I’ll keep it short and sweet – I have Spina Bifida and my brace helps me walk.
My left leg, I can’t feel, I don’t have any circulation from my knee down. So, my left brace helps me prop it and it’ll help me move throughout the day. The right one, the brace just gives me better balance. They get recast and get a different cover—I used to like getting a design when I was younger and now I just get the white to make it look subtle and not chaotic on my knees because I get too much attention. I don’t need more attention.
I didn’t really see it when I was younger but now I’m more aware of my surroundings. People have come up to me and they’re like, “Oh, I’m so sorry that happened” or “Feel better!” and I’m just like, okay… I mean, I get that they’re caring but also at the same time do not say that like just, no. It needs to be a rule. Do not say that.
It’s the worst when they just straight up stare at you. Some people will quickly look and then other people won’t at all. It turns into an awkward, full-on staring contest. I have stared back and they don’t notice so… I was about to go up to this one person and be like, “Can I help you?” But I didn’t because I didn’t want to be rude. I kind of wish I did though. At this point, I really don’t care about my braces. I’m trying to not only think about it and I’m pretty comfortable with it. I have my breakdowns, but I’m okay.
I can’t play sports like basketball or soccer because of the footwork, but I’ve been climbing for about three years. I started when I was 12. My one friend had a membership there and she was like, ”Anna, you should come!”. I’m like sure why not? It’s probably going to be an activity that I will never do again. But when I got there, I started to love it. So then I took some private lessons. And it’s how I met Brittany, who has a leg difference like me. That’s how she coached me. She told me about a Paraclimbing competition. It was in San Diego, but that was when COVID started so it got canceled.
I’m 15 now and in the youth category. When I turn 16, if I place, I’ll be on the team but I’m not a part of that right now. There are different categories for different disabilities. They’ll create routes for that certain category. There are physical disabilities, visual impairment, upper and lower amputees, and then youth, who are just anyone under 16.
It was just fun to see everyone, how other people climb, how they go through the wall and how they like to experience the climb from their point of view. Everyone’s going to do it differently no matter what.
I like it because everyone is so supportive and knows what it feels like to climb different. I didn’t feel like anyone judged me. We were all just cheering each other on, which was really nice, too. We all get that we all climb differently and not the same compared to other people. The thing I love most about being an athlete is the community and all the people I have met and learning how they got into climbing and their backstory.
When I first started climbing at Cliffhangers, I got self conscious about the team. They’re doing all this and they’re giving each other beta about how to do this route. They’re like, “Oh, you should try it”. I’m like, “No, it’s okay. I’ll watch from the sideline and wait until you go do your stuff, and I will do it when you’re not here.”
I was like, all these people are so good. And then I realized, well, they don’t have something weighing them down. There’s no easy way with adaptive climbing. Some call it an obstacle, which I love just because that shows how unique everyone is. It’s not a sport without a challenge and I know I can do most of everything – I just do it differently.
I love bouldering, it’s so much fun. I can find routes that I can campus. Campus means just using your arms. So you’re going from one hold to another hold without any feet, which is so much fun. I do a couple rounds with that and then I’ll do some foot placements on other routes. Or I just talk with my friends after that.
Right now, I prefer bouldering just because it’s like an obstacle. You can make friends from that too. I want to do a lot of the harder ones to challenge myself but I don’t trust my foot work. Just because I’m in a brace, so I can’t do anything with my feet. It’s just a matter of if I trust it or not. And I see all these people doing it and it looks so much fun but a lot of it involves feet work. Certain routes, it takes me a long time but it could take someone else two minutes to do.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned through this sport is that everyone has different/unique ways to do the sport and I’m proud that I can do this sport my way. If you are passionate and want to make a difference, go for your dream and don’t let something or someone stop you from achieving the goal you have for yourself.
Shoutout to Hollyn Gambill and her initiative, AmpuTeens for amplifying stories like Anna’s!