In 2018, Maureen Beck became the first adaptive climber to summit the 2,600-meter White Lotus Flower mountain face. The climb is notorious, located in the Northwest Territories of Canada. A remarkable accomplishment for anyone, Beck also happened to be born without a left hand.
“I never identified as having a disability because I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s negative. That means you can’t do something. I’m not disabled. I can still take full advantage of life,’” she told The Sunday Magazine. Beck is a role model for anyone, not just those with physical disabilities.
“Having a Disability Is Pretty Cool”
She lives in Colorado, but grew up in Maine where she fell in love with climbing. She said that she didn’t truly comprehend the idea of a disability until she met other disabled climbers in her 20’s.
The community, called paraclimbers, uses special equipment to assist their climb. For example, Beck wears a specially designed shirt that allows her to touch the rock with her bare left arm without exposing it to the elements for too long. The shirt is designed to not get in the way when she is belaying or rappelling, and she also tapes the end of her arm so she can wedge it into cracks for grip.
“My reach can be quite short, as you can imagine. And so, as I’m moving along the rock, I’ll be making moves and using features that are different” she told a reporter.
Speaking on the community of disabled climbers, Beck added: “Like, sure, they’re blind, they’re missing limbs, they’re in wheelchairs, but they’re still climbers first and they just have a disability to go with their climbing. And that’s when I realized that actually having a disability is pretty cool.”
These climbers possess an amazing bravery and dedication to the sport, refusing to let circumstance define their lifestyles.
She scoffs at the idea that disabled climbers require special care, and prefers to see them as climbers first– joined by their love of the sport and not their condition.
Making Waves for Visibility
Within this community, Beck is a superstar. She has won nine titles as the top U.S. paraclimber, and has been world champion twice.
Her success has inspired others, and Beck says she even noticed a change in the way people react to her climbing. “When I was a kid starting climbing, I definitely saw a lot of people who were like, ‘Ooh, can you do this? Can you belay safely, can you be a safe climber? Like, can you, can you actually rock climb’?” she recounted.
Instead, people now praise her success and even seek advice. “These days, so many times I’ll be climbing and someone says, ‘Hey, I have a cousin who’s missing their leg, or I have a friend in a wheelchair, can they climb?’ And so it’s just this motivation spreading through the community.”
She has made waves for visibility in the sport, which has certainly not gone unnoticed.
Paula Zonneveld, an occupational therapist and volunteer co-ordinator with the Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society, said Beck’s accomplishments are “huge,” not just for adaptive climbers, but anyone who climbs.
“I really like to see people with disabilities represented in the sport and not just participating in the sport, but thriving in the sport, going above and beyond and really making an impact in the climbing community” she told a publication.
Living Life on Your Own Terms
The Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society, based in Vancouver and Toronto, offers welcoming climbing programs for people who have suffered limb loss or other injuries that impair their ability to climb. They know better than most the impact that a leader like Beck has had on the community.
Beck herself, however, hopes to inspire people of all abilities, outside of climbing. Her mission is to encourage anyone who has been afraid to take on a challenge, eager to lead by example.
“I learned that the power of saying yes gave you this transformative experience. And I haven’t stopped saying yes since. And so I think the lesson is when someone invites you to try something scary and intimidating, say yes” she affirmed.
Maureen Beck is a hero by any stretch of the word, and is quite literally blazing the trail for others. She makes no excuses, and commits to living life on her own terms. She possess a contagious level of bravery, leadership, and inspiration that all can learn from.