GREAT FALLS – A climbing gym might not be a place you would expect to see someone with physical limitations. But Eagle Mount Great Falls, an adaptive recreation organization, and the Hi-Line Climbing Center are setting their own expectations with their climbing program.
“It’s a really cool partnership to bring adaptive means to a really cool sport,” said Stephanie Richardson, Eagle Mount program coordinator. At first look, participants like Ryan Chagnon, who arrives at the gym with the help of his walker, seem like unlikely candidates for climbing.
On Good Friday — Friday 13, 2001 — then 17-year-old Chagnon was in a violent car accident near Havre. He was ejected from the blazer he was driving and became pinned underneath. The vehicle cut off oxygen to his brain. Chagnon explains he died three different times and went into a coma for four days. 18 years later, Ryan has never given up his fight to recover.
He lives on his own in Great Falls and leads an active life, but things like walking and speech remain challenging. When he gets on the climbing wall and off the ground, however, something changes.
“You have finesse when you’re on the wall,” said Richardson (to Chagnon). Amazingly, Chagnon climbs with no physical assistance or special equipment.
As he climbs, he is working on his mind more than his muscles; he has to calm his body and think through each move. “He’s using his brain to start in one section of the gym and traverse across and work through his strength, because he’s got a lot of strength and figure out how to keep moving,” Richardson said.
When the program is running, Chagnon climbs once or twice a week. Not every climb is a success, but even when he falls on the protective pads below, Chagnon pops right back up. “I haven’t seen very much stop him, which is pretty cool,” said Richardson.
There is no doubt that climbing helps Chagnon live a fuller life, and Richardson sees that benefit for many.
“The biggest thing that I see is the self confidence that rock climbing can offer,” she explained. “So, you start with a small problem on the wall and you work at it, and you achieve it. And there’s something very powerful that happens with your soul when you set a goal and you reach that goal.”
The program meets all kinds of needs. Eagle Mount staff and volunteers train in using adaptive equipment that can even provide those confined to a wheelchair the ability to climb the Hi-Line walls. It’s a program of inclusion, confidence and community — where the only limit is the gym ceiling.
The climbing program begins again on May 1. People interested in participating or volunteering can reach out to Eagle Mount Great Falls.
-Reported by Joe Huisinga/MTN News