Did you know that when I started climbing, I didn’t know any other climbers with disabilities? In fact, when I was a competitive swimmer and competitive martial artist, the situation was the same. The big difference with climbing was that I discovered the sport following my cancer treatment and when I had started transitioning from looking different to having issues with my body and its ability.
Climbing with my able-bodied partners is amazing but I didn’t realise what I was missing until I started competing and met the other paraclimbers.
The problem was that we would only meet during competitions, which are quite stressful and I still didn’t know any paraclimbers in London. Every return to London and my normal life would leave me missing the community immensely.
You will have seen over the last 18 months or so that I do not shy away from using my voice and platform to create change and empower individuals to create their own change. From becoming an Ambassador for 2 charities and a Patron for another to putting myself out there and showing those facing any sort of fear or adversity that there is almost always choice.
By the time I started competing last year, I started meeting other London-based paraclimbers who were all experiencing the same issues as me and the light bulb went off, what if we could meet socially and form a peer support group? 6 months later and I hadn’t really done anything. Frankly, between injuries and health stuff, changing jobs, moving house, training and finding myself in the public eye by being featured on ITV’s Inspiring Britain series and the Sunday Times Alternative Rich List, there was a LOT going on.
I knew I was not going to do anything unless I threw myself in the deep end and took a leap of faith.
Founding Paraclimbing London
So one random Monday morning in March, on the tube into work, I publically announced that I was going to launch Paraclimbing London: a social initiative to make climbing more accessible. By accessible, I meant in every way possible:
- Physically accessible: can people who are mobility reduced attend our sessions? Do we have resting areas for anyone who might need it? e.g. mental health issues, fatigue or on the autistic spectrum? Do the centres we use have enough variety to cater for someone brand new and someone who is on Team GB?
- Emotionally accessible: Are the staff at the wall inclusive? How can we ensure a super climbing experience for those experiencing sensory disabilities? (visually impaired, deaf etc.) Can our climbers go to those walls independently and still feel they can approach the staff at any moment?
- Socially accessible: Can we get people facing health issues to try climbing for the first time or return to the sport despite a serious blow to their body confidence? Can we make the sessions so fun and inclusive that people leave with a smile? Can we include a social element so there is never any pressure to climb?
- Reducing barriers with the wider climbing community: climbing competitions are invariably held when the walls are quiet and so paraclimbers feel isolated and don’t get to mingle with able-bodied climbers. Our sessions run at the same time as normal climbing sessions do. After work and on weekends so we can mingle and get our paraclimbers integrated and comfortable with the wider climbing community and vice-versa. We can and will hold quiet sessions for anyone who might need it and several facilitators provide free 1:1 sessions for anyone who would prefer that to a group session.
I had no branding, no team, no posters, no plan and had not even contacted any of the walls in London.
All I knew is that I was going to make this happen and if it failed, then at least I would have tried.
I am not sure how many emails, phone calls, meetings and pitches I have made in the last few months. There were a lot of late nights and I am routinly fitting in phone calls during a feeding break between training sessions. But it worked – most of the walls I approached knew of me through my climbing or public work and this initiative is such a great cause that they have pretty much welcomed us with open arms.
We started with 5 members in March. Since then we have held numerous closed events, 2 public events at VauxWall West and we are going to be holding our first ever public event at Castle Climbing Centre on 25 August. We crossed 100 members last week, have the support of 5 walls with more coming on board shortly and the support of so many people.
- We are open to anyone who identifies as a paraclimber: you have a disability or long-term health condition whether visible or invisible (including mental health and cancer).
- Our sessions are FREE, you just need to pay your entrance at the climbing wall if you are climbing. (Most climbing walls have a concession rate)
- You don’t need to know how to climb, we will teach you how and the safety side too.
- You can come to a session and decide not to climb if you want to just come and socialise or you’re not up to it for whatever reason. We have a dedicated resting area in each of our climbing centres when we are running our sessions.
- The majority of our facilitators are paraclimbers and we have created such an amazing community.
- We also welcome anyone interested in paraclimbing or helping people with disabilities to come and help facilitate or volunteer with us. During public events, we also set fun challenges for able bodied people to try climbing using a #parastyle
Watching my climbers grow in confidence, make new friends and become independent has made this entire journey worth it.
I now have a small team and am learning so much from managing them and effectively running my own start up. How we went from an idea in my head to growing the way we have this fast, I’m not sure, but we have.
If you would like to join Paraclimbing London or would like to know more, you can find more details at https://anoushehusain.com/paraclimbing-london/ or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Please share the word, we want to reach as many people as possible.