Archive for October 30, 2016

First a gherkin; Next a Cheesegrater !!

September two years ago, I set about climbing The Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe) in the form of a relay climb at Calshot Activity Wall … My climbing partner did it too, he had a harder challenge I feel, as he took it on wearing a blindfold.  Together we set out to climb the 180m (591ft) between us, but having done that within 3 hours, we upped it to challenge ourselves further and finished 5 hours later; just before the wall closed for the night having climbed the height EACH.

It has been an odd time since then, I have trained with my now working guide dog Fizz, moved house and  discovered that my hearing is failing me along with my sight.

My climbing style has changed and these last few months I have found myself thrilled by the enjoyment of competing and moving my climbing forward to include bouldering and  it just top-roping.

This leads me into my next challenge. In December I shall compete in the final heat for the Team GB Paraclimbing team, which is no mean feet, and most definitely not something I would have dreamt was possible just six months ago.  It was through contact with The Molly Watt Trust, a charity that supports those with Ushers Syndrome that I made contact with John Churcher, a fellow climber who has both a visual impairment and a hearing impairment,  who just happens to have been on the GB team for several years.

Molly Watt (an inspirational young woman) has done lots of work with and around raising awareness and support for people with ushers Sydrome and RP (the family that my eye condition belong to)  She is a big believer in technology and has been using for some time Resound Lynx digital hearing aids.  These hearing aids are fully compatible and work with an app on an iPhone to be adjusted, directions and tested.  They also work as headphones to listen to music and with the addition of a small microphone enable her to be hands free to make and take calls.

I am not always so, but I try to look for the positives and I decided that if I was loosing my hearing, if I had to go through all this, then I wanted to do it in the most comfortable and least obtrusive way.  But at just under £5,000 for a pair, that isn’t going to be easy.

My climbing partner and dearest friend Simon set up a crowdfunding page, I wasn’t keen and felt ‘odd’ asking for friends to help me pay for these.

SO…… I have decided to do something to EARN the money from my friends and family, in the form of sponsorship.  And this is where the ‘Cheesegrater’ comes into it.

That is the nickname given to The Leadenhall Building, 122 Leadenhall Street, the 225m (738ft) building that towers over The Gherkin; as is shown here:

Image showing the London Skyline, The cheese-grater is on the Left, with The gherkin on the right and The Lloyd Building in front.

So, the challenge …… To climb this height, all 228m of it, that is a whole 45m MORE than The Gherkin or 147ft in old money!

The tallest straight wall at Calshot is 14m (45ft) meaning that it will take 17 climbs up the wall to complete the equivalent of the buildings height.

Sounds simple when I break it down like that.  But I know I have lots of training ahead of me, and a date to set.  But I hope that you would agree, it is worth a little bit on sponsorship money?

The fundraising page: HelpTeeHear is up and running, so feel free to pop over and have a look, it shows the hearing aids in much more detail.  I would appreciate your support.


Time to be a princess……

I am far too old to be believing in fairytales, although I do enjoy a nice chilled Sunday with the kids and Disney’s Tangled…. So, for a few moments I want to indulge in the fantasy of Flynn Rider and my own wonderful White Stead.

Ok, so the moment is over and here I am finding myself without a cast iron frying pan to beat off the baddies and most definitely no white stead to rescue me from these great heights.

But I am in a castle…. Of sorts.

And I am up high…. Kind of.

But this is most definitely not a Disney film, I am most certainly not Rapunzel and I do not have magical hair the glows when I sing.

Instead I have the third round of competing to become part of the Team GB Paraclimbing to take part in.  And a pretty amazing building in which to do it!

Exterior image of The Castle Climbing Centre, showing the 3 tall towers of this previous water pumping station, part of the original design that gave it its name as a castle

Yet again, the designer in me is amazed by the location of the climbing competition; which has been my calming and relaxation technique to save me any full blown panic attacks.

This building in particular has hit a cord, being bought over 20 years ago from The ‘buildings at risk’ register, the team have worked on following the buildings design and when money has allowed, additions and alterations have occurred.  While keeping many of the original features of the building in place.

Image shows climbing walls between and around original brick features of the water pumping station

I could continue….. But for now I will move on to the real reason you are hear, reading this;  How was the competition?

In a word “challenging”

More so than I expected, more so than I think I could have prepared for.

This competition felt different, it was a week day and the climbing centre was reasonable quiet, this leant itself to another issue…. That those competing had time and lack of obstructions to watch those on the routes.

