ParaClimb Scotland 2014: A Competitor's Perspective

I am Matthew Phillips, I'm nearly 14 and I was born without my right arm below the elbow. I started climbing at taster sessions, rock-climbing on the beach on holiday and at birthday parties but started climbing seriously about 18 months ago with my coach Robin O'Leary.

A cold but sunny Sunday morning saw a number of people converge on the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena in Ratho for the first Scottish ParaClimbing Competition. ParaClimbing is a relatively new sport and it was great to see how enthusiastically the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has embraced the opportunity to get people with disabilities involved in this sport.

On arrival the amazing sight of the centre set into the side of the quarry met us as we gathered with other competitors and interested public. It's a rather imposing arena with its towering walls, vast open space and majestic quarry walls forming the centre.

Matthew Phillips competing in the ParaClimb Scotland event
© Sandy Carr

After registration a quick opportunity to look at the walls and boulder problems before a briefing took place for the competitors. The competition consisted of 3 boulder problems set around one of the large bouldering structures in the middle of the arena and 3 top-roped climbs on the left side of the arena. As the briefing started the Chief Judge explained that the boulder problems would all be top-roped as these were the rules in an IFSC competition. You would have 3 attempts at each boulder problem and the scores were taken from the highest hand hold held before resting on the rope or falling. The climbs were one attempt. They could be taken in any order and within the 5 hour limit given for the competition. He stressed that the most important thing was to have fun.

Fun is one thing that has struck me about these competitions, its a very friendly and supportive atmosphere with other competitors encouraging those climbing and even offering advice.

The competition started at 11am and after observing a few other competitors attempting the boulders I decided to attempt the first one, it was a relatively straight forward climb up with hand holds all on the correct side for me which is often the major issue. A quick climb and a max 60 points claimed. Now with the first boulder out the way I decided to carry straight onto the second boulder problem. This looked a little more difficult with a climb in the corner crevice and having to make use of the feature ledges of the boulder. Once on the boulder it didn't prove to be too bad and another 60 points.

A small break to be interviewed by a BBC Scotland film crew before tackling the third and final boulder problem. This one didn't seem too bad but had a small traverse half way up and a small leap to the final hand hold. The score for this boulder - 60 points.

Matthew on a top-rope route in the ParaClimb event
© Sandy Carr

After lunch we had a chance to watch a couple of competitors on the climbs. Two didn't appear to be too daunting although there were some sparse hand holds further up the walls. One climb did look like it was going to be a problem with a nasty alcove to climb out of a few metres up. I decided to tackle the hardest first and started on the first of three climbs. Having to climb up an alcove for the first few metres required me to brace my back against the wall. This is where my age and size has a disadvantage. Having made it to the top of the alcove I found a convenient large hold within my reach on the edge of the wall and managed to pull myself out of the alcove and onto the main wall. A steady but challenging climb from then until near the top where hand holds on my wrong side proved a challenge but after the final stretch I got the top hold with 100 points.

Second climb, the first half was fairly straight forward with a protruding ledge half way up. A brief stop stop on the ledge before stepping across to complete the climb with a score of 100. The third, and what I thought was the final climb, looked straight-forward and angled in our favour. However, a lot of the holds were small and further up some were on the wrong side for my short arm. Determination and remembering techniques learned during my training sessions got me to the top with a 100 score.

After I thought all the climbs were done for the day, an announcement from the Chief Official stated that a number of competitors had achieved maximum scores and therefore there was going to be a Super Final. A list of 6 names were called out out of 31 competitors and I was one of them. By far the youngest of the 6 and to cap it all I drew the lot for first to climb.

Looking at the climb, 7a I was told, I'd only ever done 6c and it looked daunting with several serious overhangs. It was clearly going to sort the 6 of us out. A fitting Super Final climb. The rest of the crowd gathered after the Super Final was announced and so a sizeable audience added to the pressure. However, the support for all those in the final was amazing. Being first to climb I managed the first section without too many issues but a leap to a hold just above the first overhang proved too much. I finished with a score of 35.

The Prize Presentation took place and I achieved joint third place in my category and overall against 31 other competitors. A group photo finished the event and we left for the airport to catch our plane back to Heathrow.

Matthew receiving his prize
© Sandy Carr

I would like to thank all the organisers from the MCofS and GB ParaClimbing Team for putting on the event and the centre staff for what was an amazing venue. It was a fantastic event and there appears to be real support in Scotland for ParaClimbing. My coach and Nick Middleton from the GB ParaClimbing Team are hoping to form a Surrey based ParaClimbing Club and I look forward to training with other ParaClimbers and returning to Scotland for next year's event.

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