Disabled Vets Take on Rainier

Mj 618_348_disabled vets take on rainier
Courtesy Paradox Sports

On the Fourth of July, pro rock climber and Clif Bar athlete Timmy O'Neill guided six men across some of the largest glaciers in America to stand on the icy summit of Mount Rainier some 14,411 feet above sea level. The tallest, and one of the most popular peaks in the Cascade Range, Rainier is eminently climbable; what makes these ascents unique is that only O'Neill was able-bodied. "Fibromyalgia, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD. The team was made up of U.S. military veterans," says O'Neill. "People who have survived shrapnel and small arms fire."

O'Neill contrived the ambitious expedition through his nonprofit Paradox Sports. Since 2007, Paradox has aimed to improve people's lives by creating inspiring, physically adaptive, sport communities. While the organization's primary focus is disabled persons, Paradox began creating special programming for veterans in 2012, with a September 11 expedition to Wyoming to summit 13,775-foot Grand Teton. In 2014, Paradox has five such expeditions on the schedule, including O'Neill and team's Rainier ascent, and scaling the iconic Half Dome in Yosemite National Park on September 11.

The expeditions are free for military members, both veterans and active duty, and transformative (read: physically and mentally challenging) by design. "All those classic aphorisms, like 'Through adversity comes advantage', are true," says O'Neill. "If you voluntarily make things difficult, you'll be better prepared for situations in life that are involuntarily difficult."

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O'Neill – who in the course of his professional climbing career has clambered up buildings like the Chicago Tribune Tower without ropes, and set speed records on grueling routes like The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park – first began working with disabled athletes 20 years ago when his brother Sean suffered an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. The two continued climbing together, including the 3,000-foot face of El Cap, shattering both world records and preconceptions about what's possible for disabled climbers.

Today, O'Neill serves as executive director of Paradox Sports, which he founded with Dennis "DJ" Skelton, a disabled climber and major in the U.S. Military. Paradox just received a $25,000 Explore Fund grant from The North Face that O'Neill will use to launch an educational program. "We wrote the book (metaphorically, and literally a 160-page book) on adaptive climbing and created lesson plans off of that," says O'Neill. "Now we're going to bring that curriculum to cities across the U.S. to teach people how to create adaptive climbing clubs that foster inclusivity and demystify disability."

[More Info: paradoxsports.org]

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