Tell us about yourself.
That’s always the hardest question – it could mean a lot of things. I’m from Connecticut. I’ve lived here since I was 5 year olds. I work at a rehab hospital – I’ve worked here for 10 years, but I feel like I grew up at the hospital because a lot of the sports programs I participated in were sponsored by the hospital. So I was involved with the hospital as a kid as well through sports and then as and adult
I always say that in my past life, I was an occupational therapist – that’s what I went to school for but I currently transitioned into the other side of health care and work in administration. I oversee operation authorizations and our autism center as well so I have many hats on with my work at the hospital.
I coach and play wheelchair basketball. I’m the coach of the Connecticut Spokebenders as well as a player on the team.
I have a dog named Winter, she was a quarantine adoption and I live with my girlfriend of 6 years named Amanda.
I volunteer at the camps that I attended and volunteer with the track team I attended growing up. I like giving back to the programs that helped support me as a child. There are kids in the program that I knew when they were 5 or 6 and now they are 21/22 and it’s good to see the progression from school to college to getting a job and life.
What got you into climbing? How long have you been climbing?
I was introduced to climbing by Nate. It’s the 6 degrees of Nate. I always say that somebody in the climbing world knows somebody that knows Nate, especially in adaptive climbing. He ran a clinic at one of the other rehab hospitals in Connecticut, it was an introduction to adaptive climbing clinic and I got a flier in my email. I kind of knew that adaptive climbing existed but didn’t know much about it. I wanted to give it a try so I did, I went, and I fell in love with it. From that first clinic a monthly adaptive club started and I kept going to that. And for me, it was the first time I was participating in an activity where I didn’t need a new or different chair to participate in the activity and that’s one of my biggest draws to climbing. I’ve done track and you need a $5,000 wheelchair to do track and then I got involved in wheelchair basketball and I needed another $5,000 for a basketball wheelchair to participate and I dabbled in sled hockey and tennis and downhill skiing, but you always needed a different type of adaptive chair and equipment. For climbing, all I needed was a harness like everyone else and a rope and a wall and you were doing it like everyone else. The equipment becomes a huge barrier for people too – like someone just called who likes wheelchair basketball and they want to stick with it and now they have to figure out how to come up with 5 grand to get a basketball chair because they have to get it fit to their body. It’s not like a bike you can buy off the rack, so I always go back to climbing. I went online, bought a harness and a chalk bag. I had Nate teach me how to belay and I was able to get started right away without the barrier of that expense.
Literally a week before I went to Utah, I was climbing at the gym and met a climber who’s a single leg amputee and we started chatting about how we got involved and he brought up Nate. Of course he did!
Can you tell us about the Paraclimbing Worlds? How were you feeling going into it? What was your experience?
It was an amazing experience anytime you have an international event – you learn so much because of the people you are surrounded by. I had been training 6-7 months before the comp and it was my first time having a coach and having somebody show me how to properly train for climbing and what to do in the climbing gym vs what to do in the weight room other than trying to figure it out myself, my experience has been in other sports. I was excited about that because I saw the progression at Nationals where I finished first place and had a strong showing compared to previous years. So I was excited to see how I would compare to the climbers in the International scene. So it’s fun to see how I’ve progressed, especially with Covid, it’s been a while since anyone has competed at the International level.
The surprising part was the setting at the comp – you can’t control that, but my experience was always with the seated category where the holds are a little more juggy and different things meant for campusing and it was a really challenging setting that threw me off guard a bit. I trained for this style of climbing but at the end of the day it is what it is, I gave it my best. It was challenging and tough climbing but 4th place for me at an international comp was a huge improvement. At the end of the day, I was happy. I was frustrated in the moment, but looking back at the progress I have made from on National to the next and what I did at the International scene and the person that placed 3rd was a gentleman from Japan and placed 3rd in the last championship and just to know that I was only a few moves out of third place, it wasn’t a huge gap was exciting.
What I love about the climbing community at an event like that, that everyone there is very competitive and has trained hard – but everyone is cheering each other on. You literally have your competition sitting down with you giving beta. Like “Oh, this is how you would climb this” and no one is sitting on the sideline thinking “I hope he falls”. Everybody is rooting for everyone else to do well. It’s very different coming from the other sports that I’ve done previously. It also gives me the opportunity to climb with others that climb like I do. When I’m home, I climb with my friends or I go to an adaptive night, or sometimes with another climber on team USA who is also a seated climber. But to get to climb with a bunch of other seated climbers and giving each other feedback, like “What do you do at home?” or “Why do you climb with this harness?” or “This person ties their legs together while they climb, why don’t you do that?”. It’s a lot of back and forth and learning from each other, not even just with climbing. It’s really cool.
Climbing is a different community – once you become a regular, everybody wants to help, and I don’t know what makes it like that and it’s weird to see at the competitive level but it’s exciting to see. Even the coaches of the other teams I remember were really supportive.
Right now, this year is a world cup series, so it’s honestly the cost of getting to these comps that is tough. I financially couldn’t make all three (Austria, Switzerland, Utah). I am waiting to hear because the Canadians are going to be hosting their first nationals this year and they were kind of advertising it at our Nationals in Alabama and they are hoping to have one in October and open it up to USA climbers. If nothing else pops up, there are unfortunately not a lot of smaller competitions that pop up nationally to keep you busy. It’s a lot of training in the meantime. Next year is a World Championship year, so if nothing pops up, the goal is to train really hard to make it to Nationals and then Worlds.
