Athletes with disabilities reach new heights, prove ‘anyone can climb’

Faces of Chicago
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A group of athletes with disabilities is reaching new heights in Chicago. Their motto: anyone can climb. This is the story of the members of the Adaptive Climbing Group, in their own words:

Manasi Deshpande, climber 

Climbing for me is very meditative. The only thing that I’m thinking about is, “what is the next move that I’m gonna make, how am I gonna get up the wall?”

Because I’m not using my legs, the strategy that I’m using for climbing is obviously very different than an able-bodied climber who’s using their legs.

When you’re at the bottom and you think, “there’s no way I could do that,” and then you get to the top, you get this adrenaline rush and this immediate sense of satisfaction that you accomplished something.

The next thing you think is like, “well, what else can I do?” You know, “what else can I climb and how much better can I get?”

But this is the first time I found a sport where I’m working toward a specific goal, like I’m trying to get stronger for climbing.

Manasi Deshpande starts a route at Brooklyn Borders

Ryan Juguan, climber 

So climbing is like the safest sport; just don’t mess up. I got brittle bones so like falling, it’s not an option. So I’m holding on!

We all have our own like anatomy, and I think Special Olympics’ motto is that if you have a body you’re an athlete. And you know I just try to utilize what I can use.

It’s very motivating when people down there, when you’re climbing, are like “go!”

I wouldn’t be here If I wasn’t playing wheelchair basketball in high school. I would have been, you know, hanging out with the wrong crowd, getting myself into trouble but recreation was that catalyst

Ryan Juguan prepares to climb

Christina Talavera, climber 

People with disabilities, they don’t really get out that much ‘cuz they’re nervous of the way they are.

I for a lot of years used to be scared of climbing, and now that I have come out of my shell and into the shell of learning how to climb, it has been a fun few years.

A chair helps Christina Talavera ascend

Molly Ferris, volunteer

Climbing is the most inherently adaptive sport because you verse me, we’re gonna climb
it incredibly differently. If you’re tall, if you’re short, if you’re flexible, not flexible, upper body, lower body, everyone’s gonna climb a little bit differently.

I’ve competed in three nationals. I was injured for one USA top rope adaptive nationals and I’ve competed in three world championships.

Everyone is so supportive. I’ve never been a part of a competition where even your competition is your best friend. Climbing with the able-bodied and the para-climbing community, you’ll see everyone talking to each other, like “oh how was it?”

You know, “what did you think of that part,” just everyone shares because even if it worked out well for them or didn’t work out well for them, you’re gonna climb a little bit differently.

One of my biggest hurdles in climbing was to learn how to lead climb, which is where you clip yourself in. The risks are bigger because you fall harder, you fall further. We just have we have to work it out.

Anyone can climb, if you show up we’ll get you on the wall.

Molly Ferris climbing in Chicago


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