Many years ago I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). As a result, I use a wheelchair and I fully appreciate that you can get so stuck in your daily routine that it is difficult to imagine living beyond the present. Many of us do not put anywhere near our maximum effort into life—able-bodied or not. What will it take to move you to try something new, to step outside of your comfort zone and risk putting more into life?
For me, rock climbing seemed impossible. Just thinking about it took me so far out of my comfort zone. How can a person with a disability, who uses a wheelchair, possibly go rock climbing? The stability of my core and abdominal muscles is significantly reduced. Nobody with limited strength in his or her arms, and even less in their handgrip, could be able to enjoy this kind of a sport, right? Rock climbing is a whole body experience. And I can’t use my whole body.
Cort McElroy, ACMG Instructor and General Manager of The Rock Oasis Climbing Gym, justified why my excuses were without merit. “Just check out Mark Wellman’s ‘No Limits’ website.”
Mark Wellman is a two-time Paralympian champion wheelchair user. He is also a rock climber, having created an adaptive pull-up bar to make rock climbing possible for people with disabilities.
I am the first to admit, I didn’t have the courage to take this on. As my anxiety heightened my confidence diminished, but deep down inside, I knew I really did want to try it.
My first step was visiting Cort at the gym. He hooked me up to a six-rope pulley system. For every foot of rope I pulled, I actually pulled six feet. And my weight was evenly distributed, which made it seem easier to pull myself up.
Cort was not my nemesis after all. I had been my own worst enemy, limiting myself even before I had left the ground. But the true test would be on my first outdoor climb.
We went to the Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton, Ont. Not only was this beautiful country, I could feel the exhilarating experience start to grow. Slowly but surely I pulled my way up into the trees. Pushing myself physically made me feel alert and alive. My fears dissipated and morphed into a permanent smile.
While hanging 35 feet in the air next to the rock, I had a great sense of satisfaction. Cort had given me a powerful and enduring gift—the positive sense of self. I will always value his knowledge and experience.
The lesson that I learned yet again was that life gets a whole lot easier when you accept that change is inevitable and how important it is to get on with living. Instead of being afraid of what the next step is, just check out the new options, the new possibilities.
Be empowered by all the choices you have because you can make magic happen when you take that first step out of your zone!
The Rock Oasis Inc.
Mark Wellman “No Limits”
Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area
Michelle Amerie is a freelance writer and advocate for equity and disability pride. She promotes inclusion and active living lifestyles for Canadians with disabilities by facilitating communication among organizations, agencies and individuals. This article has been adapted from Outspoken! magazine, published by Spinal Cord Injury Ontario.