Reaching new heights—adaptive rock climbing comes to Maggie Daley Park

By Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

Published July 4, 2018

At first glance, the Maggie Daley Climbing Wall might seem daunting.

The mere thought of ascending 40 feet by gripping tiny rocks would give anyone pause, let alone someone in a wheelchair.

But, through a partnership between Adaptive Adventures and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, anyone who wants to climb can.

Al Schiewe, one of the adaptive climbing lead volunteers, secures climber Suzen Riley in the ARC (adaptive ropes course) harness in preparation for her ascent. Photo by Angela Gagnon

For the third year, the Maggie Daley’s Climbing Wall hosts climbing opportunities every second and fourth Monday of the month for people with physical disabilities. Instruction, adaptive gear, support and encouragement are all provided.

Chris Werhane, the adaptive sports lead
in Chicago, says the Intro to Climbing
program welcomes about 40 climbers and
volunteers.

“We focus on what’s most comfortable
for the person climbing, what’s needed for
them to be successful,” Werhane said.
The adaptive equipment options can be
customized to fit the climber’s needs.

Oak Park resident and climber Suzen Riley uses an adaptive ropes course (ARC) harness along with the pulley system and handle-bar style “ascender” to experience the thrill of the climb. When she climbs, volunteer belays assist with the pulley system, and Riley grips the ascender to ratchet herself up.

“When you get up there, it’s so beautiful,” Riley said. “It’s good exercise and you feel this exhilaration that you’ve actually done it.”

The trained volunteers who assist with the climbs are just as vital to the process as the equipment.

Some climbers use side support wherein a volunteer climbs next to them as they ascend the wall. The side climber might help place a weaker limb on the rock or provide verbal assistance for visually impaired climbers. There is no limit to the styles and customized assistance climbers can use.

Adaptive Adventures was founded in 1999 by two individuals with physical disabilities who saw a need for sporting opportunities. Adaptive Adventures provides programs, camps and clinics for cycling, climbing, kayaking, skiing, sailing, scuba and more.

Greg Zbrezezny, the Chicago Program Director of Adaptive Adventures, added that they provide scholarships, too.

“The goal is to make it accessible to everyone,” said Chicago volunteer and belayer Megan Snowder.

The outdoor program will run through October, weather permitting. To learn more or to register, visit www.adaptiveadventures.org

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *