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.
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.”