The Enabler

Co-founder, Paradox Sports

Feb 25, 2009
Outside Magazine

My brother was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1991 bridge-jumping accident, so I started climbing with him. We completed a route called Space, on El Capitan, in 2005. I do public speaking around the world, talking about that climb. Because of my experience with my brother, other disabled people started reaching out to me.

So in January 2007, I flew to Washington, D.C., to meet D.J. Skelton, a captain in the Army and a climber. Skelton had already been working with Disabled Sports USA, a national nonprofit that does sports rehabilitation, including traditional Paralympic sports like track and field, but they didn't teach climbing. That afternoon we went to a local climbing gym with a bunch of veterans, including single- and double-leg amputees, and a blind guy. D.J. himself was injured in Iraq and has a semi-paralyzed arm and leg, and he's missing his left eye and part of his skull. Climbing had changed our lives, so why wouldn't they get into it, too?

That night, I spoke with D.J. about forming an organization that provides climbing and other alternative sports, like whitewater kayaking and surfing, to people with adaptive needs. We called it Paradox Sports. Within a couple of months we had a board of directors, and we were applying for nonprofit status. The fast pace was less because of us and more because these people just wanted to do sports, hang out, laugh, and crack a beer.

We have a program called Gimps on Ice, in Ouray, Colorado. Gimp is a word you can use if you are one, or if you have honorary gimp status—which I have. Anyway, it's sort of like Stars on Ice, only people are using the adaptive process to ice-climb. My brother, for example, takes six hours to climb a 50-foot sheet of vertical ice. He is totally in love with that process. Next, we want to do an all-gimp ascent of El Cap. Meaning no able-bodied people. Hopefully we'll have a paraplegic and an amputee or two.

Our group also works on new prosthetics, which started back in the summer of 2006 when Aron Ralston and I climbed the Diamond, the east face of Longs Peak. Aron, of course, is missing his right hand, so Paradox Sports helped create both his ice-climbing and rock-climbing prosthetics. They're titanium hooks that attach to the end of his prosthetic. We work with a Boulder-based prosthetics company called TRS, owned by Bob Radocy, an amputee himself. They make kayak grips, among other things, and we put them into action.

The paradox is that even after part of someone is lost, the person can still be whole. We all experience fear, hunger, and gravity the same way. We're all kind of disabledwhen we're up on a big wall.