New Heights

Rosemary Casey is stoked.

She says it over and over again as her coach hooks her up to the rope. She reaches out for the wall, and as she clambers up, she sweeps her arms and legs around her, searching for other holds she can use to propel herself to the top.

The thing is, Rosemary doesn’t understand how high she’s climbing, and she has no fear.

Not just because she’s six—but because she’s been blind her entire life.

Vertical Adventures was packed on this rainy Sunday, so the environment gave Rosemary a chance to adjust to loud background noise akin to what she can expect at the upcoming Adaptive Nationals Climbing Championship this month. She and a group of her fellow adaptive climbers are getting ready for the fifth annual competition, this year hosted by Vertical Adventures, where they’ll join an estimated 80 to 90 athletes to compete for a chance to go to climbing worlds.

“This is the culmination of a year’s worth of really hard work to get to this point,” says Krista Henehan, director of operations for USA Climbing. “It’s an opportunity for these athletes to showcase their athletic ability and their mental toughness regardless of what may be holding them back or what barriers there are to being part of the climbing community.”

Vertical Adventures was chosen as this year’s location in large part because of its experience with adaptive climbing. The gym itself has a wide variety of angles that will be useful when setting routes, and it’s reserved climbing during the championship to only competitors, although the event is open and free for those who want to observe. VA also has a team of coaches who have built a thriving adaptive climbing program that folks come to regularly from as far away as Youngstown

Keith Warrick started adaptive climbing in Boy Scouts and moved to Vertical Adventures about three years ago. Now, he loves it. “I’m good at it, and it’s challenging, and it’s fun,” said Warrick, who competes in the neuro-physical category.

He and his parents commute almost an hour each way to get to the gym—they’re from West Mansfield—but the drive is worth it, Warrick’s mom Ina says. At last year’s Adaptive Nationals, Keith shocked his parents when he placed at the top of his division. He’s determined to do it again, and he’s training to improve his endurance and footwork so he can be number one in the nation and win a spot in the climbing world championships.

“One of his sayings he said one time was, ‘I know I have disabilities, but I’m not going to let them define who I am. I’m going to define them, and I’m here to live this one life and live it well,’” Ina said, noting how important it is to her that Keith’s coaches challenge him and expect him to show up and put in the effort.

Adaptive climbing in the U.S. is fairly new. The USA Climbing adaptive program informally started in 2012 after Ronnie Dickson, an above-the-knee amputee and elite climber who’s the chair of the adaptive committee for USA Climbing, and his friend went to compete in the Adaptive Climbing World Championships.

Since then, the sport has steadily grown in the U.S. with programs popping up in major cities across the U.S. (It’s also been approved for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics). Although its barriers to entry mean a slower entry rate, Dickson says right now USA Climbing is centrally focused on celebrating and strengthening the community of adaptive climbers as their numbers grow.

“I think what most people find out is that they’re capable of more than what they anticipated so it’s a huge huge vessel for change and vessel for growth,” Dickson said.

The Adaptive Climbing Nationals will be held at Vertical Adventures (6513 Kingsmill Ct.) June 22-24. For more, visit usaclimbing.org.

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