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Community Spotlight: Meredith Koch, On a Mission to #EndPianoViolence

Brooklyn Boulders Somerville climber Meredith Koch was paralyzed by a falling piano last year (#endpianoviolence). But she’s discovered since that having a physical disability can actually open doors for creativity and passion.

Meredith Koch, climbing at Brooklyn Boulders Somerville. All photos by Simone Schiess.
Meredith Koch, climbing at Brooklyn Boulders Somerville. All photos by Simone Schiess.

Who are you and how did you get to Brooklyn Boulders Somerville?
My name is Meredith Koch, I am 25 years old (26 in May), and live in Jamaica Plain. Almost a year ago, a piano fell on top of me and paralyzed me incompletely from the waist down (#endpianoviolence). After 8 hours of surgery, my spine was realigned and I had lots of titanium inside of me.

I spent a month at Spaulding Rehab Hospital in Charlestown, MA learning how to stand, get dressed, walk, do stairs, and swim. Since being discharged I have been involved in Spaulding Adaptive Sports Club doing activities such as kayaking, cycling, skiing, and paddle-boarding. They had a flyer for winter activities which included rock climbing. However, the climbing dates weren’t until February, and I got cleared by my spinal surgeon in December to rock climb. So I went to the wonderful world of Google and found the Adaptive Climbing Group website, which listed their meeting time as Sunday afternoons at BKB. Thus began my rock climbing experience and a very fun and challenging form of rehab.

Meredith Koch getting ready to rope climb at BKBS.
Meredith Koch getting ready to rope climb at BKBS.

Are you still currently in rehab?
I currently do physical therapy 2-3 times a week and go to Journey Forward, an exercise based program for specific patient populations such as spinal cord injuries, twice a week. This totals about 6 hours of rehab a week. Rock climbing has become a great form of therapy as it is functional movement and not repetitive exercises. Plus it targets my upper body!

That’s a lot of physical activity. So much of climbing is  also mental. What’s your experience been like with that?
Climbing is mind over matter and getting creative. I am still paralyzed beneath about L4 vertebrae, which means my calves, ankles, and feet don’t do anything, and my glutes, hips, hamstrings are weak. When I am on a wall, I challenge myself to figure out how to distribute the weight through my heels, since my braces keep my ankles in a 90 degree position.

Being part of the Adaptive Climbing Group is a wonderfully supportive environment, and they know how to belay tightly.

There are parts of walls that will take me 5 minutes to get past because I am trying to figure out how to do it with my physical limitations. But I never give up. And I know that the ACG members on the floor are cheering me on and aren’t judging me.

Not to mention when you watch complete paraplegics like Erik climb using only their upper body, I don’t have much excuse not having toes! I just conquered my first 5.9 last weekend which was an incredible feeling.

Congrats! What are your current biggest projects, on and off the wall?
On the wall my biggest project is climbing efficiently and trying to learn how my feet can help me. Recently I started tackling 5.8’s and one 5.9, so I’m upping the challenge factor too!

BKB Somerville: Meredith Koch
BKB Somerville: Meredith Koch

Off the wall, my biggest project is working on my walking gait and speed. I ambulate in public using forearm crutches and bilateral ankle foot orthoses (AFO’s), but am working on my balance to safely use only one or no crutches. All this is in preparation for my one year paraplegic anniversary challenge of being part of the Vermont City Marathon Relay. I have put together a five person relay team comprised of individuals who have been a part of my recovery. I am completing the first leg, which is 3.3 miles. I will have a buddy walking next to me so that I don’t get trampled and for motivational support, but this will be the farthest I have ever walked since my accident.

When I got hurt, the doctors in the Emergency Department didn’t know if I would ever walk again. So, this marathon relay is my way of celebrating the fact that I can walk and that I am on the road to running once again. I am using the marathon relay to raise money for the University of Vermont Medical Center and Spaulding Rehab Hospital, which were both vital in my rehab and giving me the best shot at recovery possible. More information about that can be found here.

Awesome! We will spread the world. Last question: What inspires you?
The Spinal Cord Injury community is hugely inspirational

– each person I have met since my accident has taught me the valuable lesson that having a physical disability does not affect your quality of life, but rather opens doors for creativity and passion.

Watching my fellow SCI friends adapt activities to their ability level is awesome because they show me that I can do anything despite my paralysis.

My Colchester Rescue Squad community up in Vermont also inspires me to fight each and every day. They were with me from the instant the piano hit me and have had my back every minute since. They transported me to the hospital, packed the ED with visitors, prayed for me, and make me feel so loved even though I don’t live in Vermont anymore. The members at Rescue inspire me to give everything in rehab so that one day I can return to EMS.

Finally, Mae Dewey inspires me to never give up, to love people to the fullest, and to not be self conscious about my physical disability. I had the privilege of working with Mae when I lived in Vermont and she has the ability to light up a room with her smile and has super powers of overflowing with love. Her autism makes her a very special and wonderful person that reminds me how beautiful the world is.


For more information on Adaptive Climbing Group, visit our BKBF website here. Interested in contributing to our blog or sharing your own story? Email us: stories@brooklynboulders.com