By Jess Sporte
“What an awesome last name!” “You must be a good ‘sport’ climber!” “What a fitting last name!” These are just some of the many comments I receive when people find out that my last name is Sporte (yes, Sporte, like you play sports, except there is an ‘E’ at the end – no, not Spork, or Spore or Sportse). Anyways, I digress… rock climbing. I started rock climbing in March of 2015 because I always liked climbing at camp when I was a kid and I tend to do some climbing in my everyday life. Let me explain, I am short. “Short?” you say, “Like 5’2” short?” No, I wish (like really wish) I was 5’2”, or even 5’! No, I am 4’10”. So reaching things on top shelves has always been tricky. I own the hashtag #shortgirlproblems. I’ve been climbing up onto things such as counters or shelves all my life. In other words, climbing comes easy to me. So in 2015 when I first heard of the Front Range Adaptive Climbing Club co-hosted by Paradox Sports, I was psyched.
That first night at climbing club, I met Paradox Sports Ambassador “Mo” Maureen Beck. Once she saw me climb, she told me I needed to compete at Paraclimbing Nationals in July – only a few months away! I was flattered, but at that time I was solidly in the middle of my wheelchair tennis sabbatical. Tennis was my sport – I was coming off of a career high singles ranking of 2nd in the nation and 33rd in the world doubles ranking. Rock climbing was just supposed to be a way to stay fit during the time frame I was going to do anything but touch a tennis racket. By June, Mo had pestered me enough that I decided to give competition a try. Paradox Sports helped me raise money to compete and before I knew it I was climbing my first route at Nationals in Atlanta. I vividly remember that first climb. It was a pink route on the back wall at Stone Summit. It looked like a great warm up route and it was definitely easy enough for me to send it. However, about half way up, my nerves kicked in and I felt out of breath and ready to puke. I rested my head against the wall and told myself to have fun, don’t worry about the outcome, and enjoy the moment. The rest of the competition is a blur; I remember bits and pieces of cruxes on routes I really wanted to send and struggled with. But then came the awards ceremony. When they called out 4th place and it wasn’t me, I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed. I had thought I had climbed well enough to place 4th at least. To my astonishment, I came in 3rd that night! My first comp and I made the podium! It was exhilarating and I became hooked. Fast forward a year to July 2016 and I once again found myself competing at Nationals in Atlanta. This time, however, the stakes were higher. If I sat on the podium again, I would qualify for the World Championships in Paris. I meticulously studied every route, looking for potential cruxes and how to maneuver around them. The comp itself was both frustrating and satisfying, sending routes much easier than expected and getting stuck on unforeseen cruxes. But the final result was a 2nd place podium and a national title in my age category (16+). I qualified for Paris! The feeling was a bit surreal and even now after buying the plane ticket and booking accommodations, it’s not quite sunk in that I’ll be making my first international competitive debut in less than a month.
I don’t participate in Paradox Sports events because that’s the only way I’ll be able to go climbing, but because the Paradox staff and climbers have become friends, people you actually want to hang out with. Their staff and participants were always teaching me how to do things on my own; they taught me how to tie a figure 8, how to belay, how to mantle, they took me on my first outdoor climbing experience. I’ve come across many non-profit adaptive sports organizations, but Paradox Sports has always stuck out to me because they’ve taught me to become independent. It was this encouragement that helped me not only see my potential as a competitive climber, but also to be able to compete at Nationals and now Worlds.
It’s been over a year since my last tennis competition and I think it’s finally time to say ‘Climbing is my sport’.