The Sleeparu (Because Sprinters are for Sissies)

I'm appreciate that culturally, climbing is a sport that celebrates individuals who live in or sleep in their cars. There does seem to be a certain level of extra appreciation/perceived romanticism for those who give it all up - the job, the mortgage, the three cats and a parakeet- to live in their $50,000 converted Sprinter van. As of today (6/14/2017) the hash tag #vanlife gets 1,543,740 hits on Instagram.

What about the rest of us? We weekend warriors, we fearless many? Those of us who need to commute, transport passengers, get good MPG, have a load of furbabies to transport but want to sleep in the comfort of a cozy car cocoon? Who aren't afraid to travel for a few days without a queen sized bed, full kitchen, and enough space to have a rave with 17.5 other people- but love to be able to crash in a Wal Mart lot when needed?

I give you: THE SLEEPARU. I bought my Subaru Impreza in 2012 for about $23k. I paid it all off this year and decided to go big into figuring out how to make it the perfect combination of an RV and a zippy commuter car. I spent a lot of time planning where everything should live to maximize comfort, space, and efficiency. I've been rocking this a few months now, and I've got my system dialed. Yes my car is dirty, and I decided to take pics with the car mostly unloaded so you can see the goods. I'll add geared up photos later. 

Plan View of the Sleeparu

Plan View of the Sleeparu

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Essential Components

Curtains: I tried a lot of different things, with the initial goal to have nothing permanently attached so I could still sell my car at some point. I started with magnets embedded in fabric that would stick to the door frame - that worked until I sneezed and the whole thing would fall off. Velcro would peel off everything but the glass in my rear window. So, I said screw it and screwed in -  I own the damn car and a few holes in the carpet won't make or break the sale of a beater Impreza. I ended up with these from Camping World and they're great! I bought clearance blackout curtains from Target, cut to size and installed. 

It's my car, I'll put holes in it if I want!

It's my car, I'll put holes in it if I want!

Curtains Closed = Snuggle Fest for One

Curtains Closed = Snuggle Fest for One

For the rest of the curtains I hung a rod between the oh-shit handles behind the front seats, and the rear window is a Velcro panel. All along I have some Velcro and tie points to really secure the fabric down and in place. The set up might not be Wal Mart parking lot perv proof, but it's totally great for camping at any crag. When not in use, all tie out of the way so you can still drive around with no blocked lines of sight. Finally, I got a front window sun blocker to add another layer of dark. Result? I totally comfy cocoon that I can sleep in, roll windows down for a breeze, and get changed without worrying about giving the world a free show. 

Platform folded up so front seat can slide back. Bed storage in footwell. I need to vacuum. 

Platform folded up so front seat can slide back. Bed storage in footwell. I need to vacuum. 

Sleeping Platform: With my front seat slid all the way forward, I had plenty of room to stretch out. But, the surface of the flat seats was uneven, and I was forever stuffing packs in the footwell to sleep on, then would inevitably need something out of the bottom pack. So, I wanted a platform, but it also needed to be modular so I could slide the front seat back when not sleeping.  I also couldn't have the platform be super tall - no storage underneath- the Impreza does NOT have a lot of headroom to spare!

That said, since it would have to be raised to some degree to accommodate the slope and level, I decided to pop a retractable table underneath. It simply pulls out and has a single fold down leg, and hooks on the inside of the trunk on the other side. With one sheet of 8x4 3/4" birch, I was able to build platform, table, and a windscreen for my stove.  I did carpet the top of the platform so my sleeping pad wouldn't slide around. 

The platform does attach to a ring in the frame of the car so if I were to get in an accident, I wouldn't have a plywood projectile.  I did poly the wood, and I'll probably add a few coats each season just to keep up with scratches. the best part about the platform is I can remove it, by myself, and it stores in the garage very small.

Dinner, then card games. Not regulation beer pong sized. 

Dinner, then card games. Not regulation beer pong sized. 

Cozy and well lit. 

Cozy and well lit. 

