I climbed a wall… Yes, I’m being deadly serious... No, it obviously wasn’t in a conventional way, but when is anything I do conventional? Just listen and I’ll tell you. It’s a great story.
As some of you might already know, I was a student at William Farr School (WFS). I graduated in 2012, but I’ve kept in contact with everyone because they’re a great bunch of people who all have inclusion and diversity running through their core. They accepted my wheels from the word ‘go’ and they didn’t even mind that every door I went through ended up with a chunk missing. I do nothing for the reputation of women drivers!
Anyway, in 2017, WFS officially opened the Jake Shaw Climbing Wall in memory of a former student who tragically died after he fell out of a window whilst on Scout Camp in Kinderstag. The Jake Shaw Climbing Trust was consequently set up to honour his passion for climbing by encouraging and inspiring a love of outdoor pursuits in others. Mission one was to raise £30,000 to build the Wall at the school, so that students could safely experience climbing whilst increasing their fitness levels and confidence, regardless of ability.
When I hear ‘ability’, my immediate thought process jumps to accessibility and integration. A lot of the time, when people harp on about ability they forget about disability. What they actually mean when the words ‘regardless of ability’ are rolled out, is ‘you can access the activity as long as you have fully functional limbs, you’re able to comprehend and follow instructions and your senses are firing on all cylinders’. Therefore, when I approach them with wonky legs, a spazzy arm and dodgy eyesight, they look somewhat baffled by the ‘alien’ sitting in front of them.
The beauty of WFS, and Jenni MacLean, who helps manage Wall-related activities, is the fact that they are on the same wavelength as me and they’re used to my uncensored opinions. Naturally then, when I snuck in to have a nosey at the Wall before it’s opening, they fully expected the subject of accessibility to come up in conversation. Seeing as WFS have always used me as their guinea pig either because I’ve offered, or they’ve roped me in, I was in many ways the ideal candidate to check out how it could work for my fellow ‘aliens’.
Firstly, WFS had to find someone in the know with a willingness to assist those who need to experience climbing in an unconventional way. That person came in the form of Dave Robinson, founder of Reach Out Adventures and Spider-Man impersonator – he leapt up the Wall quicker than an orangutan on speed. Dave runs his company to cater for everyone who wants to give outdoor adventure a go. It doesn’t matter who they are or what their level of ability is. Throughout, his main goal is to provide accessible and inclusive projects to enhance personal development.
It took a lot of planning on WFS’s part, but last Thursday everything was put into action. I got my harness on. That was a new experience in itself. I didn’t realise how snug it would be or how much I’d be squished in places I didn’t want to be squished. There’re more ropes than I’ve ever seen in my life being attached to me, the Wall, and Jenni – my amazing belayer who’s almost as vertically challenged as I am. We were a tad worried that at some point it’d all go pear-shaped and we’d meet each other mid-wall doing a weird interpretive seesaw-style dance. Fear not, that didn’t happen.
I don’t know how to put into words what the climb was like. For someone who can’t walk, let alone hike, I have nothing to compare it to. All I can say is within an instant I became as tall as a giraffe. And for a midget who loves giraffes and who’ll do pretty much anything once, it was the best experience. To say I could see over the top of people’s heads is a huge understatement. For once I wasn’t on the lookout for people who might accidentally sit on my knee because they don’t see me, and I was more concerned about bashing my head on the ceiling.
I didn’t really do much, apart from thoroughly enjoy the ride and grip on to the rope in an attempt to pull my body into an arguable right-angle. My cerebral palsy means that my entire body will go into extension at the first sign of anything remotely strenuous. Whilst my limbs were forcing me to re-enact the Big Bang, Sheldon Cooper, climbing wall scene, Jenni was on ground level putting blood, sweat and tears into keeping me aloft. I had the greatest day!
So, there you go folks. With a lot of help from my friends, I unconventionally mastered the Jake Shaw Climbing Wall. You can do anything you set your mind to.