The general rule of thumb when climbing is

Nobody bothers with anyone else, they are all concentrating on their own next move or climb.

Image showing climbing walls with competitors in the background around the bouldering problems

But now there was an audience, on each climb and boulder problem.  There were supporters and there were the critics.  Both could be quite terrifying.

This was my third climb out of three in the series, but as yet none of those I had competed against in my category had climbed against me.  This was no different in London!

Even with my sight I was beginning to recognise other competitors, some had been at all and some just two out of the three, a good report was beginning to build with those who had met before, for me many quizzed me over my lack of Fizz!  Having decided that travelling up and back to London in 1 day was too much for her; as her work would be minimal.

Blindness and sightloss can be a very lonely disability, yet I have always found that ANYONE at a climbing centre is welcoming, supportive and doesn’t question differences.  So when meeting with some of the other VI’s, both male and female, I found myself questioned by my own peers.  Not all, the man who gave me the courage to attempt this; Mr John Churcher and his lovely wife have been great to talk to; get information from and are very supportive.  But especially in London, I found it very difficult to ‘mix’ with others from the VI category, I didn’t feel like it was a “mixing with the enemy” issue, it felt like some of those  competing weren’t looking (pun intended) to be part of Team GB.  A concept that is completely alien to me.

Yes, I am competing for me, for my personal challenge; yet I am competing to join a team, to work with, not against others.

You have probably realised by now, my emotions and ‘feeling’ effect my thoughts and sometimes lead me to distraction; that is what happened in Manchester, (round 2) but it wasn’t going to happen here, not in London.

So, feelings aside, I climbed my arse off!  I beat my own personal score from Manchester, yet found myself standing again on the 3rd podium.

Image of me standing on the left of the image on 3rd place podium spot.

My pride took a beating when 2nd place went to a 12 year old; although not as bad a beating as I had thought when the points details came out.  The competitive side of me was over the moon to discover it was just 6 points between 2nd and 3rd.

Image of the podium, including the 2nd and 1st place winners of the VI female category

It was a harder climb, it was also only 10 days after Manchester.  So for now, I have seven weeks to prepare for the finale….. Newcastle just before Christmas !!!

Time to get some serious training in.




Round 2 Rollercoaster

It has taken me some time to write this, and as I type this I am travelling to London to compete in Round 3.

exterior image of The Mancester Climbing Centre, looking just like a church.

Manchester was a fantastic climbing environment, the inner designer in me was in love, the church looked very much like a church from the outside, and even though I had seen interior images on the inter web, I didn’t expect it to have as much if not more character on the inside.

How I was wrong…….

interior image of a large circular stained glass window at the far centre, with a row of ceiling lights, arched rectangular windows to the side and climbing walls wrapped around and in amongst the building.All of the ‘churchie bits’ that were on the outside, like the large stain glass window at the alter, the solid stone arch of the doorway, the monolithically door frames and doors, along with most of the stone.  It was all there.  They weren’t hidden behind fake walls with holds on, they were worked around; they were in some cases ‘peeping’ out from behind an area, allowing the light to filter through and stream mixes of colours on the walls and the climbers; just as I could imagine it had done on the congregation when it was used for its original purpose.

interior image of Manchester Climbing Centre, looking up to a large stain glassed window, above a brick archway, exposed brick and pillars are seen along with a light coloured climbing wall to the left, with different coloured holds and decorative features.

The building oozed character, charm and beauty.  While at the same time taking ownership of its role as a climbing centre.  The walls weren’t out of place, the chalk dusted floor that comes with every climbing arena was perfectly at home.  The bouldering walls, sat snugly in the rear of the church, that you were lead to by solid stone steps and solid banisters.  The design was deliberate, it worked with the buildings original design, instead of against it.

This climbing competition was going to be different, not because of the building, not because I had a clearer idea of what was needed of me, but because my climbing partner was also entering the competition (all be it a different category to me).

He was going to have his own climbs to concentrate on, his own issues to overcome and his own exhaustion to deal with.  To say it put me in state of anxiety, fear, panic, that I was ‘on my own’ would be an understatement.  I felt trapped between a rock and a hard place.  I want for him to compete and have his chance, but at the same time I wanted him to be focussed on helping me. (for which I felt and still feel guilty and selfish for)

Different competitiors in Edinburgh had been given different routes and problems to solve, which was fair.  After all, some of the competitions had physical disabilities, that would make a difference to the way in which they climbed a route.  So, it was with this in my mind that my fear and worry had grown.

