With a new piece of equipment, the Teton Rock Gym is now a more accessible place for differently-abled people who want to hit the wall, thanks to Teton Adaptive Sports.
Through a program called Courageous Kids Climbing, Teton Rock Gym hosts an annual day of climbing for children with special needs, but the timing doesn’t always line up for some valley kids to attend. Nicole Elliot, the Teton School District special education director, said she had a conversation with the Jackson nonprofit Teton Adaptive Sports and suggested that she would write a grant for an adaptive harness so that the rock gym could offer climbing any time. Immediately the program director Cherene Vanian told Elliot she would make it happen.
“There was no hesitation,” Elliot said. “Kudos to those guys.”
The harness, manufactured by Misty Mountain, has a rigid padded seat, chest and pelvic ties, and a head panel, making it safe, comfortable, and adjustable for a range of weights and sizes.
Now through the school district’s winter sports program, three students have had a chance to use the harness: elementary school students Dani Cabrera and Christopher Bedolla Gonzalez and eighth grader Tristan Moulton.
Some of the kids with special needs can go skiing during the winter sports program, while those with more serious needs have participated in swimming, but Elliot said that isn’t ideal because it’s a long bus ride to the nearest pool, and the pools are here aren’t the warmest. Having an accessible activity right in town is a real boon for the program, she explained.
Tristan has light type II spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that has robbed him of his strength by affecting his motor nerve cells. He can’t walk and has trouble breathing and swallowing. However, he already has some experience with climbing.
Employees at the rock gym have been able to rig a supportive sling to elevate Tristan, but the adaptive harness is a game-changer. Elliot, who is a climber and uses winter sports as an excuse to get out of her office and spend some time with students in the gym, can now use pulleys on the ceiling and her own body weight to belay Tristan high into the air, to his delight. From that lofty vantage he can toss plastic balls and paper airplanes down onto the heads of Elliot, his father, Travis, and his nurses. For his final winter sports session last Tuesday, Tristan’s parents, grandparents, sister, and cousin came to the gym to watch and cheer him on.
“For Tristan, getting to be free and get up high gives him a different element of play and a chance to be a part of the other kids’ experiences during winter sports,” Elliot said.
Because the harness was just installed at the gym, the word hasn’t gotten out yet, but Elliot knows of several more kids who will enjoy getting to climb during the summer and in the next school year. TAS is also working to send rock gym coach Jacob Yufa to an adaptive climbing workshop to hone his skills with the harness.
“It’s just a matter of resources, and Teton Adaptive is trying to bridge the gap over the hill and provide opportunities for kids on this side,” Elliot said.