In August I went back to Tuolumne and got in more climbing, getting more comfortable leading, learning how to adapt my movements to my new body.
This Autumn, I decided to join a local climbing gym that opened up close to where I live. I had a lot of reservations about climbing indoors, even. I was concerned about how self-conscious I would feel, how I would be comparing myself to how I used to climb pre-accident, what other people would be thinking watching me flail up routes. As usual, the "Fuck It" attitude came in; I had to start somewhere.
I started bouldering because I was too embarrassed to find people to top-rope or lead with. I thought, who would want to climb with me?? Bouldering is usually a very sociable activity. You have the whole peanut gallery encouraging you, giving you beta on a problem...but I found it a little isolating (and still do) because other climbers couldn't really shout beta out to me since I had to approach these problems completely differently.
I started figuring out how to adapt around not having the use of your left leg. I high-step with my right foot A LOT; I use my body's momentum a lot and swing for left-hand holds, in particular; I probably do more lock-offs than normal/required. My attitude was/is that I just have to get super-strong everywhere else to compensate for my leg. I'm not sure when exactly the shift occurred, but at some point I made the transition from looking at routes, seeing all these moves intended for the left-foot and feeling discouraged/sad/frustrated, to just looking up at a route, studying it and thinking "Oh, how am I going to do this move?" The transformation in my attitude and shedding of my self-consciousness has surprised me.
My experiences in the climbing gym and interactions with other folks have been interesting. I climb with a climbing shoe on my right foot and a regular sneaker on my left foot and a knee brace on my left leg. The brace just prevents my knee from buckling/collapsing or hyper-extending (at least I hope it does!) I really don't like jumping off/falling down from high boulder problems so I try to down-climb as much as possible. I much prefer roped climbing, but probably should boulder more to improve technique and strength. I'm not really sure what people are thinking when they see me climb. I know many think I just have a temporary knee-injury; I get the "What happened to your knee" question a lot. I usually don't give them the full-story. Some people clam up after I do tell them that my leg is partly paralyzed.
Getting back into climbing has been wonderfully healing though. I realized that a lot of people DO want to and enjoy climbing with me, and there is something just so natural about interacting with other climbers. I started getting involved with the Boston Adaptive Climbing group and volunteer in their clinics and have found a wonderful friend in the coordinator. I had forgotten how easy it is to make friends through climbing. I also made a few trips to the Gunks, and was reminded of how at home I feel on stone. This past Friday, I was climbing with friends; the day was coming to an end, the sun was setting, it was very cold. As I was belaying my friend on the second pitch of a climb, and saw the last rays of sunlight hit him as he climbed an arete, with the clear sky in the background, I was overwhelmed with this feeling of immense joy and gratitude. How fucking lucky were we to be able to be out here and doing this?? I am not a glass-half-full person by nature, and was extremely depressed (often suicidal) for a good while after my accident, so to experience that feeling was astonishing. I suppose time is a great healer.
A few weeks ago, my friend asked me if I was interested in competing in para-climbing competitions. I didn't say Yes immediately for a few reasons. I didn't want to get completely obsessed about climbing again and having my moods rise and fall with how well I was climbing. I also didn't know if I could commit the time to putting in hours in the climbing gym and training. But, in the end, I said Yes :) So I will be going to ABS Nationals in Colorado Springs in February 2014. If I place in the top-3 I will be eligible to represent the U.S. at the para-climbing championships in Spain next September. I'm working on fund-raising to finance these expenses as, being a pre-med student, I'm not rolling around in money these days.
Here is a video of me climbing a steep over-hanging route at Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville this past Sunday. The top part of "the tongue" is almost horizontal, so I expend a lot of upper-body strength, with my feet cutting out each time. I had never seen myself climb before, so I was very curious to see what I looked like climbing with one-leg. Lots of room for improvement but it doesn't look quite as bad as I imagined.
(The music isn't particularly relevant/significant. It's just a song I am rather enamored with and am listening to a lot right now :))