Story by Caitlin Christensen / 

If you’ve been to Sandy or Millcreek on a Wednesday evening, you may have seen a group of kids climbing with Splore in the Rock On! Program, a mentoring-based climbing program for children with disabilities and their siblings. One of the more recognizable  children in the program is Christian. When you walk by during the program, the first thing you notice is his wheelchair empty at the base of the wall while Christian executes pull up after pull up (nearly 60 for each climb) on his specially-adapted ascender.

Christian was born with mild, bilateral Cerebral Palsy. This means that although it is a mild case of CP, it affects both hemispheres of his brain, including his movement and speech. Conditions like Christian’s are often viewed as limiting, and climbing is often assumed to be impossible or simply too dangerous. His parents would tell you that climbing is something they never imagined would become both a favorite activity and a form of therapy for their son, but with the Rock On! Program, Christian is now empowered to reach new heights.

Eric Bonin, the Salt Lake Program Director, has been working on the adaptive setup for close to three years. What began as a small, clunky setup that only allowed the participants to climb as high as a Splore guide could reach, now reaches the top of the wall and includes hundreds of feet of rope. This newer set-up allows the participants to progress through varying difficulties and heights, just like any other climber. Christian was one of the first Splore participants to use the adaptive setup, and he and his family have been instrumental in the development of Splore’s adaptive climbing rig.

Christian Climbing
Caitlin manages Christian’s adaptive setup. Christian was born with mild, bilateral Cerebral Palsy, but through the help of Splore can ascend to the top of Momentum’s Walls.

Momentum has also been incredibly helpful in the adaptive pulley system by providing space and flexibility for Splore to be creative with how they get the climbers off the ground. Together, Momentum and  Splore work to build an environment that allows for innovation in adaptive systems and the common goal of spreading the joy of climbing. Momentum staff, members, and guests are proud to be part of a community that offers an accepting place for people of all abilities to build skills, strength, and confidence.

The Momentum facilities provide an environment that make it possible for participants to experience risk, or “perceived risk”, in a safe way.  One of Splore’s Core Tenants is “The Dignity of Risk”. This is the idea that everyone deserves the opportunity to experience risk in their life, regardless of ability. It’s also the idea that important life lessons can come from risk. Think about what you have gained from experiencing risk in your life– perhaps you struggled or felt defeat, but you also might have experienced personal growth or accomplished a big goal like sending your project. Historically, it was thought that people with disabilities should be sheltered or protected from these types of activities. However, Splore believes that just because Christian has CP and uses a wheelchair for mobility does not mean he should be held back from experiencing life to the fullest, nor should he be kept in a bubble.

Audrey Climbing at Momentum
Audrey climbs alongside her siblings (they are triplets) each week. She and her brother both use the adaptive setup, while her sister climbs next to them on the wall.

Adaptive climbing is growing in popularity each year. If you need any proof, you can check out the recent issue of Climbing Magazine, which features a large story on the rise of adaptive climbers, or you can watch the incredible video Gimp Monkeys, about the first all-disabled team ascent of El Capitan. As the sport of climbing continues to grow, more and more people with and without disabilities want to give it a try.

The confidence that Christian and his family have built with Splore and Momentum has given Christian the ability to experience a life that many thought not possible for him. Climbing has given Christian a new awareness of his abilities. Christian was able to climb outside for the first time this summer thanks to the training he has been doing at Momentum– he also went on his first river rafting trip this Fall with his family and Splore. Christian has good climbing days and bad climbing days. He races up climbs, and he gets frustrated, and sometimes he fails. Christian is just like every other climber at Momentum– he just uses a slightly different method to get to the top.

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In addition to the Rock On! program held at Momentum, Splore offers much more. Splore is a non-profit organization that has been operating for almost 40 years and partnering with Momentum for 8 years. Splore’s mission is to challenge and expand the notion of ability through meaningful outdoor adventures.  Splore offers indoor and outdoor climbing, canoeing, standup paddleboarding, river rafting, cross country skiing and snowshoeing to people with disabilities and disadvantages.

For more information on Splore’s adaptive climbing and a story about our participant Christian you can watch this video: HERE

To find out more information on volunteering with Splore you can visit this link: Here

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