Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Wheelchair indoor rock climbing? Beth pays to get a wedgy.

Can you go indoor rock climbing without using your legs; is this a sport for people in wheelchairs? Well, only if pain is your deep personal friend. The rocks climbed by the ‘man in black’ in The Princess Bride were called the Cliffs of Insanity. Now that I have gone rock climbing, I think they might have been referring to the mental stability of those climbing. See, here is all you need to do, just lift the entire deadweight of your body using little handholds, often with both hands in one hold way above your head (in what I call the “classic” crucifix position) and then just pull your body straight up (nice butt shot!). There is also the two hand holds way out (in the cross crucifix position) but above your head, that can be even more painful.

After being banned from the YMCA/YWCA (long story with my face turning greenish), and with my last swimming experience at the rec centre ending in an ambulance going to the hospital, I was starting to get a little desperate for some sort of independent exercise. Somehow I found Craig X, an indoor climbing gym just a couple miles away, and better yet, only a block from a frequent bus route.

I came, I gave money, they put some sort of harness on me and I met Herb, this guy who looks about half my size and who will be making sure I don’t crash to the ground. Of course first I had to get up the wall far enough for them to take my wheelchair away. On the first wall, I had a lot of handholds and I was feeling fairly strong. This meant I pulled myself up that wall an inch at a time. Herb was very good at saying things like, “Great job” after three attempts to pull myself up an inch or two and finally succeeding. Because you can’t just pull yourself deadweight up a wall, oh no, you have to figure out a way to do it using the holds they have (one here....one WAY over there). Linda asked me on the phone afterward, “Did you have fun?” I told her I booked a session for next week. "Did you have fun?" She asked again. Silence. "Did you find it challenging?" YES. Later I invited Linda along next time but she gave me a look which said sane people don’t pay money to climb up walls.

As I inched up the wall, the dead weight of my legs were giving me the most expensive wedgy I have ever paid for (embarressing? Trying adjusting the leg strap going through your groin while 15 feet in the air with Herb asking if you are “okay” – I would be much more “okay” if this left leg strap stopped trying to have an intimate experience with me). Meanwhile this 11 year old girl I nicknamed “Spider monkey” is literally running up and down the wall next to me while her mother says things like, “Why not try the green tags up this time.....okay, now try the blue ones.” I hope my grunts and groans didn’t distract her too much. On this first wall I made it up over two/thirds, up to the blue handhold above my head in this pic before I had to come down because my heart rate was very, very high (and breathing somewhat erratic) – better to climb again another day.

After recovery, I finished with a second wall where I made about a third of the way up, maybe a bit more (it is the picture up top). I was very tired and am only blogging this now because I think by tonight and tomorrow my ability to type, or even raise a spoon with these arms is uncertain. OW! I certainly can’t deny I got a workout, and I am going back again because, hey, apparently some of the “top” climbers do these routes without using their feet (and I think they take less than 20 minutes, don’t shower the people below with sweat and avoid little screams when doing hard pull-ups). And if they can do it, I am sure I can do it too. And even though I had to be put in recovery twice and had a little oxygen, Herb says he will be the guy on the ground for me again next week.

So final note: no, I didn't tell the doctors I was planning this....doctors are killjoys; Yesterday I asked one for a note for swimming with a companion with me to make sure I don't die, his reply: "Well, I'm not sure you wouldn't die." Geee...thanks doc! So screw the doctors ‘cause I did it, I did it, I did it and you know what, I am going to do it again! Bahahahaha!


Daniel, the Guy in the Desert said...

Sounds like I should avoid those harnesses. Any climbing I do will have to be "free". I think the harness might be more hazardous than the fall.

Sober @ Sundown said...

Congratulations on your successful climb!

I would love to try rock climbing some day.

Jeannette said...

!! I had no idea this existed. I must now be trying this out.

Jeannette said...

Although, that said, I should note it might be easier for those who have shifted bodies. That is to say, the people who're paralyzed and whose lower body muscles have atrophied have a lot less dead weight on them.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Daniel - yeah, now suffering post-wedgy issues - let's just say get them to do a full harness check instead of a "quicky" becuase you an in a chair. (oh that sounded rude too)

Sober: Thanks - I am pretty buzzed about finally doing something for myself, independant - sorta

Jeanette: Yes, I think if you were a long term SCI, this would be easier (and if you didn't have a high BMI from elite epee based in your lower legs where one thigh is 2/3rds the size of your waist too). But I have a manual and this really exercises different muscles - What I liked was they put a rachet machine on so with Herb holding all the tension, as soon as I get a few inches up and hear the click, I know those inches are locked and can just sag and recover as long as I need - I even had a little space out up there - not a problem (except for the wedgy) - so good for people who have 2 minutes of endurance, or 40 seconds of endurance and then need a rest - kinda like me.

kathz said...

I glad you enjoyed it - though I'm not sure "enjoyed" is the right word. I've watched people on climbing walls occasionally and they seem to think it's a good idea, but it's (probably) not for me. I doubt I'd get as far as you did without screaming for someone to help me down. Mind you, on the right day, I might risk it ... of no-one's looking ... (no, probably not - almost certainly not enough strength in my arms)

Wendryn said...

You are teh awesome! :p

I suck at rock climbing, so I'm very impressed that you got that far. Congratulations!

KateJ said...

Some years ago when I was working in a school we had a 10 year old girl with a major brittle-bone condition who used a wheelchair. She went on an outward bound weekend with her schoolfriends and tried the kind of climbing wall you describe. Also did abseiling and canoeing, all of which she described as totally amazing. It was the first time she'd been able to join in any real sport other than swimming.

Sherrye said...

Hey! I found this by accident while searching for wheelchairs, etc for my mom who just had double knee replacement surgery. I love seeing when people go above and beyond when everyone else thinks they are capable of doing. Legs or not, we all have to rise to this challenge in one way or another. Kudos to you!