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These rock climbers prove a disability doesn’t define them

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Courtesy of Melissa Howard

(Read caption) Members of the Adaptive Climbing Group take a break between climbing sessions at Brooklyn Boulders in New York.

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[This article first appeared on TruthAtlas.com. TruthAtlas is an online news source featuring multimedia stories about people and ideas making the world a better place. Learn more at www.truthatlas.com.]

On any given day at Brooklyn Boulders in Brooklyn, New York, a wide range of individuals chart their routes of varying difficulty up the rock climbing gym’s walls. Children, novices, seasoned climbers, world-class competitors, and visitors looking for a fun and challenging new experience make up a majority of the gym’s membership.

Since 2012, a group called the Adaptive Climbing Group has sought to widen that demographic by offering climbers with permanent disabilities access to an affordable community program at the gym.

The Adaptive Climbing Group, which is composed of climbers with physical, mental, and/or neurological issues, visits Brooklyn Boulders twice a week to train disabled individuals in proper climbing techniques that have been adapted to their personal abilities and limitations.

Founder Kareemah Batts has played a large role in building this community at the gym, though she says she first started the group to help her get through a tough time in her life.

“Personally for me, it was an outlet emotionally,” said Batts, whose left leg is amputated below the knee. “I survived cancer and became physically disabled, and it allowed me to get closer to people again and also learn more about this community that I became a part of.”

In the past two years, this group has been quite successful in its mission to provide an outlet for disabled individuals in Brooklyn. Its numbers have grown to include members such as Jon Sedor, a 25-year-old climber who won the gold medal in the male upper extremity division of the 2013 Paraclimbing Cup in London after only one year of adaptive climbing, and Avi Golden, a 38-year-old stroke survivor and former paramedic who runs the NYC Outdoors Disability group.

Every month, the Adaptive Climbing Group hosts a number of outings for its members and other disabled individuals around the Northeast who travel to participate in the group’s sessions. Batts first held a clinic for adaptive climbers at Brooklyn Boulders in 2012, and that was the start of what is now known as the Adaptive Climbing Group.

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She said that Brooklyn Boulders was so impressed with the turnout that they reached out to her to organize a regular adaptive climbing workshop.

“A lot of different organizations came and became a part of it,” Batts explained. “The gym loved it so much, they said, ‘When are you going to come back?’ And I said, ‘OK, sure, we’ll do it next year.’ They said, ‘How about next month?’ and here we are for almost two years.”

Since the advent of this community at Brooklyn Boulders, Batts said that she found a sense of family with the group after losing her father, brother, and mother all in the course of one year. It also helped her decide on a career and go back to school for recreational therapy.

“After you have cancer and lose your leg, you’re like, ‘What work do I do? What would I be good at?’” Batts said. “You don’t feel like the same person anymore.”

“It’s funny how things you don’t really think about might turn out to be your career choice and something you naturally do,” she continued. “You can be adamant with how you spend your free time for the rest of your life.”

Part of Batt’s mission with the Adaptive Climbing Group is to give individuals with disabilities a chance to challenge themselves in a different kind of physical therapy. But another goal of hers is to engage disabled individuals in the gym’s community by lowering the price of admission for members of the group, since rock climbing can be quite expensive and many of the people who climb with the group aren’t yet committed climbers.

Brooklyn Boulders offers day passes to members of the Adaptive Climbing Group at half price, and Batts is even starting her own program to urge manufacturers of climbing shoes (which can cost close to $200 for a good pair) to donate their castoffs to amputees who only need a left or right shoe. Both of these priorities allow disabled individuals easier access to climbing facilities, which is a big part of why some people wind up joining the community in the first place. But for some, it’s still all about the support and feeling of involvement in a community that is really passionate about what they do.

“The adaptive climbing group and Kareemah, I would not be where I’m at without them,” said Sedor, who trains multiple times a week at Brooklyn Boulders for competitions. “That group, including Brooklyn Boulders as I became more of a regular here, really gives me a sense of community in New York City. Other than that, I don’t think I would feel as included in something. Kareemah really believes in me, and that means a lot.”

• For information on how you can get involved with the Adaptive Climbing Group, which is always looking for volunteers and accepting new members, visit AdaptiveClimbingGroup.org.

• Melissa Howard, a native Floridian and current resident of Brooklyn, is a multimedia journalist with a widespread set of skills in narrative storytelling and communications. She has worked as a music columnist, political reporter, digital marketing associate, teacher, and editor-in-chief of her student newspaper. Melissa joins the TruthAtlas team after completing her M.S. in Journalism with a concentration in digital media from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Outside of her professional life, Melissa is passionate about music, art, literature, animals, social justice, and innovation. “Write something worth reading or do something worth writing,” a quote by Benjamin Franklin, is her life motto.


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