In her film, Stumped, which appeared in last year’s Reel Rock outdoor sports and rock climbing film showcase, adaptive climber Maureen Beck says, “People look at me say, ‘Wow, you’re climbing with one arm.’ They’re like, ‘Now I have no excuses.'” Beck then looks directly into the camera and adds, “You never had an excuse in the first place.”
Born without her left hand, Beck is a multiple title- and medal-winner in the sport of paraclimbing, or rock climbing for people with physical disabilities. When she isn’t competing, she’s managing the adaptive team for U.S.A. Climbing, encouraging newcomers to join the ever-expanding community of adaptive climbers, and most likely eating cupcakes.
As shown in Stumped, in which she lead climbs a very technical and all-around challenging route in Colorado known as Days of Future Passed, Beck’s more than proven her strength and determination as a climber, full stop — not a female climber and not a climber with one hand. Most recently, Beck was highlighted in the North Face’s Walls Are Meant For Climbing initiative in honor of Global Climbing Day back in August. Around that same time she spoke with Refinery29 over email about her work in the adaptive climbing community, why she actually loves training, and what makes climbing such a unique sport, regardless of a climber’s physical ability.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you start climbing and how long after that did you realize it was something you were passionate about?
“I was very lucky as a kid. I got to go to the coolest girl scout camp ever that had rock climbing — outside, on real granite — as one of the activities that campers could do. It remained my favorite activity through grade school, and became my number one passion in college, when my mom wasn’t around to tell me not to skip class to go climb rocks.
How and when did you decide you wanted to pursue climbing professionally?
“I don’t really consider myself a professional climber. I climb for fun and find work within the community. I started getting busier and busier working with Paradox Sports to educate climbing facilities on how to make their gym and programming more accessible to people with disabilities. I also manage the paraclimbing team for U.S.A. Climbing, a team that is growing at an exponential rate. At the same time, I was training 40 hours a week for competition climbing and starting to go on longer climbing trips. Taking a break from the desk job gave me more time to take more work on in the climbing community — as well as allow me time to train even harder and see how hard I could push myself.”
In your video for the North Face’s Walls Are Meant For Climbing initiative, you describe joining Paradox Sports as a sort of perspective-shifting moment — what was it like joining a community of people who don’t define themselves by any “disability,” so to speak?
“Paradox struck a chord with me because the attitude was, ‘We’re climbers first,’ and somewhere down the list was ‘Oh, and we also happen to be missing limbs, vision, etc. No big deal.’ The atmosphere that it creates is one of total inclusion — there was no line between volunteers and participants, because everyone in the room is a climber first, and we want to educate all of our ‘participants’ to have the skills they need to be an equal climbing partner. Rather than just having a day-long experience, we’re trying to create a lifelong one.”
When you’re actually tied in and climbing, it’s just about you and the route — all of the other people, voices, and problems you may be having in the world just fall away.
As an ambassador for Paradox Sports, what’s the number one piece of advice you give to beginner adaptive climbers?
“‘It’s going to be a lot of work!’ …That is the same advice I’d give to any beginner climber, regardless of physical ability. Climbing is super hard at first, but you can quickly train your body and brain, and then the fun begins. You don’t have to be that good at climbing to get that rush of accomplishment.”
What do you do to stay motivated when training and competing?
“Call me a sicko, but I really enjoy training! I find it so motivating that I have the power to use my body like a machine and make it do really cool things if I train hard. I’m a bit of a training nerd and like to track my days and new PR’s [personal records] and turn it into a real-life video game of high scores. It’s so fascinating that just a few weeks of hard work can make me a totally different climber. I also like winning competitions – that gold medal is a pretty strong motivator.”
“I have the best friends and climbing partners in the world. They motivate me to get out early and stay out late on the rock. All climbing is good climbing, but lately I’ve been really into granite – sport climbing here in Boulder, and trad climbing down in the South Platte.”
What’s next for you? Do you have any major projects or are you training for any upcoming events?
“I’m always trying to do harder and harder climbs, and usually have a handful of active hard ones (projects) that I’m working on. I just came back from my first alpine expedition, and I’m already planning the next one for summer ’19. Just next week I have the world climbing championships, where I’m a two-time defender. I’m staying pretty busy!”
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