41 year-old gas engineer Keith Lynch was a keen skydiver, until a bad landing in 2010 severely injured his lower leg, resulting in an amputation three years later. Having dabbled recreationally in climbing - mostly through taking his children to the wall - this year Keith decided to enter the Scottish Paraclimbing Championships, held at EICA: Ratho last weekend. After just 5 weeks of specific training prior to the event, Keith surpassed his expectations and became Scottish Paraclimbing Champion.
Keith teamed up with friend of a friend Dave Brown - whom he knew through his skydiving and speedflying connections - in August to undertake an intensive 5 weeks of training for climbing, making a remarkable grade jump from toproping grade 4s to leading 6a and completing a technical, slabby 6c.
Dave told UKC:
'Keith asked if I could help him improve enough so as to have a decent "crack" at the competition. His commitment to learning was great and he was extremely responsive to my coaching input and always willing to try whatever was suggested.'
'It was fantastic to see his improvement over a very short time, 5 weeks only, and I'm now keen to see just how far we can take him on the paraclimbing circuit.'
'Climbing gives you a little bit of a release from your day to day pains and humps and grumps.'
I asked Keith some questions to find out more about his story...
You were a keen skydiver and after a bad crash landing in 2010 your leg was amputated 3 years down the line. How did you cope in the meantime and then following the amputation - did you return to skydiving at all?
I think of myself as a skydiver first and foremost. I have only done a couple of jumps since I lost my leg after the accident in 2010. I was in a wheelchair for a while and had to learn to walk again. In July 2011 I started again, doing 55-60 jumps here in the UK and in Portugal. After that I decided to give it a break for a while due to the pain I was left with post-accident. Eventually it was decided that the best thing to do was to get rid of my lower leg - I actually wish I'd done it in 2010 when I wasn't really able to use it. The doctors' reasoning initially was to do with the fact that I had good blood supply down the leg, so they wouldn't amputate it.
Had you climbed at all before you lost your leg?
I had done bits and bobs of climbing, I hadn't ever competed, I was more just climbing casually with friends. It was not something I ever thought about competing in before or after losing my leg really. I did the first Paraclimbing Championships two years ago and came 6th - I saw the level of the GB Paraclimbing Team and the other competitors and thought "I could do that." I didn't do it the year after, but at the start of this year I thought I really wanted to give it another go. I met Dave through a friend of a friend who skydives, a guy who does speedflying with Dave. I got in touch with him and asked if he could give me a few pointers. He's been absolutely amazing, just brilliant. He's a really nice guy and he's helped me no end.
Tell us a bit about how you started getting into climbing more seriously (5 weeks ago!) - how did Dave help you?
You know what it's like - when somebody starts climbing they just haul themselves up the wall with their arms without thinking or planning the route, without using their feet! Dave pretty much taught me all that. I've gone from hauling myself up a 4 or 4+ to leading 6a and one on the slab in the competition was a 6c.
So you went from 4- 6c and have won the Scottish Paraclimbing Championships. Did you expect to make progress so fast?
Not at all - definitely not! To go and win that competition was a huge, huge surprise. I didn't expect to do that in a million years.
Did you enjoy the experience as a whole, what will you take away from it?
The day as a whole was really good; it was so inclusive with different categories and age groups. I remember that from the first Scottish Paraclimbing Championships. They are considering changing it back to more of a festival rather than a competition, but I thought the day was great - the fact that they give so much time for all types of disabilities and ages and not just specific disability groups.
Will you be continuing your climbing and coming back for more competitions?
I will be, yes! There was talk in passing about doing the British Paraclimbing Series in Newcastle, Manchester and London, but I guess it's something Dave and I will have to talk about! I need to do a hell of a lot more climbing beforehand. I think last weekend was just luck more than anything else. If there had been more GB team members there it may have been different, and there were a couple of very strong ex-military amputees climbing beside me and I really thought they'd take it.
What would your advice be to aspiring paraclimbers?
Anybody with any disability who is keen to get into climbing - go and do it! Find a wall. It gives you a little bit of a release from your day to day pains and humps and grumps. You see quadruple amputee Jamie Andrew climbing and he just takes your breath away - the guy has just got so much heart and determination, it's unreal. You've got to take a huge amount of inspiration from him because he never gives up!
Scottish Paraclimbing Championships results here.