Valley kids leave disabilities behind on rock-climbing wall (video)

The Fresno BeeApril 6, 2014 

Wheelchairs, disabilities and injuries were left behind Sunday as 16 children climbed to the top of a 40-foot rock-climbing wall.

The kids -- ranging in age from 4 to teens -- were at MetalMark Climbing & Fitness in Fresno, at an event arranged by the Adaptive Sports Program at Children's Hospital Central California.

The program serves kids ages 2 to 21 who have disabilities, birth defects or have suffered physical trauma. They go water skiing, kayaking, zip lining and on other outings that would be difficult for parents to organize on their own, said the program's founder and director, Dr. Jennifer Crocker.

On Sunday, they were focused on climbing as high up the rock-climbing wall as they could, regardless of their bodies' limitations.

"They're accomplishing something on their own," she said. "It's a psychological and emotional high for them. It's incredibly empowering.

It was the first climb for Brooke Jordan, 7, of Lemoore. Brooke has cerebral palsy and limited movement in her legs and one of her arms. She's usually in a wheelchair.

But Sunday she was strapped into a harness and pink and purple knee pads and -- after a brief moment of panic -- climbing up the wall.

In addition to the standard belay line climbers use for safety, she was attached to another rope and a pulley that allowed someone on the ground to bear most of her weight and pull her up when needed. Rachel Aebi of Fresno, a MetalMark member who knows Brooke through her job at Valley Orthopedic, climbed side-by-side with Brooke, helping her with hand placement when she needed it.

Brooke's parents, Lindsay and Todd Jordan, watched from the ground.

"I get nervous for her because she's scared, but I know once she does it she'll love it," Lindsay Jordan said.

To cheers and cries of "Come on, Brookie Loo," Brooke climbed almost all the way to the top -- just feet below a bell that climbers who reach the top can ring.

"A couple of times she's like, 'I want to stop,' (but) she saw the bell and she wanted to ring it," Aebi said.

From then on out, Brooke was all smiles. Back on the floor, high-fives were swapped and she declared the climb "super easy."

"That was amazing," said her dad, his voice cracking. "I always get emotional."

The Adaptive Sports Program is a chance for kids to do something they wouldn't otherwise get to do, said Crocker, the founder.

Parents aren't likely to spend large amounts of money on special equipment on a sport they're not sure their child will like, she said. The program allows them to try it for free and socialize with other kids and parents.

It's all paid for by donations and is not part of the hospital budget. The program is seeking donations to send children to wheelchair basketball camp and for equipment to allow children to play ice hockey using a sled on skates.

Several success stories have come out of the program, including a young woman who had an ATV accident and now attends a college in Arizona on a full wheelchair tennis scholarship.

While many of the children were climbing for the first time Sunday, some were old pros, including 10-year-old Adrianna Vanaman of Clovis.

Born with spina bifida, Adrianna has rods in her spine, can't feel from the waist down and uses a wheelchair. But this was her fourth or fifth climb up the wall, and she's been water skiing, zip lining and wheelchair racing.

"She's my daredevil," said mom Dianne Vanaman. "Her wheelchair doesn't stop her. She'll try anything."


How to help

The Adaptive Sports Program is seeking donations for kids to go to wheelchair basketball camp and to play ice hockey with special equipment. You can make a donation online at www.waystogive.childrenscentralcal.org or by mailing a check to Children's Hospital Central California, noting that it is for the Adaptive Sports Program.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6431, bclough@fresnobee.com or @BethanyClough on Twitter.

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