Last year Nationals was held in Salt Lake where I made friends with a volunteer who just happens to be a physical therapist and a climber and had a friend of hers that got injured with a spinal cord injury. They were a climber before but she was like, “Hey, can you talk to my friend? He’s afraid to climb again.” It was nice, we had a really good conversation after Nationals last year and we had a similar injury and made him realize that it was something he could go back to doing. I was actually able to climb with him this time around, we met up at the climbing gym and watched the comps. It was cool to make that connection and be that person to motivate someone to get into the sport – so now the pressure is on to get him to come to Nationals next year. I’m trying to rope him in.
Do you have any tips for someone who is just getting into adaptive climbing?
The best advice is if there is a local place that offers adaptive climbing, try and seek out those places. Those are the communities that know the best ways to get you involved and help really pick out your abilities to get you on the wall and climb successfully, whatever that might look like for each individual. It’s going to look different for everybody, but everybody can do it successfully. A lot of times it turns into something more than just getting together to climb, you are around a community of individuals who are facing the same challenges as you and can help you problem solve day to day life. It doesn’t just have to do with climbing, your conversations segway into other challenges and solutions in life. It’s a good place to be around people who are facing the same challenges that you are facing. You might feel isolated in your community and not have those people to be around with so that once or twice a month escape is really helpful.
Where would you suggest someone start if they want to get involved in any sort of physical activity that they are not currently involved with?
That’s a really good question because I feel like it’s a question that pops up all the time. You hear so many stories about people living in a town where programs are offered and they had no idea that it existed until they ran into someone who participated in it or met someone who knew about it like a physical therapist who is able to pass that resource on. There’s not one big resource that people can log on to but social media is a beautiful thing. There’s a lot of Facebook pages and you could search ‘recreation opportunities or adaptive sports’ in the area that you live in and sometimes you can find really good groups and ways to get in that way. Unfortunately, I wish there was a better way to get all of this information out to the community but it’s a question of who do you get it out to who is able to do that? So that’s what I would say if someone is trying to get involved. It’s really hard to get out there.
Actually, my mom is the person who will see you at the mall or grocery store or see a child in a wheelchair or with a disability and she will be like “Do you want to get into sports? Here’s my son’s number – call him!” And oftentimes people won’t listen but she keeps trying. She will see people walking down the street and pull over and tell them “Call my son!”.
I started a Facebook group where people can put in information for local programs to Connecticut and Massachusetts for adaptive sports and that has over 100 people in it now. Social Media is definitely the way to go but I wish there was one place where everyone could go to access the information.
You have been involved in a variety of different sports, do you have a favorite adaptive sport?
People ask me that all the time – I always say track was my first love. It was the first activity I got involved in around 8 and excelled at. I did it after high school, I made some national teams in track but at this point in time, it’s climbing. And then basketball. And now track is 3rd place. Track is a very demanding and uncomfortable activity because you squeeze into really small, tiny frames and it’s just not comfortable at all. But besides that part, if you’re doing a road race you can sometimes catch a downhill and hit 30-40 mph, there’s definitely an adrenaline rush that comes with that! Climbing right now is my number one – for so many reasons. I don’t have to find a special place, I can do it solo, I can do it with my friends. I love that you can climb at different levels but still do it together. I’ve got my girlfriend into climbing so now I’ve got a belayer. She may not climb often, but she will come and belay and we climb different grades but we can climb together.
Do you have any upcoming climbing objectives or trips planned?
I’ll be on the Gunks with Paradox – I’m excited about that. My first climb post-Covid was at the Gunks. I was so out of shape and I was frustrated with how I climbed so I’m excited about being more into my climbs. This will be my first trip in the summertime to the Gunks so I’m not sure what the weather will bring, but it’s always nice to be outdoors climbing. I enjoy the challenge of outdoor climbing as I do a campus/trad aid climbing type of climbing. I don’t really know what to call it exactly. But it is a different style of climbing when you have all the different gear on you and get to learn how to use it.
The different adaptive gear that the guides bring to help me navigate outdoor climbing is really cool. And I always try to bring someone with me to experience this trip as well.
Objective-wise and competitive-wise, I want to take everything I’ve learned from the last comp and work with my coach to train on the small things that need improving.
And I’m excited to be part of the initiative with Paradox and the team as well. I’m excited to see what comes out of it and to see what I envision it as something that becomes a cross country thing of climbers from all over the US coming together to support and take adaptive climbing to the next level. Anything that creates more opportunities is a win-win.
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?
I could talk all day long, but one of the biggest things I would love to see in competitive climbing is for our climbing category to grow – especially for females. My really good friend who I climb a lot and travel with to competitions will sometimes show up to competitions and there will only be one other person in her category so then she has to get merged into another category and now she is climbing and competing against people who have some use of their lower extremities. She still thinks it is fun and cool but she would love to have the feeling of giving it her all in her own category. Just seeing it grow overall but I would love to see our category grow.
I’m not sure if it’s because individuals that fit our category – who are seated chair users – look at climbing and think “Oh my God, that’s not something that I could do.” Because campusing is hard and climbing in general is hard. When you tell someone they just have to climb with their arms they look at you like you’re crazy. So I don’t know what the challenges and barriers are right now but I would love to see that part grow and the sport grow in general. Every year we go to Nationals and there are more and more people but our category seems to be one that hasn’t really grown.