Indoor rock climbing special needs showcase

A showcase session at Boulders demonstrated the range of climbing opportunities available to people with special needs. The event highlighted the benefits of this physical and rewarding activity, namely confidence, communication and co-ordination.

For James Edwards, 21, his weekly session at Boulders has given him a sense of achievement after a road traffic accident five years ago left him with no memory and unable to speak, move or swallow. Prior to the accident, James had always been involved in sport, mainly judo, when he was on the verge of making the Welsh national team.

The accident meant James was forced to spend 3 months at the University Hospital of Wales on life support and a further 2 years at Rockwood Hospital in Llandaff, where he required intense rehabilitation. At this time, doctors thought he could be totally paralysed. Very slowly, James started to regain some movement in his fingers and was eventually able to swallow again. It took nearly two years for his speech to emerge.

With James’ health improving, he was eager to find an alternative sport and was introduced to Boulders by Headway, the brain injury association. Despite only being able to use his left-side to climb, the sessions have given James a challenge in life. James’ inspirational story saw him chosen as an Olympic torch-bearer in Brynmawr on May 25th this year.

His mother, Sonia, said: “The climbing sessions have been brilliant for James, both physically and from a social point of view, as James loves making new friends. The sessions focus his mind and Wednesday is the highlight of his week. For him it’s such an amazing thing and it goes to show that you should never say never.”

In another remarkable story, Nikolas Royale, who uses the centre, was the first cerebral palsy sufferer to become a climbing instructor in October 2009. Nikolas was diagnosed with progressive cerebral palsy, caused by a severe head injury when he was 10 years old. Nikolas’ condition means he can walk unaided, but tires very quickly. He therefore uses a wheelchair to help him conserve energy, making his achievement all the more impressive. He also suffers periodically from debilitating relapses, the most severe of which left him with no feeling in his neck down for almost a year. He lives in fear of the day he will lose his mobility altogether. At present, he is eager to raise awareness and money for children in Wales to receive selective dorsal rhizotomy, which aims to ease muscle spasticity by cutting nerves in the lower spine.

Nikolas said climbing had given him a sense of achievement and improved his co-ordination as he learnt the most effective way to scale the walls. A short film, called Equal to Everybody Else, was created to show Nikolas’ attempts to gain his accreditation as a qualified instructor.

In terms of group sessions at Boulders, Venture Out Cardiff runs a one-hour weekly climbing session every Thursday morning. Venture Out was a project set up by Innovate Trust in 2006, with an initial grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

Jonathan Lee, project manager at Venture Out, said: “We mainly deal with people who have learning difficulties, but have had some with mental health issues too. The climbing improves their health and fitness and also provides a good social opportunity. Their communication skills have improved as they are regularly working in a team, while they have developed greater self-confidence as individuals. Boulders is a great place for them to come as the staff are both friendly and flexible to meet the needs of the group.”

This blog originates from Cardiff Disability Sport.

For more information about special needs climbing at Boulders, please contact us.