During the spring 2010 semester, Jerome Gabriel, assistant director of the Outdoor Program, developed and taught a five-week adaptive rock climbing program for special needs and disabled climbers. At the time, this was the only adaptive rock climbing course in Ohio.
The Outdoor Program was able to purchase roughly $1,500 in new adaptive climbing equipment for the program after receiving $2,500 in grant funding from the Youth Enhancement and Support organization of Northwest Ohio (Y.E.S.) in 2009. The new equipment included harnesses, pulleys, ropes, and a specialized adaptive ropes course harness for fully immobile, wheelchair bound youth. The equipment was debuted on October 3, 2009 during the Student Recreation Center 30th anniversary celebration.
Jerome noted that initially, it was challenging to sell the idea of an adaptive rocking climbing course to the special-needs community. However, after inviting county developmental disabilities administrators to campus for seminars on the program, they were able to convince their clients that it was a safe and fun activity.
Five Wood County Special Olympics athletes participated in the first adaptive rock climbing program in April 2010. In reference to the program, Mary Sehmann, coordinator of Wood Country Special Olympics, commented, “we’re going to make it one of our sports because the benefits are so great. It helps with upper-body strength, balance, problem-solving, decision-making, even communication.” Scott Mitchell, lead sports technician for Wood Lane was also impressed and stated, “it really helps their problem-solving skills, especially at the bottom where there are so many choices: Where do I put my hand? Where do I put my foot? You can see the wheels turning: Where do I go next? What do I need to do?”
Ms. Sehmann said that it was exciting to watch people who initially said they couldn’t do it after their first attempt, later reach the top of the wall. “Times are changing. People are trying more things,” she said. “This is a thrill sport, and people with disabilities want to do a thrill sport too.”