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steve wampler

emily esca cerebral palsy

How Climbing Can Help Cerebral Palsy: Meet Emily Esca

If you pay close attention on Thursday and Sunday nights at Brooklyn Boulders, you might see some unexpected happenings, like people climbing in wheelchairs. If you pay attention to the news, you’ll have already heard about our Adaptive Climbing Group, started by Kareemah Batts.

What makes a climber an adaptive climber? I recently participated in one of their Volunteer Orientation programs and got to hang out with them and find out. What I discovered is that what makes an adaptive climber is what makes any climber – persistence. But more impressively, persistence in face of challenges most climbers don’t even have to think about.

emily esca, rock climber

Meet the charming Emily Esca, an adaptive climber who happens to have a form of Cerebral Palsy, Spastic Right Hemiparesis. She was born with a muscle weakness on her right side, and as a result, has limited use of her right hand and leg. Rock climbing isn’t something she’d ever thought she’d do – and unexpectedly changed her life drastically.

Where are you from and how’d you get to Brooklyn?
I am from Croton on Hudson. It’s a small town about an hour north of the city near West Point. I moved around for a couple of years but ended up coming back to NY in 2006 to get my doctoral degree in Audiology.

emily muscle shake out

How did you start climbing?
Well, I watched this documentary on Steve Wampler – one of the first disabled climbers to face El Cap. There was a screening at Brooklyn Boulders, so I went and decided to try climbing with the Adaptive Climbing Group. It was something that I thought I’d try once and never do again, but as any climber would know… it’s addictive. I’m still climbing a year later.

Does climbing affect your Cerebral Palsy at all?
Oh, yeah. My doctor didn’t even want me to climb – they said it was a bad idea. But as I started to climb, I could feel my right hand getting stronger.

I previously had zero grip strength in my right hand, and I never knew what it was like to be able to use it. But then one day I just started doing really mundane tasks, like taking out the trash on my own. The best part is being able to buy someone a drink at the bar now – I can double fist!

In fact, I’m a case study now – I kept telling my doctors about how my right arm was improving, and now they’re documenting it.

emily esca climbing

Wow. That’s kind of amazing. So climbing changed your life, in a way.
Absolutely. I didn’t face my disability until I started climbing. It was a part of myself I sort of ignored, but I had to face head on when climbing on the walls. And now I understand it better than ever, and even have pushed the limits to what I previously never thought I could do. My right hand now is as strong as my good left hand was when I first started climbing – they’ve improved in parallel.

emily right arm left arm

And of course, there’s the community behind it. I really want to get climbing outside more – Doug Ferguson does these trips through Mountain Skills Climbing Guide for adaptive climbers up in the Gunks. And each member of the Adaptive Climbing Group is really motivating and supportive

– it’s great to see this mental mind shift for each climber that comes into the group. At first, there is some hesitance over what they think they can climb. You think that you can’t climb as well because of your disability.

But you see climbers like Q, Jon, and Adam – and they still climb hard. They don’t let their disability limit them.

Cool. Last question: what would you say to someone with Cerebral Palsy that is thinking of climbing?
Climbing is awesome and it can be a definite game changer. Don’t get discouraged, just keep climbing. After a while, you’ll be surprised of how much you can accomplish.

To find out how to volunteer for the Adaptive Climbing group, visit their site here.

*A clinic is being hosted on Friday, April 17th at 11am, sign up to help here.*

And say hi to Emily next time you see her at BKB!