Power & Lights: I'll admit, I'm a Glamper. I like to read my books by a decent light, have my white noise app going all night, and keep my phone charged. I decided to splurge on a system from Goal Zero, combining a Yeti Power Station with a series of chainable and adjustable lanterns. The power station can run the lanterns, charge every phone in the group, and still be going strong after 5 days. No more dead car batteries for me! The station stays fixed, and the lanterns move around as I need them - on the back hatch when cooking or hanging out, and over my pillow for reading and snoozing. 

*****

Now, I do need clearance sometimes, or am going on a longer or more gear intensive trip. For that, I have a built out 2009 Tacoma - and I'll do a post on that one in the future!

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"I like that you're bragging that you made it as first place when you were 1 of 1. Have to say it, but at least be forthcoming about not really being compared to something and state that you had no competition. I'm all for encouraging more women and women with disabilities to climb, but the way you are doing it is misleading. Also, being third of three isn't any better when you sell it as something greater."

The above quote is from a rockclimbing.com forum post in response to a write up I did about my first season competing as a paraclimber. I wasn't lying, or exaggerating - I had come in first and third in the national comps that year. The problem was, he wasn't lying, either. 

Can you still be the best, even if it's because you just happened to show up? I'm boarding a flight tomorrow for bouldering nationals, knowing that (barring a plane crash or crippling food poisoning) I've already won gold, because I'm the only female upper limb competing*. Again.

No doubt, there is major growth in the sport happening. I just don't know if it's going to happen soon enough for me to get rid of that nagging voice some internet troglodyte planted in my brain all of those years ago.  

Nationals 2014. No need for the wide shot - there was no one else on the podium. Also...I was chubbier then.

Nationals 2014. No need for the wide shot - there was no one else on the podium. Also...I was chubbier then.

And then there were two. Nationals 2015.

And then there were two. Nationals 2015.

What number would it take for me to feel like I've earned it? How big would the field need to be so I don't feel like every time I say 'I won the world championships!' I feel guilty if I don't qualify it with '...but there were only 6 of us.'  I have no idea. Ten sounds good. I think we could get there for 2020 worlds, especially if other countries allow more of their national competitors to compete at the world level even if they don't have a large field at home (I'm looking at you, France). 

Until then, I'll keep plugging along, winning by default. I justify it by hoping someone else with a disability will see me, and decide to give climbing a shot. They won't see me if I'm holed up in the basement, pouting over medals I feel like I haven't really earned. Dust off, get on that plane, and climb as if it were a field of 500. 

Finally, a full podium and my biggest field yet. 6.

Finally, a full podium and my biggest field yet. 6.

 

 

*There totally could be someone new there that will kick my ass, I really hope so and I'll be sure to update accordingly!

When Gold Isn't Enough

Let's start with the facts: I went to Paris for the World Championships, and I won the gold medal. I am the World Champion. I beat everyone else in my category, fair and square. This is the thing I have been training for years for, to earn my spot on top of that podium while our national anthem played.  That should be it, right? Let's celebrate and go home!

"Oh, geeze," I can hear you say. "There's going to be a wildly ungrateful 'but' here, isn't there?" Yup. That's going to be the point of this whole post. If you can't stomach some whining, check out my favorite instagram account, Goastigram. Otherwise, bear with me and read on. 

Next on stage in Paris, Photo by Jen Gold

Next on stage in Paris, Photo by Jen Gold

There's something that isn't quite healthy about being a higher level competitive athlete. Your approach to a sport becomes obsessive as you craft the rest of your life - jobs, friendships, other interests, marriages - to best suit the ONE activity, that one prize that you're gunning for. I spent the last two years finding that every cliche about sacrifice was totally true, but hopefully worth it: Spain was a freebie. I didn't climb as well as I'd like, and I wasn't going to let that happen again. I wanted to win in France decisively, and leave no doubts that I really was the BEST. 

Unfortunately, while I left France with the gold medal, I did not leave feeling like I was certainly the best. The routes, all three of them, were too easy. A good competition route is one that everyone gets off of the ground, but only one person tops, and everyone gets spit off at a different point along the way. Your score comes from how high you get, so a good route leaves the competitor placements crystal clear. The routes in Spain were like that. The routes in France were not.

