Jim Ewing: Climber and Amputee

Adaptive athlete.

Disabled climber.

Handicapped... whatever...

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I’m not willing to apply those labels to myself just yet. USA Climbing finished their Adaptive series this past weekend with the 2017 Adaptive National Championship at Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville, MA.

 

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As a climber this event peaked my interest.  As an amputee I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it just yet.  You see, of my 40 odd years of climbing I’ve only been an amputee for the last 11 months of it.  I’m still a climber first and an amputee second, at least in my mind.

I get it, I’m an anomaly, I’m missing a foot, I look different. When I’m out in public I don’t try to hide it but if I’m wearing pants I doubt anyone would guess. It’s a disability, I guess, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. When I’m at the climbing gym it’s impossible to hide it. People stare; they’re curious, kids particularly so. I’ve gotten used to it and I’m happy to answer questions about it.

Walking into Brooklyn Boulders and seeing all the adaptive competitors was a new experience for me. I wasn’t sure I belonged but didn’t feel out of place either.  After all it was a climbing event and I’ve been to hundreds over the years. But it was my first time being around so many others with missing or different limbs. I was suddenly not an anomaly and could easily blend in. There were competitors with other “disabilities”, too, that maybe aren’t so obvious like cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy and some with paralysis or blindness.

 

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Once the competition began it became obvious to me that many of the competitors were in fact “climbers” and not merely looking for a participation trophy. They read routes, formed strategies, and executed their plans just as any other climber might do at the crag.  As much as I’ve come to loathe the unsolicited compliment “you’re an inspiration” I felt somewhat inspired to join in the fun. Watching the climbers going at it and giving their all was motivating, inspiring even. Anyone watching these competitors ascending the routes cannot deny the fact they were witnessing extraordinary feats of climber athleticism.

 

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