al­ly. Beck works far and wide with­in the par­a­climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty, and loves to recruit new par­a­climbers: “If I can con­nect with some­one that might not be aware of what they’re capa­ble of and push them towards try­ing some­thing new, maybe even a lit­tle out­side of their com­fort zone, then putting myself out there in the world as a resource and moti­va­tor is entire­ly worth it. One arm? One leg? Blind? In a wheel­chair? Bring it on.”

Climb­ing Groups Are Get­ting in the Game
Beck works with Para­dox Sports, a non­prof­it that spe­cial­izes in adap­tive climb­ing. The orga­ni­za­tion runs trips and train­ing cen­ters for men and women with spinal cord injuries, ampu­ta­tions, visu­al impair­ment, trau­mat­ic brain injuries, neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders, PTSD, and more. Para­dox even recent­ly released the first-ever adap­tive climb­ing man­u­al to share what they’ve learned and help edu­cate climb­ing gyms, uni­ver­si­ty out­door pro­grams, and phys­i­cal ther­a­pists. They’re one of an increas­ing num­ber of com­mu­ni­ty-based non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions that focus on facil­i­tat­ing par­a­climb­ing, includ­ing Camp Patri­ot, a Mon­tana-based non­prof­it that spe­cial­izes in empow­er­ing dis­abled mil­i­tary vet­er­ans of all gen­er­a­tions through out­door pro­grams (includ­ing an annu­al climb of Mount Rainier); Peak Poten­tial, which is an entire­ly vol­un­teer-run orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties; and the Adap­tive Climb­ing Group, which fights to keep indoor par­a­climb­ing acces­si­ble and affordable.

Big­ger orga­ni­za­tions are rec­og­niz­ing par­a­climb­ing, too. USA Climb­ing sanc­tions the Adap­tive Climb­ing Nation­al Cham­pi­onship, and the Inter­na­tion­al Fed­er­a­tion of Sport Climb­ing (IFSC) has expand­ed their inter­na­tion­al com­pe­ti­tions to include an annu­al Par­a­climb­ing World Cham­pi­onship (held this year in Paris, France). There are even rumors of adding sport climb­ing to the Par­a­lympic Games.

Progress is Happening
There will always be extra chal­lenges for climbers who have uncon­ven­tion­al bod­ies, of course. Find­ing the right gear can be expen­sive and time-con­sum­ing; some par­a­climbers need spe­cial har­ness­es, light­weight wheel­chairs, or specif­i­cal­ly designed pros­thet­ics. Not all cities have par­a­climber-acces­si­ble rock climb­ing gyms, and trav­el­ing for clin­ics or trips isn’t always pos­si­ble. And for those par­a­climbers who want to com­pete, it can be dif­fi­cult to estab­lish fair pro­to­cols for judg­ing. Route­set­ters are still learn­ing how to make routes for climbers who hap­pen not to have legs.

But accord­ing 30-year-old Kyle May­nard, a climber, author, ath­lete, and speak­er who was the first quadru­ple amputee to ascend both Mount Ever­est and Mount Kil­i­man­jaro with­out the aid of pros­thet­ics, par­a­climbers have tenac­i­ty to spare. “Some­times when we look at an ath­lete who has done some­thing in a dif­fer­ent way, done some­thing big, done some­thing unique, and we only see the suc­cess­es.” Kyle said in a state­ment for Nike. “We don’t see the count­less hours of fail­ure that go into it. That fail­ure set us up for the suc­cess because we know what we need­ed to change.”