"But...that looks like 5.9..." Photo by Jen Gold

"But...that looks like 5.9..." Photo by Jen Gold

We all knew it. From when we were told we wouldn't be competing on the steep, challenging lead wall like we had been training for, but on vertical speed wall. From when we saw the first qualifier routes to when we saw the last route at finals.  I climbed three routes there, and they felt like 5.8, 11a, and 10c. Not the level I (or others) had been training for, and not the challenge that this level of competition deserves. 

What gives? Did they underestimate our gimpy prowess? Was the paraclimbing competition just a side show, an after thought to the pro, able bodied athletes?  Was our principle reason being there not to compete, but to be the feel good inspiration for the spectators? I don't know, and I doubt we ever will. I don't think the IFSC did anything intentional to make the competition less than stellar, and I did feel like they were treating us like serious athletes. 

On qualifier #2 - Photo by Andrew Chao 

On qualifier #2 - Photo by Andrew Chao 

Still, something didn't set right. The final score came down to a three way tie breaker: We both topped finals. Call back to qualifiers...where we had tied again. The final tiebreaker was speed, where I did beat my competition - and not by a little. By a lot. But we weren't here for speed, so my gold medal is missing a significant amount of glimmer. 

Maybe I got lucky. Maybe if it had been set harder, I would have lost. I'm now more motivated than ever to get strong, so that the next time I see my competition, I can win. For real.

Whiny rant over, now go check out Goastigram.

Prepping for Nationals (Cutting back on Cupcakes and Wine)

Trying to focus your training for a once or twice a year execution is kind of like trying to be the best little girl possible for when Santa visits. Now and then you get motivated to stay on the nice list by doing your chores when told, but by July you're fighting with your little brother, not doing dishes, and generally making bad choices because Christmas is just SO FAR AWAY and there's plenty of time to redeem yourself.

'Oh HAI! I'm a serious competitor, mmkay?' Photo by Andrew Chao, Nationals 2015

'Oh HAI! I'm a serious competitor, mmkay?' Photo by Andrew Chao, Nationals 2015

That's training for comps for me. As a paraclimber, I'll only get the chance to do between one and three comps a year. I'll get psyched and hit the gym hard. I'll eat better. I'll do all of my at-home and shoulder health workouts. I'll drink kale derivatives. At some point though, I'll have a long week at work, have a friend in town visiting, or just want to hang out with my dogs so I'll take it easy...too easy, as by the end of a binge I find myself surrounded by empty Malbec bottles, the remains of chicken nugget happy meals, cupcake wrappers and a bruised spirit of motivation. "Oh no, not again!" I'll moan while picking french fries out of my seat cushions. But, I know I can ultimately recover if I just focus, recenter on whatever ultimate date the comp is, and move on. 

Photo taken on a day of focus and clarity, closed by eating an entire pizza by myself.

Photo taken on a day of focus and clarity, closed by eating an entire pizza by myself.

Despite the dietary set backs and more time spent outside 'fun' climbing than training, I'm headed into this years nationals feeling pretty relaxed. I sent my hardest redpoint yet outside and my mental game feels strong. It helps that this is my third trip to Nationals - I know what to expect, I can picture what the routes will be like, and I'm confident that my main goal of making the team will be achievable.

At my first 'abled' comp in a decade - at Earth Treks Golden, CO

At my first 'abled' comp in a decade - at Earth Treks Golden, CO

In the future, what I'd like to see happen are more paraclimbing comps, all over the country. In the nearer future, I'd like to see paraclimbing offered as a stand alone category at local gym comps - in addition to youth, open, advanced, etc. Now, what THAT means in turn is that myself and my other gimpy climber friends need to put ourselves out there in the world starting NOW. Start entering abled bodied comps. Train in the gym. Up the volume on your already badass self. I'll admit, it's hard to motivate (and pay for) a comp where your only goal is to not come in last, but DO IT. Challenge yourself and normalize the concept of adaptive climbing being no big deal.

I fly out for the 2016 Nationals tonight. As I sit here drinking my ginger and matcha cucumber smoothie (just kidding, it's a chocolate chip cookie and a Mountain Dew) I'm already getting psyched for competitions after Nationals - whatever, whoever, whatever they may be. 

