It’s been already quite some time since the Paraclimbing Day in Berlin on 25 March. Somehow I’ve found it difficult to put my thoughts about the event into words even though the day was a great success. It has been quite a hectic time for me, but I was also waiting to hear more feedback from others. After all, this event was more about others than myself. I had two main objectives:
- Let people with different disabilities try out climbing. I was hoping that some of them would want to continue and would be interested in being part of a Paraclimbing Group.
- Get the leadership at DAV Berlin stand behind setting up a Paraclimbing Group in Berlin.
I’m happy to say that we accomplished both of these objectives. There were 57 people with different disabilities participating in the event, and 20 of them are potentially interested in continuing with climbing.
Before the event, the sentiment of DAV Berlin was that if there is a group of interested people, they would support setting up a group. The Paraclimbing Day not only ensured that there is a group of interested participants. The enthusiasm, determination and inventiveness of climbers with different disabilities left a huge impression on the DAV leadership, and set the spirits high for supporting Paraclimbing in Berlin. The partnership with the “Behinderten- und Rehabilitations-Sportverband e.V.” has helped us to reach out to people with disabilities, and their organizational experience helps us with the practicalities of setting up a paraclimbing program.
But I should also talk about the day itself. The event started with short personal stories of guest paraclimbers, who talked about their experiences. It was inspiring to hear how Korbinian and Andreas after a serious accident fought their way to recovery and back to climbing. I was happy that some members of the German Paraclimbing Team and their trainer also travelled all the way from the South of Germany to Berlin for the event. They certainly served as motivating examples for others.
After listening to the stories and some useful climbing advice from the trainer, it was time for climbing. Everyone got their harness and climbing shoes, and got to scale the climbing wall under the instruction of one of 14 volunteer instructors and belayers.
At first, I was accompanying one of the vision impaired participant, Veronika. She climbed maybe once before, but she was really ambitious. She asked me to find a challenging route for her (“not a ladder” in her words). It’s kind of difficult to do when there are multiple routes next to one another and she cannot tell the color of the holds. So at the end, I sent her on a route where the angle of the wall changed quite a bit. She enjoyed the struggle to search the holds and navigate her way in the overhanging terrain. I think she climbed the most routes during the day, but she could have still gone on for hours probably.
Luckily, I also got to walk around a bit. My favorite moment was when I met an 8 year-old girl, who had a similar left hand like mine. Unfortunately, it was just before they were leaving but we agreed to go bouldering together. And there was another 12 year-old boy, who was born without his left lower arm. He was really crushing the routes: he just ran up on a 5a (5+). Really impressive.
There were also participants with one-sided paralysis and mild cognitive disabilities, leg amputees and blind people. But before I knew it, it was already time for feedback about the day. It was interesting to hear the experiences: a bit of fear of heights or no fear because they couldn’t see what’s below. In general, the participants were very happy to discover how much they can do on a climbing wall, and how they managed to overcome their initial fear. Many were voicing the question: “was this a one-time event or what is next?”, which is of course exactly what I wanted to hear as well.
Since then, we spontaneously offered another opportunity to climb to those interested. The turnout was not that high this time, but I was happy to see that there are many motivated volunteers, which is of course necessary, especially at the beginning. We’re still working out the details of what we can offer. Climbing is an expensive sport, and we want to provide a subsidized rate for the group meetings to allow more people to get involved. The end goal is to have a paraclimbing community whose members can climb independently. Of course, I would also love to see some of them becoming paraclimbing athletes competing at the World Championship or the Paralympics someday. But I’m already happy if they have fun climbing.