Hi, I'm Hannah and I am an adaptive climber.
At the age of 14 I was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury. Since then I have been relearning life. Over the years I had to relearn to talk, think clearly, take care of myself, feed myself, and I am still on the journey of relearning to walk. We were not sure how much function I would gain back in my legs and core, as I was not progressing as Physical Therapists had hoped, that is, until I discovered climbing.
Last year, my life was dramatically changed when I joined an adaptive climbing program. Adaptive climbing is an inclusive subset of rock climbing, with the goal of getting people with disabilities to participate and excel in the sport, as well as daily life. Adaptive climbers can have a wide variety of disabilities; no one is turned down. I have climbed with blind climbers, amputees, paralyzed individuals, people with hyper flexibility, and children with developmental delays.
We all need different support, coaching, and equipment. For me, it was simple, as I am safe to use regular equipment and techniques. However, I do use some adaptations. For instance, I take frequent breaks on the wall, do not start with marked starting holds, and belay from a seated position.
I think a major misconception about climbing is that if you are not able-bodied you cannot participate in this sport, when it is a truly inclusive activity. There might be more adaptive climbers at your gym or favorite crag than you think!
Another misconception I have seen is the idea that those with disabilities cannot excel to high levels in this sport. One of the greatest climbers the world has seen, and a personal inspiration to me, Tommy Caldwell, uses an adaptive crimp technique after losing part of his finger. There is no reason an adaptive climber cannot reach great heights in this sport.
If you ever come across an adaptive climber, treat them just as you would treat any other climber you encounter. Watch what language you use; words can hurt and deter someone from coming back to the gym.
Some statements can be ignorant such as, "if she can do it, then I have no excuses," and "you are such an inspiration." Not to mention "even just you trying is incredible!"
All these well-meaning statements can take away the accomplishments and hard work of an adaptive climber. I have watched beginners hop on a route I just sent, and fail. They are confused as to why I could do it and they could not. I worked hard for that send. Disability or not, climbing takes work, and a lot of projecting. Do not assume you can flash a route I did simply because you do not have a disability.
We are climbers. I am just like you. See past the disability, see the person, see the climber.
Thank you so much to Hannah for this incredible piece. You can follow her on Instagram @relearning_life.