72 Hours in Vegas

430 AM DOESN'T FEEL LIKE IT'S THAT EARLY when you haven't slept in two days. Wait, that's hyperbolic- when you can squeeze in a few winks on a red eye flight and in between a tent collapsing on your face in a high desert wind storm - you've kind of slept. This was my first trip to Red Rocks, just outside of Las Vegas, so that just seems like a part of the deal. 

Sunrise on Red Rocks, Las Vegas NV

Sunrise on Red Rocks, Las Vegas NV

"The gate opens at 6," Christina said over a loaded pack, explaining the lore of the early morning starts needed for Red Rock's most classic lines. "We need to be at the gate by 530. Maybe earlier. And then we need to haul ass across the approach so no one passes us. NO ONE can pass us." 

And no one would pass us. We were the second car at the gate; when a third car made a move to squeeze by us at a wide spot on the road, Christina wheeled our little rental like it had the soul of a formula one car and blocked that poor, greedy bastard.  This was our first 1:1 climbing trip together - taken on a whim ("hey flights to Vegas are like $200, wanna go?")  and now here we were, careening down the one-way park road just after sunrise at questionably legal speeds. Did I mention that I had just quit my job, and the Tuesday morning we got back to Denver Christina would be my new boss at my new job? Yeah, my life is weird. And awesome. But mostly weird. 

Appropriate desert ninja attire with the hood popped up - this gal ain't getting sunburned.

Appropriate desert ninja attire with the hood popped up - this gal ain't getting sunburned.

At the trail head, we loaded up our heavy packs and started trekking across the desert. I thought I knew what a desert felt like, smelled like. I'd spent a lot of time in them in Colorado and Utah, but this was Nevada - LAS VEGAS - where nothing is half assed. There were real life flowering cacti. Scorpions. Allegedly, desert tortoises. And it was a certain level of dry that has you sucking the life out of your hydration hose as you sprint across the flats towards the steep scree field at the base of the mountain. 

'We're...crap...the turn...this isn't...there's another group headed up!' Christina puffed when she realized we had missed a turn. Making our way across goat paths, we desperately moved as quickly as we could so as not to lose our coveted spot. It was safe to assume that every human being we saw out there on the flats had the same objective we did: Crimson Chrysalis, a 10 pitch Grade IV 5.8 that on three other occasions Christina had gotten turned around by too many parties on route. This would not be that time. 

Me, before the death march, with my pointer at the base of the climb

Me, before the death march, with my pointer at the base of the climb

We hit the scree field as the sun started cooking the landscape. Our pace slowed, I could feel every nut, every inch of rope and every ounce of water sinking its weight into the soles of my feet. The hill steepened but we were getting closer, and it seemed like the first spot was ours. On a SUNDAY during peak season. Unbelievable. I stopped to rest, turning around to check on Christina who had started to slow. She rounded a corner and looked up at me with panic in her eyes: 'RUN. There's a party of three right behind me!'

No further encouragement needed. My heart felt like it was going to explode but I'd be damned if we didn't keep our spot. The last 200 yards of trail wore on, but finally I slid over the last boulder like Jim Abbott* sliding into home plate. Panting and stumbling, I pulled our rope off of my pack and ceremoniously draped it across the start of the climb, marking our spot. 

'Dibs!' I gasped, '...after you guys?'

Two older gentleman were racking up at the base of the climb and stared at me like I was a crazy lady who had just sprinted two miles through the desert at 6 am. 'Hey,' I struggled to say nonchalantly, sweat dripping out of every pore. 'I hear this is supposed to be a sweet climb.'

How the hell did they beat me there? Did they cheat and get into the park before the gate was open? Did they pass us while we were turned around in the scrub? How can I be so thirsty yet have to pee so bad? How am I going to not pee for ten pitches? I didn't know, and it didn't matter. Second party it was. 

