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Mind Over Matter: Adam Payne, Ataxia, and Asshats.

Adam Payne is not your classic dirtbag climber.

A New Jersey native, he spent a majority of his life as a cyclist, riding 100 mile stretches at time. He was also a climber until he was diagnosed with ataxia, a rare degenerative disorder that affects movement and speech, in 1997.


**UPDATE May 18, 2016: Adam is currently fundraising money to purchase a Wijit, an accessory that will fit on the wheels of his manual wheelchair with a lever driving and braking system that can drastically improve both mobility and health.

Please help support the defending gold medal champion for the USA Climbing Adaptive National Championships 2015, Adam, here.


A fifteen year hiatus from climbing then took place, as he was dealing with his new neurological condition that interrupts coordination of muscle movements.

But then cycling took a backseat to climbing when he met Kareemah Batts, founder of the Adaptive Climbing Group (ACG), at an EMS in the climbing department. All it took was one long conversation with Kareemah – anyone who knows her will not be surprised – to get Adam to try climbing again.

Described as “grossly independent, persistent, dangerous, funny, people person, a horrible and loud singer, a 16 year old in 44 year old man’s body,” by Kareemah, Adam is the source of her biggest eye rolls and her biggest smiles.

Now, he’s the 2015 and 2014 Paraclimbing Gold Winner of the ABS Nationals, and that’s not his first medal (Bronze Winner of USA Paraclimbing Nationals for top roping). Adam climbs at Brooklyn Boulders every Thursday and Sunday with the ACG. Before the February 7th Nationals in Wisconsin, he was training three times a week with Head Instructor Luke Livesey.


Adam with his ABS Nationals gold medal.
Adam with his ABS Nationals gold medal.

If the first thing one notices about Adam is his assisted walking sticks, the second most apparent characteristic about him is his hilariously crude sense of humor, when he isn’t singing loudly to the music blaring overhead.

Luke laughs when asked about Adam: “He can be pretty outrageous. Our sessions normally degrade in to the two of us cussing each other out and giving each other a hard time, interspersed with moments of encouragement and enjoying bouldering victories! While confidence and perseverance are never in short supply, when Adam does send a project at BKB, he gets excited enough to show that his personal success in the sport clearly means a ton to him.”

Before leaving for ABS Nationals, Adam gave a hat to Luke with the word “ass” taped onto it.


a luke asshat
“He’s an asshat. So the hat is extremely fitting,” – Adam Payne

Adam’s dedication to the sport is almost as impressive as his strong mind that propels him to do whatever he pleases, mind over matter. When he was in Spain for the world paraclimbing championships, he went off on his own and got the USA climbing logo tattooed on his right thigh, without telling anybody.


adam tattoo
“I got it on my right thigh because my mother doesn’t like tattoos”

For Adam, the tattoo is another form of freedom: “It gives me control over my body when otherwise, I don’t.” Climbing is the main pathway that lets him exert control over his body.

“Climbing is the most important thing to me,” Adam told me, as he was belaying climber Emily Esca on the zigzag wall. “Adam, pay attention and stop looking at my ass,” Emily yelled down at him, to which Adam responded, “I’m supposed to look at your ass! What else am I supposed to look at?” He looked at me next with a sly grin and joked, “I’m a professional pervert”.

adam prep climb

Favorite food: Pizza.

Pre-climbing ritual: I tell myself it’s just climbing. It doesn’t matter. I go zen.

Typical day: I’m pretty boring. I don’t work. I live to climb.

Best friend: Edwin. You don’t know him.

Biggest goal: I’d like to lead climb one day.

Next up for Adam: World Paraclimbing Championships in Paris, 2016. As for where else he’s going in climbing, Kareemah sums it up nicely. “When it comes to Adam…wherever he wants to go. ‘Cause even if you tell him it’s impossible or dangerous, he’ll try it anyway just to make sure you’re right.”

Next up for the Adaptive Climbing Group: they’re hosting a Climbathon at Brooklyn Boulders on March 15th, 2015.

Come climb, hang & raise funds for another year of adaptive climbing.