Photos courtesy of Catalyst Sports

Are you the type of person who tries to meld into your surrounding environment?   Or, do you shake it up by living on the edge? Without a doubt, I unapologetically, purposelessly, seek to live on the edge. As a wheelchair user, that takes on familiar aspects of athletic training, but with a twist! Recently, I embarked upon adaptive rock wall climbing as my next fearlessly-fun challenge, and literally took it to new heights!  With a wonky Cerebral Palsy body that likes to do its own thing, the activity required intentional physical and mental training with my physical therapists, good nourishment and sleep, as well as a 9-hour drive to get to the chosen ground. But once there, it was SO MUCH FUN, and worth all the effort…and all the badges of honor (read: bruises and scrapes) to brag about!

Mundane or Motivated – It’s Your Choice!

It’s easy for all of us to slump into mundane routines where we lack connection between our actions and their purpose. What helps me to recenter my focus and ignite passion is discovering ways to challenge myself mentally and physically. My Adventure Challenges might not necessarily align with my daily routine or life goals, but they do provide motivation to expand my life perspective… to make me more of who I am, rather than being bound by what I am not! With each new  adventure, there’s something meaningful to be gained;  something that can be applied to many other aspects of life.

You could describe me as a “cautious thrill seeker,” where I might investigate the risks and thrills of my challenge before I jump over the edge. But more often than not, I do find the courage to go for it when adventure calls. For example, I took note of the who, what, where, and why: 

  1. I love the city of Asheville. What a great reason to visit a place you enjoy!
  2. There weren’t a ton of details of how the adaptive aspect would work. The organization coordinating the event just said “all you have to do is show up.” The planner in me had some trepidation.
  3. On second thought, I said; “Why the heck not?”

The novelty of rock climbing defied the odds in flat-rock Florida…but rock wall climbing seemed to be calling my name.

Adaptive adventures are vital to feed the hunger that people with disabilities crave

The common misconception that people with disabilities don’t workout or are not strong couldn’t be further from the truth. By chance, I had learned about the host organization, Catalyst Sports, when a friend in the disability community posted about her amazing experience with adaptive snow skiing ( definitely on my bucket list)!  The organization’s mission is;  “…to give people with disabilities access to the life changing impact of adventure within a supportive and inclusive community.”  Anything with adventure, I’m all in! I’m so grateful we found each other!

There was something about the thrill of the unknown that sparked a renewed sense of motivation to prepare for the climb. I have a tendency to rely on the details so that I can ensure the result goes smoothly, but sometimes that mindset keeps your preparation too focused on the result rather than the process. This time, I prepared without expectations. Physical therapy sessions strengthened my grip and arms simulating true rock climbing. In the world of therapy, real world application helps drive patients’ motivation, imagery, and success, just like any athlete in training. Staying fit is non-negotiable for many of us as it directly impacts our independence on a daily basis.

Upon arriving at our host gym, the Riveter in south Asheville, I still was on the edge of what exactly to expect and more..and wondering what I would be physically able to achieve. A fabulous group of volunteers greeted me at the door, as I rolled in with my lifelong personal cheerleaders and supporters, my brother Jamie and sister Ali. The team began building as I met with two expert climbers who would serve as my climbing buddies. They “hung” with me for most of the morning until I exhausted them,  and fresh new legs arrived! Immediately impressed by the one-on-one communication, I could sense the value of transparency and authentic intention the organization instilled in their volunteers to create the best possible experience for each adaptive climber.

First they strapped me into the belay (a safety mechanism where someone has a rope which doesn’t let the climber descend until ready). Then the team and I went for it! Believe it or not, the hardest part was literally getting off the ground; apparently rock walls aren’t designed for 5-footers like me because the footholds start a bit higher than expected! Here’s where my home team helped — literally boosting me up! 

Beast Mode

Now,  is where my mental state turned into beast mode – trusting two new but experienced strangers with my life. After the first climb, we regrouped and the team was able to listen and learn how to better assist me on the wall. I, in turn, absorbed observations from the ground team. In hindsight, this demonstrates how true teamwork requires adaptation. With each ascent, climbers are encouraged to offer their own perspective, and as a result, it enhances the outcome. I chose another route with a refined approach, set my sights and kept climbing. One rock hold at a time,  multiple adjustments, and at last the top seemed a possibility. By this point, I felt my legs start to shake from fatigue. The last few feet up required my mind to dig deep to find the determination to carry me the rest of the way. Mind over matter baby!!!! Top conquered!!

Wait, There’s More?

As if to test our mental + physical endurance, Catalyst Sports rigged an adaptive seat/sling from the top of one of the rock walls. This system provides an alternative climbing option for those who might not  have the leg strength needed to climb the wall. But anyone can try it if they want, so of course I did! At this point, my legs were shot so I figured I might as well put my arms to the test so I could get one last view from the top. All strapped in, I started pumping the handlebar which, inch by inch, raised me closer to the top. Make no mistake, this was not a free ride to the top  (nor did I want one.) I believe the challenges that leave you invigorated at the end are the ones that you hold on to and use as reference points.

Gaining the mindset essential for endurance and the strength for rock climbing has a transformative impact on how to approach challenges we all face in the workplace, relationships, and other aspects of life. Putting this into perspective, pumping myself in the air was equivalent to nearly 100 tricep pull downs with overhead lifts thrown in!. Half way up, my arms screamed “hell no!”  but my head screamed “hell yes!”

Cardio bursting, heart racing, team cheering, I told myself to pause and remember to take in the moment. If I didn’t, I would have missed it….the view from achievement…peering down to see the volunteers and climbers spread out in a semicircle with their gaze intently pointed in my direction. After catching my breath and feeling my heart rate subside, I slowly tilted my head until my eyes locked on the end of the rope… LET’S DO THIS!

Living on the edge has much more to offer than one realizes. At the end of the day, it’s a choice of how and what you want to experience so that you can share moments with others.

Living on the edge has much more to offer than one realizes. At the end of the day, it’s a choice of how and what you want to experience so that you can share moments with others.

Strength + Endurance + Mindset = Fearlessness

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