****

When it rains in Red Rock, you do Vegas

When it rains in Red Rock, you do Vegas

IT TURNS OUT, it wasn't our day regardless. The party of three and the party after that skeered off after they saw there were two groups queued already. But the party of the older guys was too slow. They took a long time on the first pitch, so we waited for the follower to launch off the start of the second before we even started to head up. Christina got to the top of the first pitch only to have the guy's ropes drop on her - they were bailing after two due to a forecast of high winds. Not wanting to be the only party on a route where ropes notoriously get eaten (an ironic position given our race to BE the only party on route, or at least the first) we also decided to bail. Something felt off, and the weather looked sketchy. Stranded, cold, benighted and full of pee 1,000 feet off of the deck is not something I felt like working into my first Red Rocks trip.

The next day it rained, and we caught our 8PM flight out after a day of cruising the strip, exploring other climbing areas, and trying to blend in with the crowd at the Bellagio.  Friday night to Monday night. I crammed in as much mileage as I could - turns out with the weather, there wasn't a lot of mileage to be had. 

Is it weird that my most memorable few hours of the trip was not the stellar climbing we did squeeze in between bad weather, but the toiling miserable hike to a failed objective? Maybe. Probably. Insert uplifting metaphor and deep, meaningful words about failure here - whatever, I'll be heading back to Vegas soon to do it all again. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Jim Abbot was a one armed baseball player. See what I did there?

Learning to Fall Up

Twelve snot nosed girl scouts are lined up on a wooded path, deep in the north woods of Maine. The low hum of black flies almost drowns out the high pitched whine of fussy pre teens. A weary, under paid and overworked camp counselor ignores the chatter and takes the worn end of a rope in one hand. She begins to climb up a massive boulder. No shoes, no spotter - she simply claws her way up the humidity soaked granite until she reaches the (single) ancient glue in bolt at the peak. She haphazardly threads one end of the rope through the bolt, and down climbs the rock until she she's back on the soft earth, an end of the rope in each hand. 

'LADIES,' she shouts, 'WHO'S FIRST?'

The Camp Natarswi climbing rock - it's totally safe, because rug. Photo by Emily 'Switchback' Zimmerman.

The Camp Natarswi climbing rock - it's totally safe, because rug. Photo by Emily 'Switchback' Zimmerman.


FOR EVERY STORY OF A GIRL BORN INTO MOUNTAINS that has the luck and romanticism of climbing from an early age, there are thousands like mine: a first climbing experience on some shit pile rock with old gear and questionable safety practices. I come from a moderately outdoorsy family - we hiked a few times a year, did the obligatory all-American car camping trips, and spent a lot of time attempting to boat with engines that sometimes worked and canoes that sometimes didn't sink. 

It wasn't until I shipped off to girl scout camp that I was exposed to high mileage backpacking and speed hikes. We'd look at a Baxter State Park trail map, trace how many peaks we could link in a loop in a day, and set off before sun up to do a ridiculous trek of insane elevation and mileage. 20 mile days were lazy days and after 17 ascents of Mt Katahdin, we all had our favorite above tree line poop spots picked out. 

I don't share poop beta, sorry. Mt Katahadin from Natarswi.

I don't share poop beta, sorry. Mt Katahadin from Natarswi.

Of all the new activities I was exposed to at a summer camp, climbing is the one that stuck with me. I could be writing this blog about archery, near drowning on sunfishes, or extreme basket weaving but I'm not - it's the climbing that cut to my core and became a deep part of who I am today. At 12 years old, I tried a random sport one hot, humid afternoon and walked away with a nagging feeling of 'That was something. Really something.'

It doesn't get more circa 1998 than a shell necklace, baggy cargo pants, and 'rock climbing' behind the county jail. 

It doesn't get more circa 1998 than a shell necklace, baggy cargo pants, and 'rock climbing' behind the county jail. 

It took a while to materialize, but by high school I was begging my (super broke) parents to get me guided trips in Acadia. I was looking at colleges close to good climbing, and even started getting my friends to join me on some gnarly first ascents behind the county jail - well documented with our disposable cameras. Of course it was easy fourth class scrambling, with the greatest hazards being the shattered beer bottles and the still lit cigarettes that would fly down from the prison exercise yard above (you guys, I wish I was kidding - I'm not.) It didn't matter though, we were outside touching rock and it was glorious. 

