Craig DeMartino is a Paradox Ambassador and recently won 3rd place in the Men’s Leg Amputee Division of the IFSC Paraclimbing World Championship
Spain. I mean I could just leave it at that and say, “we went to Spain to climb.”
After training to get ready to climb in the World Paraclimbing Championships, stepping into another gym in Gijón, Spain was not on my list of “Likes.” The good news is climbing in Europe is taken a wee bit more seriously then here in the States. Like, they actually pay their athletes to compete. Nice! So the comp wasn’t in a gym, it was in an arena, which is just slightly different then here! Teams from all over the world come to compete, and this being my second time to this event, I knew what to expect. The USA headed in with one of the largest teams there. We had 15 athletes with different “disabilities” and also, for the first time ever, two wheelchair athletes who we began calling “The Wheelie Girls”. They don’t look even a little like what you expect, both young, cute, funny, and total crushers.
The Male Amputee Leg division is the largest in the event. It seems like us guys have a hard time keeping those darn things attached. It also means the competition level is fierce. You start the week with a long medical evaluation to determine where you fall on the disability scale. For me, I’m missing my leg. Next! Then after waiting a bit, something like two days, you have a full day of qualifying climbs. The whole idea is to take the field of 12 athletes in my division and get that to 4 for finals. We are allowed to watch the other climbers at this point so its fun to watch the different groups work on the routes. Each group has its own routes to fit the different disabilities.
One of my favorite things about comps of this scale is the diversity of athletes. You get to meet people from countries you may not know a lot about or countries with negative connotations, and really find out what the people are like. Not what CNN tells you. One of those was a man from Iran that I had the good fortune of hanging out with. He was gentle, funny, and a great athlete that bucked every image I had of Iran.
Once the climbs are done and the finals athletes picked, you have a day or two off again so they can reset the routes for finals. Then each route can only be previewed for 5 minutes and you can’t see anyone else climb. It’s one big game of on-sight.The finals route was fantastic, actually all the routes were fantastic, but I don’t really focus on just the climbing. I keep coming back to the fun I had, the people I met, and the general warm embrace that Europe gives to climbing. Those are the things that bring me back time and time again.
Once the awards were done, my wife Cyn and I snuck out on our own. It was my birthday and we wanted to have dinner and celebrate. Did I mention we were in Spain?! The next day we took off for the hills to climb some limestone. The place is amazing in the amount of rock and routes that they have. You can hit crags that are all close by, right off the road, and fantastic. We stayed a day or so past the comp and then had to head back home. The kids were with grandma and we missed them.
Being on the podium again was really nice, but the things that stick are the friends, the location, my wife, and just the travel around a place I don’t know but that feels familiar. I couldn’t have gotten there without the help from my sponsors. ArcTeryx and Evolv have partnered with me for years now helping me travel and climb. Paradox Sports, who I teach clinics for, also came beside me and helped me to get there to live this amazing opportunity.