Paraclimbing Makes Leap at Nationals

Photo: Catalyst Climbing
Photo: Catalyst Sports
Last Friday the United States held its first ever Paraclimbing National Championships at the Stone Summit climbing gym in Atlanta, GA. The event featured 32 adult competitors competing across five different categories of disability: Leg Amputee, Arm Amputee, Visual Impairment, Neurological Disability and Seated. There were also 7 youth competitors. This inaugural championship event for roped paraclimbing was organized by USA Climbing, the national governing body of competition climbing in the US. The event served to officially select the US Paraclimbing Team that will be eligible to compete at the Paraclimbing World Championships in Gijon, Spain this upcoming September. Kareemah Batts, founder of the Adaptive Climbing Group, and fourth place metalist in the women’s lower extremity amputee category, said that while competing was exhilarating, the most exciting aspect of the weekend was making history. “You could feel the energy everywhere. It was different from anything we had ever done, and the positive and nervous energy was just oozing from every hold, every chalked limb, all over everyone’s faces,” she said. “We had so many supporters and spectators, I think they quickly saw that the next competition we are going to need more space.”

Para-Specific Routesetting

The event followed a redpoint format, and while the competitors could climb any of the 35 routes set for the event, the routesetting team designed between five and eight routes with each category of disability in mind. The event’s Chief Routesetter, Mark Mercer, said that setting for disabled climbers requires a lot of planning and attention to detail. “It’s a lot of things you wouldn’t necessarily think about in your normal routesetting,” he said. “For example, setting specifically for the blind, they have trouble putting their feet on a precise part of the hold. With their hands it’s not that much of an issue because they can feel it. But with their feet they have less sensitivity and they can’t see where they are placing it.” Mercer said that many of the routes set for upper extremity amputees featured larger profile holds that competitors could use to wrap their amputated limb around. They also placed several of the routes designed for this category in a dihedral so that competitors could stem between the walls — otherwise they end up doing a lot of one-hand dynos the whole way up the wall. The biggest challenge for the routesetting team, however, was not knowing the caliber of climbers that would show up for the event. Even though this was a national championship, there were no qualifying rounds. “Anybody can register for this, so technically some of these competitors could never have climbed before in their life, or maybe just a few times before, and they thought this would be something fun to try out,” Mercer said. His challenge was to design enough routes that would challenge the upper end of the field, while offering everyone the opportunity to add routes to their scorecard. Overall, Mercer was excited and grateful to be part of the event. “I’ve learned a lot just the past couple of months thinking about how I will set for the event — thinking about body position and movement. It makes you think about routesetting in a different way than you normally do,” he said.
Photos: Adaptive Climbing Group & Catalysts Sports
Photos: Adaptive Climbing Group & Catalyst Sports

A Long Time Coming

This event is several years in the making. Back in 2011 when the International Federation of Sport Climbing organized the first World Paraclimbing Championships in Arco, Italy, there were no American competitors. In 2012 during the second World Paraclimbing Championships in Paris, France, the US still did not have an official paraclimbing program, but was able to send two athletes, Ronnie Dickson and Craig Demartino to represent America. Dickson told CBJ, “Craig and I were nominated simply because we were the only two athletes interested in going. Thankfully we happened to also be very qualified for the task and took 3rd and 6th place in the leg amputee division.” USA Climbing started its official paraclimbing program the following year. Kynan Waggoner, CEO of USA Climbing, said, “After seeing the passion that these climbers possess for the sport of competition climbing, it was the next natural step.” That year they offered paraclimbing bouldering as part of USA Climbing’s citizens competitions at ABS Nationals and the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado. Dickson, a member of USA Climbing’s Paraclimbing Committee, said that piggy backing on these existing events was a challenging way to start the paraclimbing program. “We did not have any special route setting or accommodations for the athletes, so we were mainly working with athletes who were capable of rising to this challenge,” Dickson said. With this year’s Paraclimbing National Championships, even though the event was held the week following the SCS Youth National Championships, the events were independent, and all new routes were set specifically with adaptive climbers in mind. Dickson, who placed second in the men’s lower extremity amputee category and earned himself a spot on the US team, said he is excited about the progress paraclimbing has made in the US. “We are much further past [where we were in 2012] and are at the point where we have a body of athletes big enough to where there has to be a way that we can objectively select our representatives and the spots have to be earned,” he said.

Growing the Sport

USA Climbing’s Paraclimbing Committee helped promote this event primarily through an existing network of disabled athletes and organizations such as the Adaptive Climbing Group, Catalyst Sports, Peak Potential, and others that support climbers with disabilities, often called adaptive climbing. The Committee hopes it can continue to expand the event to a broader group of competitors since access to these programs across the country is limited. “Ultimately going forward … we need to work on making more connections with rehabilitation centers, recreational therapists, and other publications within these related fields to further spread the word about our event,” Dickson said. From USA Climbing’s perspective they’ve already accomplished the biggest obstacle, which was getting the process started. “Beyond that, I think that the short term challenge is to ensure that we are categorizing and judging the athletes fairly and appropriately. It is obviously a very young discipline of competition climbing and all USA Climbing is trying to do at this point is learn the intricacies inherent with servicing such a wide range of ability levels,” Waggoner said. Ultimately for paraclimbing to continue growing and increasing the caliber of competitors that America sends to World Championships, we need more people with disabilities getting into the sport. One key component of this goal is for commercial climbing gyms to reach out to the adaptive community. “Climbing gyms can help grow the movement by becoming involved. That can be as simple as having … staff/volunteers who are working with healthcare/rehabilitation professionals in their area to help provide opportunities for people with disabilities to experience climbing,” Dickson said. “Creating the opportunity is the most important piece to the puzzle. “

