By Amanda Bastien, PT, DPT
Exercise is medicine. As a physical therapist, I believe that, and I teach my patients the benefits and opportunities that exercise can grant them daily. As a person with MS, I am grateful that I am able to exercise unencumbered by symptoms at this time. I know that someday, that might change, but for now, I’ll enjoy every minute of it.
I started rock climbing the year I was diagnosed with MS, which was also the hardest year of my life in school. Climbing was hard, because it was new, but it was immensely gratifying to feel myself get better at it. Climbing has become my stress relief, my social circle, my exercise, and my passion. It takes me outdoors and to new cities. Sometimes, it’s plain scary, like when you’re 60 feet from the ground and trying to trust your body and your brain to move. Other times, it’s just joyful, like when you finish a climb you’ve been working on, and you’re bursting with pride at what you’ve just accomplished.
When I have had symptoms in the past, it made climbing challenging in different ways. I would try to place numb feet on tiny foot holds and trust that it will stay, or try to coordinate a leg that just won’t follow directions. I’ve felt like a puppeteer in my own body, while dangling from a rope above. Other times I’ve felt dizzy and overwhelmed by the fact that I’m just too tired.
Nonetheless, I could still safely exercise in a unique way that challenged me mentally and physically. One of the things I love about rock climbing is how adaptable it is as a sport.
When living in Atlanta, I volunteered with an adaptive climbing group, Catalyst Sports. Atlanta was hosting the USA Climbing Adaptive National Championships. I got to witness people with different disabilities perform rock climbing and compete with one another. It was inspiring, and made me proud of a community and a sport that believes that if you have the desire, there’s nothing stopping you from getting to the top of a wall. Rock climbers are incredibly supportive, and it isn’t uncommon for multiple strangers to cheer you on while you’re climbing at the gym, unlike any other gym setting I’ve ever been to!
If you’ve ever had an interest in rock climbing, seek out your local gym or adaptive climbing group. Harness up and trust your body to try something new; it might become your passion.
Amanda is a physical therapist living in Louisville, Kentucky. She was diagnosed with MS in 2015 at the age of 21. She enjoys rock climbing in the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. You can find more information about Catalyst Sports at https://www.catalystsports.org/.