For Sharon Reeder, of La Pine, Saturday’s trip to the Bend Rock Gym was about “trying to conquer the wall” — physically and metaphorically.
An Air Force veteran who took a medical retirement for post-traumatic stress disorder after her fifth deployment, Reeder said she’d always wanted to try rock climbing. Through the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that seeks to provide opportunities for post-9/11 veterans, Reeder got her chance at a first-of-its-kind collaboration Saturday between the organization, Oregon Adaptive Sports, and Mark Wellman, a pioneer in the world of adaptive climbing.
Paralyzed after breaking his back sliding off a 100-foot cliff during a 1982 climbing accident, Wellman, of Truckee, California, invented several new pieces of climbing gear to allow him to return to the sport. In 1991, he became the first person to climb the 3,000-foot face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without functional legs, performing 7,000 pullups over the course of eight days and seven nights to get to the top.
Wellman has since modified the equipment he used to ascend El Capitan to help others with physical limitations learn to climb.
Kendall Cook with Oregon Adaptive Sports of Bend said Saturday’s event was the second of two with Wellman this week. Friday, Wellman, OAS staff and volunteers hosted a group of around 30 local kids with a variety of physical and cognitive disabilities for a day at the rock gym.
“It’s such a sense of accomplishment to get to the top of a climb,” Cook said. “There’s a starting line and a finish line, you know, and they were all cheering each other along. It was pretty amazing.”
Cook said Friday and Saturday’s events were the first time Oregon Adaptive Sports has experimented with rock climbing. The group, formed in 1996, was initially focused on helping physically disabled people learn to ski, but has since broadened its focus to include cycling, golf and kayaking.
Chris Broadbeck, a Sunriver-area resident, below-the-knee amputee and occasional snowboard instructor with OAS, came out Saturday to see Wellman and try out his latest adaptive climbing rig.
After a trip to the top of the climbing wall unaided, Broadbeck, 43, was strapped into Wellman’s system, resembling a legless lawn chair with straps to secure the user’s legs and shoulders. Once strapped in place, Broadbeck used a handle device that slides freely up a fixed rope, then locks when pulled downward. A system of pulleys effectively reduced his body weight by two-thirds, allowing him to pull himself up the rope with comparatively little effort.
Broadbeck said he was impressed.
“This is an amazing system he’s developed,” Broadbeck said. “This can help so many people with so many different disabilities.”
Reeder, the Air Force veteran, said that ever since her final deployment to Iraq in 2007, her ability to stay focused has been greatly reduced. Identifying achievable goals like Saturday’s climb and going out and doing them has helped her regain a level of confidence and normalcy, she said.
“Just to be going though with it, committing, enjoying myself,” Reeder said. “And I actually enjoyed myself today, so it’s pretty exciting.”
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