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Climbing With A Disability - By Hannah Frost


Many people think climbing is a really strenuous sport and if you do it, you must be fit, healthy and strong. But whilst climbing is a demanding sport and the top climbers are incredibly fit and strong, it is also a very technique-based sport and can be easily adapted for people with disabilities. 


I climbed before I identified as physically disabled, and after developing ME/CFS and dysautonomia, I stopped climbing for a few years and threw my passion into other areas of interest, mainly drama. But after finding other para climbers on social media and specifically Anoushé Husain, who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, as well as dysautonomia, I realised I might one day be able to climb again. Over time I found other para climbers with similar disabilities to me but also completely different disabilities, and during a period when my ME/CFS was almost in remission, I realised I might be able to climb again. 


Coming back to climbing with a disability was weirdly the thing I needed to reframe my relationship with the sport, from what had become a negative one focused on needing to be the best and nothing ever being good enough to a more positive one of appreciating the art and technicality of the sport and appreciating what my body could do. 


I realised climbing was actually the perfect sport and very adaptable compared to things recommended by physios and doctors, such as yoga (positional changes make me dizzy and make my chronic migraine worse, also a no for dysautonomia when I was not medicated). Swimming (repetitive, more likely to get RSI’s. Pre-syncope getting out of the pool when dysautonomia was not controlled. Pilates (boring at home, expensive to attend classes). 


Climbing being non-repetitive, reduces the risk of RSI’s. Climbing also can avoid the positional changes that mess with my head and dysautonomia. I can avoid problems or routes with starts that involve bending down so my head is below my heart. Or if I am feeling okay, I can try them for fun, but not too many times. It’s also an interesting sport. Climbing different routes and problems and sometimes having to spend time working on figuring out how to solve a problem keeps the sport interesting. This means I am motivated to exercise and do what I can to keep my hypermobile joints as strong and stable as possible and my stiff muscles that compensate for this instability as mobile as possible. There are a range of different holds and positions. I can avoid the parts of the sport that hurt me or do them less depending on how my joints are feeling. 


There’s climbing on a top rope, lead climbing, bouldering, and various forms of outdoor climbing. I boulder because it’s easier for me to pace as you’re on the wall for 30 seconds to a minute at a time, but if you can’t fall safely or take your own weight, you can top rope so there is no impact associated with the sport. 


It’s also a very easy sport to pace.  It’s not like going for a run where you feel you have to run for a certain amount of time or a certain distance, or like lane swimming where you feel like you need to just keep swimming. It’s common for climbers to take rests between climbs and sit, or for those of us with dysautonomia lie down on the mats. 


There are also many different ways of doing most climbs, meaning people with disabilities can still have a good go at the same climb as their able-bodied counterparts. We might just have to find a different way. 


The paraclimbing community is also very friendly, welcoming and inclusive and with most places now having climbing walls, it’s a relatively easy sport to get into. You don’t even need to invest in gear to start with, as you can hire it until you figure out if it’s something you want to keep doing regularly. 


If you are interested in starting climbing as a disabled person, check out the following organisations:

  • UK Paraclimbing Collective 

  • Leeds Paraclimbing Club

  • Paraclimbing London 

  • Scottish Paraclimbing Club

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