Adaptive rock climbing empowering athletes with disabilities

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SAN DIEGO — Every day of the week an adaptive climbing group comes together at Mesa Rim, a rock climbing gym in Mission Valley that offers a unique support group for people overcoming all kinds of challenges.

For the last six years, 17-year-old Tatiana Crenshaw has spent several hours a week carefully maneuvering her way up 55 foot walls — mastering the technique with a smile.

“Originally, I didn’t like it because I was so used to being told, ‘This is what you have to do. You’re doing this because you have this,'” said Crenshaw. “My disability basically ran my life. I didn’t want to do this because a doctor or a nurse recommended it.”

Crenshaw was born with cerebral palsy and suffers from social anxiety. It wasn’t until she discovered adaptive rock climbing that her perspective on life began to change.

“It makes me feel more than just a disabled child,” said Crenshaw. “We’re people, we’re all rock climbers, and that’s all that really matters.”

“We’re not thinking about physical disability,” said Norah Schwartz. “We’re thinking about supporting each other, cheering each other on, reaching new goals.”

For Schwartz, that goal was overcoming breast cancer and returning to the sport she practiced for more than 25 years.

“You don’t have to be stuck at home in bed saying ‘ow, ow, ow I hurt,’ I can’t do anything about it,” said Schwartz. “Now, I say ‘ow, ow, ow, I just climbed  that tower.”‘

“To be able to come into a climbing gym and forget about those challenges you have no control over and to be here, you can choose what challenge you want here. People are here to support you,” said Jillian Yatsko, the Mesa Rim adaptive innovative climbing specialist.

Inside the gym, there are no disabilities, no labels or limitations. Instead, these climbers say the challenge is the same for everyone.

“It’s not like you and a team on the wall. It’s just you and the wall,” said Crenshaw. “It’s seeing what you can do. It’s about focusing on yourself and reflecting on how that works.”

“I could hardly lift my arms because I had so much surgery or stand on my feet. Now, I consider myself a rock climber,” said Schwartz. “I don’t even consider myself a challenged rock climber, I’m a rock climber.”

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