CLIMBING HIGHER: Therapeutic recreation participants challenge chill, rocks

CLIMBING HIGHER: Therapeutic recreation participants challenge chill, rocks

April 15th, 2013 by Lindsay Burkholder in Local Regional News

Therapeutic Recreation participant Matthew Peel, 23, of Ringgold, smiles after reaching the top of Stone Fort on a solo climb Sunday. Outdoor Chattanooga, Chattanooga Parks and Recreation and volunteers put on the Climbing Higher event.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Cayla Roark, 22, of Birchwood, makes a solo climb Sunday at the Stone Fort alongside the Montlake Golf Course.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

The chill and blustery weather did nothing to stop a number of extraordinary Chattanooga athletes from hitting the ropes Sunday.

The Climbing Higher program held its second outdoor climbing event at the Stone Fort in the Montlake Golf Course despite gray skies and a brisk wind.

Participants have been practicing at the Urban Rocks climbing gym for nearly five weeks. They were eager to test what they'd learned on the huge rock perched on the course's 18th tee box.

"Today is a superspecial day," said Elaine Adams, therapeutic recreation program coordinator. "They're taking it outside to real rocks."

Therapeutic recreation, a division of the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department, provides a number of programs and opportunities for individuals with cognitive, intellectual and physical disabilities.

Adams says the program helps those with disabilities enjoy activities from kayaking to dances to adaptive cycling.

"It gives them a sense of accomplishment," she said. "And it's a great way for others to see the abilities of the individuals in this program."

Matthew Peel, 23, is a prime example of what those individuals can accomplish.

Peel, a junior at Southern Adventist University, says he enjoys doing a number of sports, from tennis to cycling.

Earlier in the day, Peel pulled himself up from his wheelchair into a climbing harness and scaled the 50-foot face of the giant boulder. He made it to the top with only the help of a belayer holding the ropes below.

Peel, a computer science major, said athletics have been a part of his life for years.

"I've always done sports," he said.

Julianne Joel's 7-year old son William is in his second year of the Climbing Higher program. Joel said therapeutic recreation has been very helpful for the child, who was born with spina bifida.

"The programs are invaluable," she said. "Not just the physical health benefits, but the emotional health, too."

William uses a wheelchair to get around, but that doesn't keep him from being active. In addition to climbing, he enjoys cycling and soon will be learning how to use his new racing wheelchair.

"He's actually doing some things other kids can't and won't do," Joel said. "He's not just a kid in a chair. He's an athlete."

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at 423-757-6592 or lburkholder@timesfreepress.com.