Teen amputee climbs back after cancer with rock solid determination

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Climbing back after cancer. A young patient gets back to the sport he loves just weeks after major surgery altered his form forever.

Ian Vallejo, rock climber and cancer survivor: “I just like being up there. You kind of get into a flow just going one hold to the next, and you don’t really think about anything. It’s just you and the wall. My uncle he always had a climbing wall in his house that he built, and he’d throw me on there to see what I could do.”

Ian Vallejo was a natural. Even as a little boy he scaled rock walls with speed and skill.

Ian Vallejo: “I would do this four times a week at my school. Two days a week I’d teach the younger kids. I like the challenge.”

It’s no different today – but what appears effortless takes a bit more work for the now 17-year-old.

Ian Vallejo: “Some moves are a lot harder, especially ones that require a right foot.”

Dr David Walterhouse, Lurie Children’s oncologist: “I think Ian is a pretty remarkable guy.”

Lurie Children’s oncologist Dr David Walterhouse diagnosed Ian -- who traveled with his family from Saudi Arabia for care -- with osteosarcoma, a malignant tumor in his leg bone.

Dr Walterhouse: “Sometimes we have to do an amputation to get the tumor out completely.”

Ian Vallejo: “Leading up to it I’d always climb with my friends, and we’d set challenges, one of them being climb with one leg. So I knew I could do it, it was just learning to do it differently. I don’t have another leg to support myself, so whenever I move up my left leg I have to completely rely on my hands, so I’ve built up a lot more finger strength and upper body strength.”

He underwent thirty weeks of chemotherapy to treat his cancer and prevent it from spreading – but just three weeks after amputation surgery in June 2015 Ian was back on the wall.

Dr Walterhouse: “It’s remarkable that he’s doing this at this point, but at some level I’m not surprised knowing this kid.”

Ian Vallejo: “I like bouldering. You only go a few meters off the ground, and you’re not tied into anything. Knowing that I could do something and do it well even after the amputation was a good feeling.”

Ian is now in remission -- with no sign of cancer in his body. This week he's headed to a challenged athletes camp in Colorado, where he’ll be training on a new prosthetic leg specially designed for rock climbing.

To learn more about adaptive climbing at Brooklyn Boulders, check out http://brooklynboulders.com/chicago/adaptive-climbing-group-chicago/

And to learn more about the Challenged Athlete Foundation, log on to www.challengedathletes.org