All I want to respond with is: “…and your point is?”
I have yet to vocalize my snarky remark.
I get asked a lot what it’s like to climb with one hand, and I never know the answer. Odd, right? How does a guy without a hand not know how to answer such a simple question? Well, it’s not a simple question simply because I’m still learning myself. Plus, I truly believe that every amputee that climbs has a different approach to what he or she does to get up the route. For those that do not know, I was not born an amputee. I lost my hand in 2007 in an unfortunate accident with an explosive. Long story short is, I thought the object I was throwing was a firework. It turned out to be a demolition style bomb that had a quick-wick on it. It only took milliseconds for a two and a half to three foot wick to blow my hand and arm into pieces. I’m lucky to be alive, and I’m beyond thankful to the doctors who put my arm back together the best they could. However, my short digression is not answering a very common question that I get when I’m at the gym or crag. Although I’m sure all adaptive climbers receive the same, or similar, question, I can only speak for myself. This is not disregarding other’s ease or struggle to answer said question, it’s more that I do not feel comfortable or believe I have the authority to speak for another’s experiences or thoughts.
So back to the burning question that many, including I, have: But wait…how?
First things first, I am not offended by this question or find it insulting. This is not to say if one smiles and winks and asks in the sweetest, most nicest voice possible that it makes it “ok” to ask someone with an ailment, or physical difference, questions regarding their particular circumstance. I’m saying that I’m ok with questions. At times, do I feel uncomfortable with questions? Absolutely. But I truly believe that talking leads to a better understanding with others rather than shunning what makes one noticeably “different.” It is only by an exchange of ideas that “different” people can reach an understanding with one another. I use the term “different” very loosely, because in the end we are all inherently human. We might have different beliefs, skin colors, and body types, but we are all human. I keep digressing, but I believe my preface is necessary. Unfortunately our society draws some unrealistic and large line as to what’s “normal” and to what is not, but that is something to be expressed at a different time.
Now let’s get to business! And I will share with all of you how I magically grunt and scream my way up large boulders or cliff faces. Do you know what my secret is? Yup! You guessed correctly! The secret formula is the grunting, but mostly the screaming. That’s all it takes, honestly. I just yell incoherent words and sounds and BAM I’m on top of whatever I was climbing. I don’t even know what I’m screaming, but why question something that works?
Ok, I’m totally kidding. If this tactic of blowing out your vocal cords works for you, or a friend, I’m not judging, in fact, I’m impressed…and possibly jealous. I rarely scream when I climb, why? Because most of the time I forget to breath. I’m so focused on worrying and hoping that my f-ing left arm stays on the rock, that I cannot even think clearly when on a route. In the end, that does not help my climbing, but most likely hinders it. The more overhung a problem is, the more my brain whirls and my eyes desperately seek holds that my left arm can stick too. Half the time I forget about what the rest of my body is doing. I’m sure if I actually would relax and consider my footwork, my way up the route would have been much easier. Even when I’m with my coach and I jump down or fall off a route and he asks me what I was thinking, I usually have no concrete answer because I’m so focused on my left arm. Over time I have learned to sometimes trust my residual limb. Yet, I still dislike having to trust my arm and believe, “oh, umm, oh yea, I don’t have fingers, but this looks pretty solid” – with about a quarter inch of my forearm lying across a flakey crimp. For me, right now, there is no fancy algorithm that is the key for me sending a route. Half the time I don’t know what the hell I’m doing until I’ve started the problem. This answer might be disappointing to some, but it’s the truth. Although I’ve been an amputee for about seven and a half years now, it does not mean I’ve mastered the way my body compensates and works – on or off the rock. Seven and a half years has felt like an eternity; I cannot even remember what it’s like to be left-handed, let alone have two hands anymore.
The best answer that I can give to someone who wonders how I climb is that it’s a process. It’s trial and error with the hope for success. In my mind, it’s no different from how anyone else climbs or trains. Physically, yes, it’s different, but is it? We are all learning how to perfect our style and technique whenever we train for a competition, or go on a trip to a new area. Whether one has all their limbs or not, we all have different body types. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses.
To quote my friend Tim O’Neil, “what’s your normal?” I think a good question to follow up with is, what’s your “weakness?” Mine, for now, is my left arm. I will make this “deficiency” a strength, in time.
Are you working on overcoming yours?
Republished with permission from Jon Sedor via AmpedClimbing.com. Photos by Cyrena Lee for Brooklyn Boulders.