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Climbing new heights with CAN

A young adult woman rock climbing

May 6, 2019

This past Winter, I took part in the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) Indoor Rock Climbing program. Held at Climb Base5 in North Vancouver, I met many youth and young adults with autism.

I had rock climbed in the past. Yet, this program really gave me the opportunity to master my rock climbing and social skills in an adaptive environment where I could grow and flourish with the support of the CAN staff and volunteers.

At the beginning, I was a little scared to participate in the program, as I had not climbed in quite a few years. For the first few sessions, I only went halfway up the climbing wall and refused to boulder. My intuition told me that it may be unsafe to climb. It took me a while to become familiar with all of the climbing courses.

I certainly have struggled to maintain good physical and mental health, so I try to be a fairly active person and work out at the gym regularly. My workouts at the gym are nothing like my experience in the rock climbing program.

Rock climbing is much more engaging for me, especially because I got to climb beside other participants. Whereas, at the gym I mostly exercise alone and stick to my individual routine.

Mingling amongst a large group of people isn’t an easy task for me due to my lack of social skills. However, as soon as I became more familiar with the staff, volunteers, and participants, I felt more comfortable socializing and engaging in activities.

In the first few weeks, I climbed multiple circuits. Yet, I still did not feel comfortable climbing to the top. My fear of heights kicked in. I was worried about getting stuck at the top and not being able to come back down.

The CAN staff were nothing but patient and encouraged me to persevere. They did not rush me or demand me to climb higher than I wanted. They were my biggest cheerleaders each week.

Funded by MEC, the program featured staff from CAN & Power To Be. Before the program began, rock climbing instructors received autism training from both CAN & Power To Be.

READ MORE: MEC, Canucks Autism Network and Power To Be host adaptive climbing workshop

Each time I got scared and began to climb down, the staff continued to encourage me.

I felt extremely out of my comfort zone. Climbing up the walls felt foreign. I had to figure out which holds would be easiest to grip onto and which ones were exclusively meant for climbing with my feet.

It wasn’t until the very last session of rock climbing that I made it to the top of a more advanced obstacle.

I was so proud and excited. My heart was filled with joy and I remember looking down to the staff as they cheered.

I felt very touched by everyone’s support and words of encouragement. Having their support during the program meant a lot. It showed that they cared and really wanted me to push myself harder to accomplish my goal of reaching the top of the climbing wall.

At the end of the last session, I was very fortunate to have MEC donate the climbing gear that I used during the program.

Although the rock climbing program ended just a few short weeks ago, I have plans to go rock climbing again one day with a friend.

As I continue to grow and learn, my mind always goes back to the successes. It is experiences like these where I have felt most comfortable, because I was in a safe environment with non-judgemental individuals. This means a lot to me because as an young autistic woman, I am constantly faced with unfair criticism, mostly from those who do not know much about autism.

CAN has been a major aspect of my life since joining as a young teenager. I’m thrilled to have found another place to call home and for the opportunity to meet other persons with autism similar or different from myself.

I feel more challenged to continue climbing outside of the rock climbing program. In the future, I’d like to try more advanced courses and explore bouldering.

I would like to thank CAN, Power To Be and MEC for the opportunity to rock climb. I now believe that no obstacles are too hard to reach and if I continue to push past my struggles, I can achieve almost anything.

I have gained a great deal of confidence. I’m hopeful and excited to participate in more CAN programs where I can hone more of these skills.

LEARN MORE: CAN programs for youth & young adults

RELATED: “My life with autism” by Keara Farnan