Bouldering in Joshua Tree

Bouldering in Joshua Tree
Ronnie 15 feet off deck on the classic White Rastafarian.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Gunks Adaptive Climbing Clinic - Revisited

I received this email recently from the father of one of our kids were able to take on his first outdoor climbing experience in The Gunks this past October. Climbing is such a powerful sport and experience and I love being able to pass it onto others. 

On October 6, 2012 my son Collin was invited to attend his very first outdoor climb at Peters’ Kill climbing area in Gardiner, New York.   The Athletes with Disabilities Network organized the event.  At only 11 years old Collin already had six years of experience climbing indoors with Peak Potential ( ), but I was very unsure of his ability to traverse smooth, large boulders outdoors.   However, I should have known not to underestimate my son’s drive to overcome adversity.

On December 21, 2001 my wife and I sat beside the NICU crib of our newborn baby boy, a newborn with an extremely grim prognosis.  Collin had suffered an intraventriuclar/intracerebral hemorrhage sometime during 22-32 weeks gestation. The idea of little league, karate, playing an instrument and rock climbing never entered our minds as we contemplated Collin’s uncertain future.  Our only prayer was that he would make it through the night.  Our prayer was answered that night and so many more after that.  Collin’s hemorrhage caused a weakness in the right side of his body called Hemi-paretic Cerebral Palsy.  Over the past 11 years of his life Collin has met many physicians of various disciplines, as well as occupational and physical therapists that have helped him face and overcome the many challenges he deals with everyday.  It was along that journey that we met Dr. Cheng and it was Dr. Cheng who introduced us to the world of rock climbing.

On this mild day in October, we were immediately greeted when we arrived at Peters’ Kill area by amazing volunteers who took time out of their weekends to help children and adults climb steep rock faces.  Their smiles and positive spirits immediately provided Collin and me with reassurance that they would take good care of him.  The volunteers provided him with appropriate climbing and safety gear.  They went over the fundamentals of external rock climbing and the commands to ensure that clear communication would occur between climber and belayer.  We then broke up into groups and Collin started climbing.  We hadn’t anticipated that his knees would take such a beating and in hindsight he said, “we should have brought some kneepads,” but Collin never complained and it never slowed him down.  Collin relies heavily on his strong left arm when climbing and has to use his legs to push himself upwards.  His entire right side is very weak and his mobility is limited.   When he climbs he uses his right hand to hold the rock and to keep his body square to the rock face, but it takes extreme concentration for him to hold the rock and pull himself up.  When he initially started climbing at age 5 we thought he would never be able to traverse a difficult rock course with only one hand and two feet doing all the work, but the volunteers at Peak Potential showed him that it was possible. 

As he climbed throughout the day we were surrounded by encouraging volunteers and other climbers with disabilities and even some with without limbs.  Everyone, both young and old, looked out for each other throughout the day.  For Collin, watching adults who face similar challenges climb alongside him provided him with tremendous inspiration. When Collin reached the top of a huge rock face he not only heard me shout with amazement , but he also heard the volunteers and other climbers clap and yell in celebration.  I could not be prouder of him.

I can’t thank Athletes w/ Disabilities Network, and Ronnie Dickson, Director of Adaptive Climbing enough for making this amazing experience possible.  I hope people reading this will find inspiration for themselves or loved ones with disabilities that they too can overcome huge obstacles and achieve amazing results with the support of volunteers, family members, doctors and sponsors. 

Collin’s proud father,

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