On the Ascent

Published on: March 20th, 2014

Looking for inspiration for your spring adventures? You could do worse than come hang out with the Front Range Adaptive Climbing Club. “Adaptive” is the preferred term for what used to be called “handicapped” or “disabled.” It applies to people who are missing part of what a human body normally rolls off mother nature’s factory floor with—like a box of LEGOs missing a piece.

On a recent weeknight at Earth Treks in Golden, Maureen Beck, 27, is alone on a wall, about 15 feet above the ground, without a rope. Her left arm is truncated; it tapers and ends about four inches below her elbow. She was born that way. She has, in fact, adapted.

If the body is a tool, then whereas most of us have vice grips and needle nose pliers on our left arms, she has a ball peen hammer. She uses it like a blunt instrument. She can shove the stump into cracks, wedge it under holds, push herself up with it. Like many of the adaptive athletes here, she does not see her stump as a “disability.”

“I think it’s cheating sometimes,” she says. “I don’t have any fingers to get tired.”

She took third in her division at the American Boulder Series National Championships in Colorado Springs in late February. She hopes to compete in the Paraclimbing World Championships in Spain this fall.

Many find what she does inspiring. Personally, she just makes me worry. I’m an acrophobe; I don’t even like ladders. Beck on the wall puts me in mind of a runaway puppy in the middle of a highway median. Climbing is hard enough with a full compliment of phalanges; Beck should be wearing a helmet and an airbag vest, and climb above a mound of bubbles on top of a mountain of cotton balls resting on a pile of baby duck fuzz.

Or, you know—use a rope.

Beck is affiliated with Paradox Sports where she works with over 100 adaptive athletes in more than a half-dozen sports. It was founded by Boulder’s Timmy O’Neill, a renowned climber whose brother Sean was paralyzed in an accident. Among other accomplishments, the O’Neill brothers found a way to climb Yosemite’s famous El Capitan. Sean, essentially, did 3000 pull-ups in order to summit. Media outlets including National Geographic documented the brother’s adventures, and love to document all the Adaptive Climbing Club’s adventures, because when climbers like Sean ascend something, it is uplifting, even for spectators.

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