Cooperation with Paradox Sports to make climbing accessible to all

Making climbing and the climbing community accessible to all (picture copyright by Andrew Skobac, courtesy of Paradoxsports)
Making climbing and the climbing community accessible to all (picture copyright by Andrew Skobac, courtesy of Paradoxsports)

Breaking Down Barriers And Getting People Out Into Mother Nature

This week is a special week as I have been teaming up with the folks from Paradox Sports in the US to bring the amazing sport of paraclimbing to the attention of more people with limb differences and other disabilities. As some of you might know, Paradox Sports is breaking down barriers by making climbing - and the climbing community - accessible to all. Since 2007, Paradox has run transformative adaptive climbing weekend trips in the most iconic climbing destinations in the United States – Yosemite Valley, Joshua Tree National Park, Red River Gorge, The Tetons, Ouray Ice Park, and more. These trips have been a place to connect, push limits, and change beliefs about what is possible for people living with a disability.


In a joint effort to spread the word about this amazing organization, about a sport that is dear to us, and about the joy it can bring to people of all abilities, we hear from Shelley Brook, the operations manager from Paradox Sports. Paradox Sports will publish one of my posts on its webpage. And we are currently recording the next podcast for The Active Amputee (the Auguts issues), featuring Dom Pascariello, the organization's National Program Manager. So stay tuned.


Why Climbing?

We are passionate about climbing and believe it serves all adaptive athletes as a means to build community, self-confidence, skill and provides life-changing experiences. We strive to engage the wider climbing community and provide unique climbing opportunities that strengthen community. Community is what keeps us coming back and is core to our organization. 


As a vehicle for building community, climbing, as a sport in general, requires adaptive equipment even for able-bodied climbers. Harnesses, ropes, ice tools, and other gear aid in ascending the wall for people of all abilities. This shared experience bonds our community. Paradox Ambassador Jessica Sporte has a hip disarticulation amputation and says, “My favorite thing about climbing is leaving my crutches behind. I’ve competed in wheelchair tennis and participated in many adaptive sports, but climbing is the only sport where I don’t need special adaptive equipment to participate… I tackle the wall the same way anyone else tackles the wall.”


Climbing also requires you to be present in both body and mind. Often the “disability” holding you back is in the mind – perceptions of what is possible, what challenges are “too big”, or when it is ok to give up. Pushing your limits means both physically and mentally. Through climbing, we have seen improvements in strength, motor skills, and flexibility, as well as self-awareness, confidence, and pure grit.


“One of my personal heroes, rock climbing legend Royal Robbins, said that one of the greatest things about rock climbing is that it doesn’t pretend to be anything useful. I have to say that I agree and disagree simultaneously. I think it is true that the act of climbing rocks does not inherently benefit our modern day-to-day lives. However, I feel that climbing provides the greatest metaphor for tackling the challenges and obstacles life throws at us. In this way, rock climbing may be one of the most useful things a person could ever do,” said Nerissa Cannon, Gunks 2018 adaptive climber, in her recent article published for Grit.



Our Approach

"Whatever your personal El Capitan is, do not be dissuaded by naysayers, do not be disheartened by setbacks, and do not listen to the voice in your head that tells you that giving up is an option because what you are doing is difficult. Life is difficult for everyone. The greatest meaning in life can be found by embracing the struggle." - Wayne Willoughby, adaptive climber.


People often ask how the Paradox Sports approach to adaptive sports is different than other adaptive programs. What makes Paradox different? From day one, Paradox really empowers and encourages participants with physical disabilities to push their limits and be self-sufficient, independent climbers. We teach climbers how to tie in, how to belay, how to take their skills to the next level. The line between “participant” and “volunteer” is often blurred as we merge into one big community connected by our passion for climbing. Any experienced climber can tell you, climbing is not about topping out. It doesn’t matter if you onsite, flash, or redpoint a climb. It is about having fun, trying hard, personal goals, and the community that supports you to reach those goals.


The entry point into the climbing community is usually through indoor climbing at a local gym – an approachable, easy entry to the sport. Paradox has hosted adaptive climbing clubs in Colorado and Connecticut for a few years, and it is through climbing club that many get introduced to the sport and community. National and World Paraclimbing Champions have gotten their introduction to climbing through these club nights – including Jessica Sporte.


