No Barriers in Eldorado!

While I was away in Nepal this October climbing with our soldiers, the team at No Barriers USA held an exciting event near Boulder, Colorado. No Barriers is the non-profit organization on which I serve as a director. The purpose of this event was to raise awareness about the upcoming No Barriers Summit that will be held June 30-July 3 next summer in nearby Winter Park, Colorado.

Nicole Spader, our Executive Director, organized this showcase on an unseasonably warm fall afternoon in Eldorado Canyon State Park. Visitors and media were treated to the unusual sight of two people with physical disabilities demonstrating adaptive climbing techniques.

My friend Mark Wellman, founder of No Barriers and an accomplished paraplegic climber who has ascended more than 50 peaks in the Sierra Nevada, demonstrated the pull-up technique he pioneered on his famous ascent of Yosemite's 3,300-ft El Capitan. “When you're up there,” he says, “you're in a different environment, where it's a level playing field with able-bodied athletes. There is no other feeling like it.”

Considering that Mark’s ascent of El Cap required 7,000 pull-ups and 7 days, this day's brief effort was a mere sprint. Since the accident that left him a paraplegic nearly 30 years ago, he has climbed, hand-cycled, and sit-skied all over the world and “had fun over the years” inspiring athletes with disabilities to “share my passion” for outdoor sports.

The indomitable Chanda Hinton climbed next. When she was only nine years old, an accidental gun shot damaged her spinal cord at C5, leaving her a quadriplegic. Now, at 28, Chanda has started her own high-impact non-profit (the Chanda Plan) that advocates integrative therapies for people with disabilities who suffer from debilitating pain and quality of life issues. She was introduced to adaptive kayaking and cycling at the 2009 No Barriers Summit, activities she now enjoys with her able-bodied husband.

To climb the cliff in Eldorado Canyon, Chanda used a specially designed pulley system with a supportive, swinging chair. Says Chanda, "What I love about No Barriers is that I am allowed and trusted to do this on my own. The chair fits my body and by pulling my arms up, I move higher up on the rope.” After the climb, she gushed, “It is liberating, empowerment, hope. It gets you in a space you're not normally in.”

During a media interview, Chanda was asked what she'd say to people saying “no way” about a quadriplegic's ability to rock-climb. With characteristic spirit, she retorted, “I say, YES WAY!”

A special thanks goes out to Malcolm Daly and the Paradox Sports crew for leading the climb, as well as to Mark Wellman.