Momentum Brings Pro Training to SLC

System board at Momentum in Millcreek, UT
System board at Momentum in Millcreek, UT
Very few climbing gyms in the US have put as much thought into training climbers as Momentum Climbing, which is based in Salt Lake City, Utah. At their new Millcreek location, Owner and General Manager Jeff Pedersen has set aside 3,000 square feet and put up $100,000 to create one of the premier climber training areas in the US. For Pedersen, a training area is not focused solely on creating better climbers, but has more to do with keeping all climbers excited about climbing. “As members progress in climbing, they hit plateaus (like we all do!),” Pedersen told CBJ. “Having an integrated climbing/training area affords the business a chance to keep its members progressing in their personal goals.” The business case for this is clear: if they continue to enjoy climbing, they are likely to be dues-paying, long-time members of Momentum. “We hope to use this area as a way to keep our members unstuck, psyched and engaged,” Pedersen said. momentum training_ jonathan_vickers

The Space

Momentum’s 3,000 square feet training space is divided roughly in 3rds: One-third climber zone with training “toys” like:
  • 26′ x 15′ 45-degree woody, with every t-nut filled with a hold
  • 2′ x 6′ wide ceiling-suspended campus boards with slide-able kickboard (climbers can choose to use foot jibs, or can let feet hang free)
  • Pegboard
  • 12’ x 12′ adjustable systems wall (30-50 degree)
  • Crossfit style lifting system by Rogue
  • 30′ long Poutre beam
  • Rings and Atomik Bombs
One-third Crossfit training zone; and One-third traditional fitness zone with cardio, free weights and exercise machines. Salt Lake has always had a reputation of having under-the-radar, exceptionally strong climbers. “Salt Lake area climbers have always trained hard,” Pedersen said. “I remember when there were no gyms and we were all just building woodies to train on through the winter in order to not have to spend weeks failing in the spring once we got back out on the rock.” Pedersen and his team, which included Noah Bigwood, Brendan Nicholson, Eric Kubiac and Justin Wood, pooled their collective knowledge to create the ultimate climber training space.
“With Momentum Millcreek, our approach was to integrate the best of that old style garage training with a modern gym and modern training equipment (hence the proximity of the climbing training zone to the Crossfit zone). This integration allows us to not only create amazing training circuits for a variety of customers/members, it also visually conveys in an instant to very new climbers or prospective members that climbing is not only a sport, it is an alternative form of complete fitness.”

Using the Space

Though the training deck is always open to members and other customers, Pedersen wants to get the most value out of his investment by using the space in the most efficient manner possible. He will do this by offering small group training for an additional fee; for members looking to improve in specific areas or who have date-driven objectives (such as a climbing trip, competition or seasonal route goals), training guru Steve Maisch will provide detailed personalized training plans that integrate the Momentum training deck. One unique way Momentum plans to use the space will be by offering “Ask an Expert” hours. During scheduled hours local climbing experts will hang out on the deck and take whatever questions come. Throughout the past seven years running their Sandy, Utah location, Pedersen has learned that, “The questions we get [about training] fit a pretty big range,” he told CBJ. “Newer climbers may have no idea how or why someone would use certain climbing apparatuses; more experienced climbers may know how to use the stuff, just not how to use it in context of a weekly climbing/training schedule, or how to advance their abilities toward some specific goal.” According to Pedersen, this suite of training services is aligned with their core business strategy of acquiring existing climbers as members, creating new members out of day pass walk-ins, and retaining all members. “The inspiration for the training deck was to create a facility where existing climbers could find one-stop training for any rock goal, general improvement or competition,” Pedersen said. “New climbers could enter in as beginners, progress as far as their passion drives them and have the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by experts training in a cutting edge fashion.”

CWA Launches Certification Summit

cwa_cwi Press Release: The CWA is proud to announce the launch of its first members-only Certification Summit. Held at the new Petzl Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah from October 7-11, 2014, the event will include certification courses, clinics, round tables, and additional training from the CWA and Petzl. The Certification Summit is specifically designed for facilities with multiple certification and re-certification needs and provides applicable options for any climbing facility employee. All certification courses include free half-day clinics and round tables. Register soon – space is limited! Certification Courses:
  • Petzl Equipment Inspection
  • Petzl Work at Height for Gym Employees
  • First Aid and CPR
  • CWA Climbing Wall Instructor (CWI) Certification and Re-certification
  • CWA CWI Provider Certification and Re-certification
Clinics (free with certification courses):
  • Belay
  • PPE
  • Rescue
  • Work at Height
  • Wall Inspection
Round Tables:
  • CWI Candidates
  • Re-certified CWI Providers
Find more information at Climbing Wall Association.