This post was written by Kurt Volker, a Paradox Sports participant, veteran, and all-around awesome dude!
When I was a kid, I always kind of knew that the forrest and mountains where a place to heal and reflect. It took another 20 years and disease/injuries to help me realize just how much of an impact it really has. It is my ultimate desire to NOT have anyone else take this long to discover this fact as well. That being said, I will try to give you some insight in where all that comes from.
As a young stud I was always active…riding bikes, surfing, playing baseball, lots of hiking (I’ve done from bear mountain, NY to Lehi Gap, PA on the Appalachian Trail) and eventually landed a job as an Outdoor Educator at the age of 17. I learned to climb in the late ’80’s at the Gunks. While this is all cool, a war was cooking up in Iraq…so I did what everyone did during the first Gulf War (not really….I joined on a dare) and joined the USAF. I planned on doing my 4 years and bailing out and going back to doing more cool guy stuff like Timmy O’Niell and Doug Sandok. But, as life does at times, I stayed for my 20. During that time I was extremely athletic and always doing something. Always on the go, whether on the job or off duty racing motorcycles, I was on! So, at 19.5 years I figure I’m in good shape, I can get out and get that dream job we all talk about…work in a park or something or be a Walmart greeter and just chill. Well…again life happened and I ended up with a gnarly case of Meniers Disease (it gives me severe vertigo, deafness, and I’m dizzy all day) and a failed spine fusion at L5/S1 with chronic nerve pain all the way down my left leg. But…I had to feed a family so I tried to suck it up…but it came apart 2 weeks after I retired and I was flat on my back, puking, and unable to do much of anything.
After doing my best impersonation of someone who is not incapacitated all the time I ended up a miserable mess sitting around jacked up on a bunch of meds that are supposed to keep me from spinning, puking, and feeling pain. A friend told me about this group of people that take beat up dudes on trips around the country doing rock climbing and “backpacking” (this is important in a few seconds) trips. So I said why not….I’ll sign up…it doesn’t cost me anything…and besides…I used to kinda like this stuff. So off I went to Grand Teton National Park to meet up with some random people to go “hike” in the woods. Little did I ever know that a long suppressed part of my brain was going to be awakened or that I was about to have another life event.
The “hike” turned out to be way more then I bargained for. I knew we were going up a mountain…but I guess it didn’t really “click” that there was actual no-sh!% climbing involved. This is where “backpacking” becomes important. So I end up on a slab 2 pitches up, spinning, wanting to hork like I just slammed a case of Tequila, shaking because my lower back and leg are well beyond where my pain levels should be. My guide asks me what do I wanna do…up or down? As I’m contemplating (several minutes) the “lets go down” option, he said to me “Well….you think about it…I”m going up”…and he stepped over me and went climbing. He said the next year “Dude, I took a major gamble and I guess it worked…” Deciding that going down was no longer an option, I went up…and all of a sudden, I’m finishing up pitch 5 and he just looks at me with that “yea killer” look and a little grin. The next day I decided that doing this mountain was not feasible right now…I had a few things to work on. So I took the team to the trailhead and dropped them off and went home not a happy camper. You see, I have never failed at anything before. I was a Drill Sergeant. I was a base level Anti-Terrorism Officer which is unheard of as an E-6. I was (indirectly) responsible for thousands of people and billions in assets. Failure is not an option. So I worked hard, lost a bunch of weight, met people, and got out of the med induced haze I was in. I got back outside…I became a “new me”. And all that was because Paradox Sports decided to take an old guy who is beat up to the Tetons. None of that would have been possible without Paradox taking me back out into nature. Again I figured out that nature is a place to heal and reflect…only it had a much bigger meaning to me now. I’m not “fixed”, but I’m well on my way.
Since then, I have climbed at City of Rocks in ID twice, Yosemite in CA (Not El Cap…but I did jump off a cliff there…) twice, and some quick sport climbs around my house. Oh yea…I went back the next year and got to 11,600′ on the Grand. Anybody up for a “hike” next year? I have 2176′ to go….