Doug Sandok of Paradox Sports has worked with enough disabled climbers who scale ice walls and rock faces to know something about what they want and don’t want.
They want a sport where they can test their limits, and where a missing limb is just another obstacle. They don’t want pity, lowered expectations, or even to be considered “inspiring.”
“Just because somebody with a disability gets out of bed and does the things the rest of us do, it doesn’t necessarily make them inspirational. I feel that can be a little condescending,” Sandok said.
Of course, Sandok allows, sometimes disabled climbers simply are inspiring: “They are doing things most people aren’t going to try to do. Like climbing Mount Rainer (elevation 14,411 feet).”
Sandok is executive director of Paradox Sports, which specializes in “adaptive climbing” – adapting techniques, movements and equipment for climbers with disabilities.
Paradox Sports was a recent recipient of an Equinix Impact Grant, which Equinix awards to small- to medium-sized nonprofits that are making meaningful contributions in areas that our employees are passionate about. The grant helped fund two adaptive climbing trips this year for disabled military veterans – one to Mt. Rainer and the other to Yosemite National Park the weekend of Sept. 11. Equinix will renew the grant for 2016.
About 6% of Equinix employees are veterans, including CEO Steve Smith and Chief Information Officer Brian Lillie, and Smith said the company is looking to increase that number.
“Having served eight years in the U.S. Army, I know first-hand about the dedication and valuable technical skills that many of our veterans possess,” Smith said.
Paradox Sports was founded in 2007 by Timmy O’Neill, D.J. Skelton and Malcolm Daly. O’Neill is a climber with a brother who still climbs after he broke his spine; Skelton is an Army captain and climber who lost an eye and partial use of his left arm in combat in Iraq; Daly is a climbing luminary who lost his right foot in a climbing accident.
Sandok came to Paradox after years as a mountain guide in places including the Himalayas and Mount Kilimanjaro. He said he became interested working with people with neurological and physical disabilities after his father contracted Parkinson’s disease. “I learned how to see the person inside, and not see them as disabled first. Our mission is to change how people perceive their own abilities and how the rest of the world perceives what’s possible for a person with a disability.”
Sandok said there’s a secret about climbing that Paradox Sports exploits: All climbing is adaptive climbing. For instance, Sandok said, no one is born wearing spiked boots so they can scale an ice wall.
“Climbing is essentially an adaptive sport. You need specialized tools and techniques to do it,” he said. “The difference between someone who has all their limbs and doesn’t isn’t as great, because everyone is using specialized tools and techniques and because everyone has to work with their differing abilities anyway.”
Sandok said when a disabled person realizes how far climbing allows them to push their limits, it can instill passion and purpose. In the case of military veterans, climbing is really about providing an opportunity for post-traumatic growth and transitioning to civilian life, which is difficult even without a disability. They can form community with fellow veterans and civilians, regain a sense of mission and find a love for a sport that integrates them into civilian life.
“Climbing is not going to cure everything, but it gives a context of hope.” Sandok said. “They become part of a community that is supportive of who they are and sees them as capable, self-actualized people with a climbing ability, not a disability.”
Learn about our other Equinix Impact Grant recipients: