My name is Katie and I am an adaptive climber. I was born with Lipo-Myelomeningocele, the most severe form of spina bifida, scoliosis at L4 and L5 with a 28-degree curve, and leg length discrepancy of 2 inches. To walk, I use carbon fiber KAFO (Knee Ankle Foot Orthodics) and an AFO (Ankle Foot Orthodics). Without the assistance of those braces, I would be in a wheelchair. My left leg does not work: it is stabilized by the KAFO. My right leg is what I rely on, even though I have drop foot (why I have the AFO). Even though I have all of that going on, I climb.
If you have ever climbed before, you know that you need to climb using your legs. Most of the time, I do not. My climbing friends tell me to stop doing pull-ups up the wall. But hey, if magically there is a hold that my left leg can rest on while I move my other limbs, AWESOME, but besides that, I will do my pull-ups and use one foot. But the thing is, I am just so happy that I get to be on a rock wall – so climbing with one leg is good enough for me. Then, something happened. I went ice climbing and my climbing life was changed.
Rock vs. Ice
I had seen ice climbing in magazines before, but I never in a million years thought I was going to try it, let alone fall in love with it. One of the guys at my local gym in Ohio did a trip with Paradox Sports and told me we had to try it. He told me the people were amazing and it would be fun to try. My friend is in a wheelchair so if he would try it, I had to too. Both of us signed up and we flew out to North Conway, New Hampshire to go climb some ice. The community of Paradox is like no other I have been around. Just being able to see and hear the stories of the other climbers and volunteers makes your heart go out to them. The first night in North Conway, we met at a Bagel Shop and had a huge dinner that a few of the volunteers made for us. We got to meet and talk with adaptive climbers from around the country. It was cool to see how people got connected to Paradox, as well as ice climbing. Before we left, we got to try on the mountaineering boots as well as the crampons. It was nice to be reminded that I need to keep my feet warm – I can not feel my feet. After we got our gear, we went back to the motels (which were all ADA accessible) and got ready for ice climbing. The next day after breakfast, our group set out for the ice. The guides went out beforehand and set up ropes for us to use to assist walking up the small cliff. What gets me is they thought about this. I have been on a lot of trips where I have to remind people that I am handicapped – never with Paradox.
Walking on the Hill
Crampons are a pain if you haven’t walked with them before. If you have braces and your legs are different sizes, it is just an added challenge. Before I started up the hill, I needed help with my boots: two volunteers helped get my boot on my left foot. I could not get it tight enough. I started walking. Two volunteers were with me and somehow, my boot was off my foot. Again, they put my boot back on, and we tried to walk up the hill. They noticed that because I was walking on the balls of my feet, I was walking out of my boot. After the third time walking out of my boot, we needed a new idea. Two socks, duck tape, and more string later, my boot finally stayed on my foot. These people allowed me to climb because they helped me get my boot on. It was amazing.
Climbing with Two Feet
When I climb at a rock wall, I look for where my hands are going to go. If I can do a pull-up or dino for a hand-hold, I am golden. Ice climbing is different – with the ice tools, everything is a hand-hold. With the crampons, everything is a foot-hold. The first time that I used my left foot and saw that I could stabilize on it, it rocked my world. I could see that a climbing pattern could be made – right hand, left hand, drop wrist, right foot, left foot, stabilize. As long as I kicked my feet into the wall, my upper body could do the rest. This was the first time I felt like a “normal” climber. Using two feet changed my climbing life.
Fifty feet of ice was so much fun to climb. After the first climb, I wanted to go again and again. I did five climbs that day, making sure that I climbed all of the ropes. It was an amazing feeling being at the top of the ice looking down at everyone, waving after knowing I did this. The entire day I was just filled with joy: anytime someone got on the ice – it was a good time. I just want to say to everyone on that trip – you are in inspiration. I got to see a variety of abilities climb. These people showed me how grit is something you have to have and if it is in a community, you can do anything. Keep doing what you are doing and climb on.