Starting them young

Youth in Adaptive Climbing

Last week’s Front Range Adaptive Climbing Club meet-up was hosted by Earth Treks Climbing Center in Golden.

I moved through the gym, passing pairs of adaptive climbers: climbers with vision impairment, amputees, and paraplegics—all excelling in a sport I find myself struggling with every day.

What really stuck with me were the two boys climbing in the small learning section upstairs. Despite being without the use of his legs, Nolan Higashi was nearing the summit of a wall, his rope controlled by none other than Timmy O’Neill.

The Paradox Sports co-founder constantly encouraged the boy, reminding him to do something many would never think to do—to use his feet.

As a first-time volunteer, I looked around for someone to belay. Lucky for me, that someone turned out to be Benno Cho, a 4th grader at Boulder’s Bear Creek Elementary. Despite the age difference, we found common ground in our mutual fear of heights and love of scaling 30-foot walls. We tied-in and Benno moved his limbs across the color-coded holds.

Benno Cho nearing the top of his climb

Benno Cho nearing the top of his climb

Paradox Sports put me in a community where I felt comfortable pushing him to continue on the route even when he felt he was at his limit—a motivational mindset that can be witnessed between every climbing partnership. I never thought of Benno as impaired—missing his right arm from the elbow-down—he was just a fellow climber. That was the atmosphere of the entire club: no one was limited, and everyone had someone to cheer them on.

Open to all ages, the Front Range Adaptive Climbing Club meets three times a month at varying locations throughout the Front Range. A Paradox Sports initiative, the club facilitates an environment for beginners to learn how to climb and for all levels to connect with other adaptive climbers.

“Paradox Sports teaches Benno about the possibilities—that his condition is not a physical limitation,” reflects Benno’s father, Yong Cho.

Yong, Benno, and Benno’s twin brother, Eli, learned about adaptive climbing through a run-in with Paradox Sports’ Pete Davis at a local outdoor shop. Noticing he was an amputee like his son, the father of two invited Davis over for a beer and to “share a few things,” recalls Cho. It was during this meeting that the family learned about Paradox Sports and the Adaptive Climbing Club.

“I got to really admire him and thought he was a great role model for Benno,” says Cho.

Not long after, Cho discovered Benno’s prosthetist, Angela Montgomery, was also Davis’. With so many connections to Paradox Sports popping up, it only took one Timmy O’Neill talk at a local Patagonia store to convince Cho to introduce both his sons to the sport.

“I like that every single wall has its own challenges,” says Benno. “It’s kind of like a maze; you can’t use the same strategy every time.”

Benno Cho nearing the top of his climb

Nolan Higashi climbing with Timmy O’Neill

Eight-year-old Nolan’s first Adaptive Climbing Club night was last week at Earth Treks. Despite his wheelchair, “Nolan loves sports,” says his mother, Nikki Higashi.

Having seen her son involved in adaptive sports from baseball to swimming, the Higashis jumped on the chance to add rock climbing to the list.

“While he is climbing, he needs to be aware of his legs. That is something he does not think about often,” recalls Higashi, whose son is a main subject for the video Paradox Sports will submit to The Northface’s Explore Fund™ grant.

Watching someone without full use of their body even attempt to rock climb is nothing short of inspirational; but when that person happens to be a child, it evokes a whole new level of admiration. In experiencing Adaptive Climbing Club firsthand and getting the chance to speak with the people involved, it has become clear that in facilitating a “definite your own normal” lifestyle, Paradox Sports affects more than just the athletes they work with; the work of Paradox Sports can have an equal impact on anyone who has ever held the smallest part in making an ascent possible—not to mention the friends and families who cheer their athletes on every day.

“Nolan is a stubborn boy and watching him climb that wall and not give up was the highlight of my year,” says Higashi.

Join the Front Range Adaptive Climbing Club Facebook page for event dates and more information. Learn more about the work Paradox Sports does in Boulder and across the country on The BoulderSource.