We didn't know there were such things as climbing gyms. The U Maine Orono campus might have had a dinky one, and if you wanted to drive 3.5 hours to the big city of Portland there was one, but with the backdrop of the pink granite of Acadia and the cool grey setting of Clifton - why bother? Besides, you had to PAY to go to a climbing gym. I wouldn't spend $12 on a climbing pass, not when that's how much a new Backstreet Boys CD or two jars of Manic Panic would cost me. In the summers during high school, I lived at the foot of Mt Katahdin and began exploring climbs that were actual climbs, not just big hikes. 

In college the bug bit hard. I'd skip class on good climbing days, cash in empties from the dorm trash bins to get gas money for trips to the crag. I'd drive horrible distances for a single day in a good New England weather window if it meant the possibility of a few solid pitches (Rumney day trips, I'm looking at you). When I realized I could get paid and get college credit for climbing, I began working at the UVM Climbing wall, leading outing club climbing trips, and babysitting rich kids from Jersey that came to the Adirondaks for a wilderness experience. Like any passion that's really a hobby, over the years it would take a back seat to LIFE, but it always managed to sneak its way back in.

Bringing up one of my students at the classic Beer Wall, Adirondaks, 2008.

Bringing up one of my students at the classic Beer Wall, Adirondaks, 2008.

Looking back, I'm glad I wasn't born into a family of climbers, or skiiers, or flyfishers, or any of the activities I do that define 'me'. I'm glad that I didn't grow up at the foot of some fantastic world class climbing area that you read about in magazines. I'm not sure I would love it the way I do. I think that there is value to be had in choosing your passions, rather than being born into them. I don't think I'd have the hunger for it, nor be able to  stomach the stupid things we all do for the sake of whatever it is we call our 'thing'. I'm still as much a poser now as I was in middle school, thinking I was like-totally-the-coolest-thing-evar flailing on junky rock - but I also love it now as much as I did then.

Here's to many more mis adventures in poor form, style, getting in over our heads, and butt shots. 

Losing an Arm

I was born in 1986, which (I'm told) was a pretty wild and crazy time. Cocaine was all the rage, there was a little incident at this place called Chernobyl, Mark Harmon was the sexiest man alive (who???) and Top Gun was released. And when a baby was born without her hand, the doctors thought it would be a great idea to amputate the toes off of one of her feet and install them as fingers on her stump. Like I said, drugs were cool back then.

While still fairly surprised that their first child made her grand entrance sans a major body part, my parents had the fortunate wherewithal to politely say 'Are you f$#@ing insane?' They bundled me up and took me home with all ten toes in their factory original positions.

Born stump bumping

Born stump bumping

Yet, there still remained a 'problem' that needed to be solved. Humans should have two hands. How could you possibly survive in the world without one? Thus, just past the age of one, I was given my first prosthetic. A hook. Now, hooks are great for two reasons: they're cheap, and they're durable. However, if you outfit a toddler with a giant metal pokey thing, don't be surprised if they beat the ever living shit out of all of your nice furniture and floors. 

Hooks also have limited range of use, only look cool on Halloween, and depend on a harness system that wraps around your shoulders that is decidedly NOT cool. At around 5 or 6, I received my first myoelectric prosthetic - a robot hand. It was heavy. I had to plug it in each night to charge. Like the hook, all it could do was open and close and it only sort of looked like a 'real' hand.  

It was around this time that I started to become attached to my prosthetic, my 'helping hand'. Even though it was functionally no more than a dead weight with a battery, I needed it. I couldn't leave the house with out it. The attachment grew worse when in middle school I switched to a passive cosmesis, which is essentially just a mannequin hand designed to look as real as possible, down to the skin tone and nails. It's also worth noting that I was (am?) a somewhat scatter brained individual and never put things where the belong and would regularly 'lose' my arm somewhere in the house. For something I needed every day, I was pretty crap at keeping track of it.