The Active Amputee asked, “The Paradox Sports Ambassadors list reads like a list of some of the most accomplished adaptive climbers in the world. How did you manage to get them involved?” Well, yes we are proud of our Paradox family – which extends far beyond our “official” ambassadors! As an organization co-founded by DJ Skelton (wounded veteran), Timmy O’Neill (professional climber), and Malcolm Daly (amputee climber), the precedent was set: Paradox was built on a foundation of excellence. Many of our ambassadors have been involved since the beginning, helping build this incredible community of adaptive athletes. Maureen Beck was convinced by Malcolm Daly to come ice climbing in Ouray from the East Coast, and immediately knew the Paradox community was different. Chad Jukes joined Paradox rock climbing in Eldorado Canyon only months after his amputation in 2007, and in 2016 he became one of the first American amputees to summit Everest. For each of our ten ambassadors, the stories sound similar – they joined a Paradox program to improve their climbing skills, and found a community of like-minded athletes they wanted to be part of and help bring other people into.



Train The Trainers

It is apparent the movement for inclusive outdoors has gained momentum in recent years. Paradox Sports has evolved over the last 11 years as a nonprofit organization, and the focus is not only on hosting rock and ice climbing trips for people with disabilities, but Paradox has also become the national resource for helping other organizations develop their own adaptive climbing programs. By helping other organizations launch their own local programs, we are helping to increase adaptive climbing opportunities exponentially across the US (and perhaps world?!)! 


In 2015, Paradox Sports released the first of its kind Adaptive Climbing Manual – a resource book with more than 60 contributors of all backgrounds. From there, Paradox Sports developed a curriculum for more hands-on learning opportunities at climbing gyms and universities across the country to help them start their own adaptive programs.


Paradox stepped it up a notch in 2017 and launched the Adaptive Climbing Initiative in partnership with The North Face with a goal of making all gyms in the country accessible. ACI Courses include a mix of classroom education, open discussions, and on-the-wall training and facilitation over a two day period. With a focus on physical adaptation for climbing with paralysis, amputation, visual/hearing impairment, and neuromuscular disorders, facilitators explain the specifics for creating and curating an adaptive climbing program while developing safe, inclusive, supportive communities for adaptive athletics.


Since 2015 we have taught our Adaptive Climbing curriculum at over 45 gyms, universities, and other outdoor programs across 23 states - and even one in Squamish, BC! Together we are expanding both the availability and quality of adaptive climbing programs, and welcoming people with physical disabilities into the climbing community.


"I've been a part of Paradox for so long, and it's done so much to help me through my climbing career. To me, becoming an instructor seemed like a natural next step so I can start giving back to the community that has given me so much." - Mo Beck, Paradox Ambassador and Adaptive Climbing Initiative Course Instructor.



Guest post by Shelley Brook. Shelley is the operations manager at Paradox Sports. If you are interested in learning more about Paradox Sports, please check out their website or follow them on Instagram or Facebook.


Further Reading

The Enock Glidden Special


To kick the new series off, I am extremely happy to partner with one of the most inspirational people I have ever heard about. The always amazing Enock Glidden. Today, Enock will share his story with you. Tomorrow we will show a video about one of his most amazing feats. On Thursday it’s back to Enock and his reflections about team work and assistance before he talks more in general about the preparation it takes to take on big adventures on Friday. read more

Paraclimbing as am amputee


Climbing is an amazing sport. Full stop. No matter if you are into bouldering or top-roped routes at a local climbing wall, prefer pre-bolted sport routes outdoors or love the thrill of proper multi-pitch trad climbing or a deep-water solo, the sport has something for everybody. And I mean everybody, no matter if you are able-bodied (what ever that is) or not. read more

Hiking in the Bavarian Alps


What a day. I am just back from the Neue Traunsteiner Hütte - a mountain hut at the boarder between Germany and Austria - using the Wachterlsteig. And I am not yet sure whether I actually enjoyed the walk itself or not. But I am sure that I am immensely proud of myself. And for good reasons as this hike was incredibly important to help me regain my confidence. read more