For the month of November, First Ascent is hosting the Paradox Mile, an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for Paradox Sports, an organization that supports adaptive climbers in their pursuit of outdoor climbing. Blind climber and FA member Shawn Sturges is a sponsored Paradox Athlete, so here’s his take on what the Paradox Mile means to him. It’s not too late to get started climbing your own 5,280 ft (106 routes or 352 boulder problems), and great prizes are up for grabs for the top fundraisers. Click here to register for your mile, grab a score card at any FA location next time you’re in, and start climbing!

Rock climbing did not become a part of my life until I moved to Chicago almost four years ago. I was introduced to the sport by another adaptive climber and instantly fell in love on my very first trip up the wall. What I soon found out was that climbing offered me an escape from my everyday struggles as a blind man in our world. While on the wall, nothing else matters, especially not my lack of vision, because vision is not the “end all be all” in climbing.

I quickly found myself wanting to be at the gym as much as possible, so I obtained a membership to a climbing gym in order to climb four to five days per week.Soon I found myself at my first U.S. Adaptive National Competition in 2016, where I finished second in the visually impaired category.This earned me a spot to compete at the 2016 IFSC World Adaptive competition in Paris, France. However, upon my return I found myself wanting more out of climbing than competition.

What I truly wanted was to begin climbing outdoors. I ran into many road blocks along the way. Climbing peers would tell me that they did not want the responsibility of taking me outside. But I was not going to let that deter me from accomplishing my goal of climbing outside.

I began asking fellow adaptive climbers who I had met at competitions how they were able to get outside. That’s when I found out about Paradox Sports and contacted them.  I found out they would be my best bet to reach my goal at least in the beginning of my outdoor climbing adventures. My first trip with Paradox was to Joshua Tree National Park, in a skills-based camp aimed at teaching methods and skills for climbing outside. I learned anchor building, traditional climbing, various knots, risk management, and rappelling. I felt that I had found a group of people who did not use my blindness as a reason to not take me outside.

Paradox is an organization that focuses on showing adaptive athletes what you can do and not what you can’t. Paradox agrees with me: although my disability is a part of me, it does not define who I am. These days, I spread the mission and vision of Paradox not only to adaptive climbers who want to experience the outdoors, but also to those who want to be more involved with adaptive climbing. Recently, I joined the Paradox family as an ambassador athlete, where I can use my own experiences and adventures to hopefully inspire others to reach their own goals.

Since that time in Joshua Tree I have been on several trips with Paradox across the country including the Rockies, Eldorado Canyon, the Red River Gorge, and the Gunks. These trips allowed me to start building connections with climbers and to begin planning trips of my own. Last fall, I planned a trip to Devil’s Tower and Vedauwoo with climbers I met through Paradox.

Over the past several months I have worked with both Paradox Sports and First Ascent in order to bring The Paradox Mile to our gym. This is a month-long fundraiser in which climbers aim to climb a vertical mile and raise money at the same time. Even more, it’s a campaign to bring awareness to the community, to show what people with disabilities can accomplish despite their disability. Since I joined the climbing community years ago, I have seen how climbers from all walks of life come together to support others in the community. I have witnessed this first hand since the launch of “The Paradox Mile” – I have had the opportunity to talk to more people at the gym than I ever had before. The overwhelming support of First Ascent and the community around “The Mile” is amazing;  I couldn’t ask for a better gym to host this fundraiser.

A person’s disability should not be a deterrent on whether or not to take them outside. Paradox provides an outlet for adaptive climbers to experience the outdoors across the country, and I know the FA family is onboard.I strive to bring both non-adaptive and adaptive climbers together, because at the end of the day we all identify as climbers. If I can accomplish one thing through this month-long event, it is to inspire those not to fear taking someone with a disability on a climbing trip. But if this is still a concern, just know that there are organizations that can help you learn how you can help take an adaptive climber outside.

My final words of wisdom: the next time you see an adaptive climber at the gym, stop by and say “hi!” You never know what you can learn: in adaptive climbing, creativity is the name of the game.

Shawn Sturges is an adaptive climber and First Ascent member. Follow him on Instagram @theblindascent.

Photos courtesy of Shawn Sturges and Daria Taylor.