Let me clarify 'needing' it - I don't need my prosthesis at all. In fact, I'm more abled without it. The emphasis isn't the prosthesis, but the 'cosmesis' - it's cosmetic. When I wear it, I get fewer stares, fewer sideways glances, fewer 'How did you break your...oh.' 

Fake arms are sweaty. Sockets get stinky. Hot spots develop. They break. They're expensive. I can do more without it. So why do I still wear one? Why, as a teenager, would I fake sick and not go to school if I couldn't find my  arm to wear? Why would I change plans around having or not having my prosthetic? 

My mom and I, wearing an early myoelectric arm which doubled as Thor's Hammer.

My mom and I, wearing an early myoelectric arm which doubled as Thor's Hammer.

I wish I had a definitive answer, but the closest I can get is that the pain, sweat, and discomfort was worth it to avoid the stares and awkward conversation. This shouldn't be confused with not being proud of who you are - if someone walks up to me in the grocery store and says 'Hey! You're missing your hand!" I'll answer "Yeah! Let me tell you all about it!"

Sometimes though, you just want to be a 'normal' human being and not have to deal with people when you go to get a gallon of milk. Without my arm, I stand out all the time. I always have to have a reply ready to inevitable questions. If I'm cranky I'll even have my 'Oh no, I didn't notice!' deadpan ready to go. With my arm, even when it's green and grimy and has broken fingers, people's brains will glance me over and think 'Two eyes, two ears, two hands...check, normal human, move on." 

Au naturale and perfectly fine with it. 

Au naturale and perfectly fine with it. 

I received my last prosthesis when I was 22 and aged out of the Shriner's Hospital for Children's program.  I loaded up with a few of them, but as the years went by they broke, wore out, my muscles changed and the sockets don't fit that great anymore. I don't *need* my arms, plus I'm broke/cheap, and replacing my arms seemed less and less of a priority as time went on. Slowly, I stopped wearing my arm to the grocery store. Then I stopped wearing it going out to dinner. In the last two years, I stopped wearing it entirely except for when I'm at work - and I can sense even that is coming to an end. 

A few months ago I went to dinner right from work and was still wearing my arm. My friend Dan looked me up and down oddly, finally saying 'Dude, you have two hands right now. That's freaking weird.'

After 28 years, I'm losing my arm. It's been more of a crutch than an asset, more of a hindrance than a helper. My obituary for my arm will be short: "The good times were few, mainly limited to the look on teacher's faces when it would come flying off during games of Red Rover."  I don't want to be defined by a hunk of plastic. I don't want this forgery of a hand to be a part of me, because it echos a sentiment that I am somehow lesser without two hands. 

Good riddance.

Training for Climbing - Admitting you're clueless

I tend to think highly of myself when it comes to my DIY and self sufficiency skills. My first house was a horrendous, uninhabitable fixer upper. I knit, sew, and bake. I even have a huge garden and chickens. As such, I have a bad habit of forging ahead in failure well past the point where a normal person would have just asked for help. In fact, I'm REALLY bad at asking for help.

The chalk is for show, I haven't done jack shit.

The chalk is for show, I haven't done jack shit.

That's the story behind my failed experiment in 'training' for climbing. To 'train' for Spain in 2014, I climbed a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I was able to improve my onsight level by two grades in four months, simply because I'd never climbed four days a week consistently before. It wasn't until well after the world championships that I felt myself start to plateau from 'just' climbing. Because rapid gains are fun, I signed up for a 3 month training-for-climbing class at my gym and saw improvements again. Having coached, directed training was incredible. After the class happened I pledged to read all of the books and coach myself. How hard could it be? All of the information you could possibly need is out there! I read the Horst book, the Anderson's book, memorized MacLeod's training blog...and went no where. 

I bought a hangboard and didn't use it, under the excuse of having to figure out one-handed hangboarding. I figured it out, and I still don't use it*. I do TRX, and run and lift...but aimlessly. Don't get me started on how good I am about avoiding core. I have a notebook I keep track of my workouts in, but never look back. Really, when I read this rant by Kris Hampton about 'training' I immediately though 'Oh f*ck, he's talking about ME!'

My default setting is to just climb. Why not? Climbing is FUN

Now it's time to bite the bullet and admit I have no clue what I'm doing. My biggest fear is to get to Paris where I'll defend my title and lose it -not because I was the weaker climber, but because I wasn't prepared. If someone can beat me because they're better, then they deserve it. My imagined worst case scenario is that I'll beat myself, stand up there with a non-gold colored medal and reflect on how I didn't train right, smart, or hard enough. 

I got lucky in Spain, the field was small and I truly believe that I won because I had more experience, not because I was stronger- in fact, looking at pictures, I was a good ten pounds chubbier then than I am now. I won't get lucky again. 

It CAN be done, I just need to DO it!

It CAN be done, I just need to DO it!

I think I'm figuring out what my issue is - accountability. When I took the class at the gym, not only had I invested dollars in it but there were people there waiting for me and expecting me to show up. I need someone to tell me what to do, not ask me what I want to do (because the answer will always be 'screw the weight room, let's just climb!')

So, who wants the job of yelling at me?

 

*As I was writing this, I felt super guilty and finally completed my first night of a real, start to finish hangboard session. I survived, so there are more scheduled now...but it's certainly not my favorite thing!

Growing up Gimpy

Dirty, bruised chicken legs - nothing has changed. 

At dinner, my mother slowly lowered her hands to the table and stared at me with disbelief while I glared at my slab of steak: 'You want ME to cut your meat for you?' 

'Yes!' I cried, wiping the grease off of my shirt from my failed cutlery experiment. 'Whenever I try to hold the knife it slips and-'

'Well, what are you going to do when you're older and out of the house? Just get married and make some MAN do it for you?' *

Stubbornly, I stabbed the steak in the middle and picked it up whole, balanced it on the points of my fork and began gnawing at it like an animal. 'No,' I muttered. 'I'll become a vegetarian.'

***

I never did become a vegetarian, but I did get used to the idea that my family would never treat me any differently because I had a 'disability' - let alone use it as an excuse for not being able to do something. 

To do something that others expect you not to be able to do is an act of rebellion. That sounds high and mighty, but it reconciles with having a punk-ass attitude as a little kid. I played soccer as a kid. Makes sense, a game where you don't use your hands, right? Except I was the goalie. A grade school gym teacher tried to tell me it was OK to sit out the baseball segment of class since I couldn't wear a mitt and throw- I spent the next two weeks with a stinging and bruised palm from bare-handing baseballs after telling the the teacher (in 8-year-old speak) to go screw himself. He didn't mean poorly, he just made an assumption and thought he was doing me a favor.

I never got teased by other kids. I don't know why. I wish I did, so that I could pass on some sage advice to differently abled youngsters that might be getting teased or bullied now, but it just didn't happen. It was usually only adults that would try to tell me what I couldn't do - the  gym teacher above was immediately rebuffed by my classmates who told him 'That's stupid, of COURSE she can catch a ball. Duh.' The only thing I can think of is that because I was PROUD of being different, other kids respected that. Plus, robot hand. Instant winner.

Robot hand, fanny pack - ain't no one messing with this brat.

Being disabled or handicapped or crippled - those were words and phrases that never entered our family lexicon. I had a 'little hand' (my stump) and a 'helping hand' (my prosthesis). As I got older and was too cool for a helping hand, I upgraded to calling it my fake arm. Blunt, to the point - that was our style. My friends would hide my fake arm as a joke.  My brothers would make elaborate costumes for me for Halloween that involved either a bloody stump or an arm falling off mid 'Trick-or-treat.'

When applying for college, I saw lots of forms that had a box to check if you were disabled. 'Dad,' I asked one night, 'Should I be checking those boxes?'

He thought for a moment, then said 'You know, you may as well - there might be extra scholarship money in it or something. But you're not really disabled.'

 Adversity is only an obstacle until you embrace it - then, it just becomes a regular, boring part of your life. Laughter and humor will always be the fatal blow to unfavorable situations. Just because there is a box that other people are trying to force you into, it doesn't mean you have to check the box.

Above all, learn to cut your own damn steak.

 

*Not to detract from the point of the story, but my first year in college I met my husband and he's been cutting my steak for ten years.

 

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