Manchester was however, a very different centre.  There were different climbs for different competitors, but as luck would have it, my route problems were the same as my partners.  So we were both able to work with each other and with the use of his iphone 6s, I was able to watch him climb and offer support.

The climbs were misleading though; from the ground, the descriptions of the holds were large and simple, yet when up there, on the end of a rope with only one shot of making the moves needed, it turned out the holds weren’t simple.  Yes they were large, but held no grip for hands or fingers.  it was like trying to climb with only your feet, not something I was too successful with.

So, the building was beautiful, the experience was amazing, but the result…… Well, that is the bit I am not too happy with, the sort version is I came 3rd.  A result that I have not been happy with, a result that I have played over and over and over in my mind.
A photograph of the winners in the female VI category, I am stood on the 3rd block, which is not clear as Fizz my guide dog is stood directly in front of me.

I am not going to make excuses, I wasn’t happy with my performance and it showed.  My only saving grace in my ranking for my climb was that there were 5 competitors, and the 1st and 2nd place in my category went to women who had previously climbed for Team GB.

I didn’t ‘see’ this at the time, I also didn’t ‘see’ that several of the VI climbers were actually aided by laser pointers.  A gadget I had never considered before.  But this got me thinking……

One of the male VI’s also has a hearing impairment, so he uses hearing aids and it is through these that he hears his guide talking to him with a small mike.  So the 2 climbers that made use of their remaining vision by following a laser light, were just receiving a ‘reasonable adjustment’ for the climb.  Not a cheat, not an unfair advantage, but a supporting role from a floor bound guide.

The one part of climbing competitions that I have found the most difficult is that you only get one shot on a top rope climb.  No second chance if you start off on the wrong foot.  So for me, someone who climbs through feeling and smearing the wall, picking the wrong hold half way up can be the difference between getting higher and coming off.  Most of the climbers, even those with limb amputations can plan the route and get an idea of what and how to climb from the ground.  As a VI climber, maybe it is time to start thinking and climbing differently.

On to round 3….. just 10 days later, although that is actually today.  Off to climb in a castle in London !!!


Ding Ding … Round Two

Sitting in the car, driving along in the dark with nothing but the blur of lights on the motorway.

And where am I off to?

Manchester!  Not for a coffee, not for an exhibition, but for round two of the BMC Paraclimbing 2017 qualifiers.

Having found myself in a quarry in Edinburgh just over a month ago, tomorrow I shall be finding myself inside a renovated church.  Otherwise known as The Manchester Climbing Centre.

Last month was a different kind of nerves, last month I never knew what to expect from the competition.  Now I know the expectations, I know just how hard I need to work on each of the problems.

And the small matter that in Edinburgh I walked away with a glass trophy and 1st Place in my category.

This has almost made me feel more apprehensive, I MUST do better, like I MUST beat my previous placing.  Although, I’m not sure how I beat 1st Place !!!

So, wish me luck and I shall update tomorrow …… If my hands allow me that is.

A very British problem ….

Is politeness.

Have just had a friend call me and apologise, it was lovely to speak with her, however I was a little confused.

She was all flustered and sounded upset, I initially thought she was phoning about her mum who was very sick and that it was bad news.

So it took a few moments…. Then again she apologised, so this time I asked her why.  Her answer;

Because I drove past you in my car going the opposite way and I waved to  you.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at this and said I hadn’t noticed her, so surely I should be the one apologising.  No, no; she continued.  She had spent the rest of her drive chastising herself for it, she wanted to call me the moment she got home to apologise for being so stupid.

By this point she was getting upset again and I struggled to calm her down.  I explained it wasn’t stupid and the gesture was lovely.  I explained that I wouldn’t have seen her, so apologised for not responding.

We both laughed about it and then she said the words, the words I have heard many many times before;

I just didn’t think, because you don’t look blind.

To this I laughed and again, she apologised.  Not that there was any need to, app of my friends know that I do not want to be treated differently, that if I need their help I will ask, so why wouldn’t she have waved to me while in her car?  She would do exactly the same to her other friends.

We talked about how I wasn’t offended by her comment, that I knew she hadn’t meant it as a bad thing.

We had a good giggle about how she would walk past me in the street and wave without me even noticing her.

it is not that I am ignoring or snubbing her, but if she is t speaking I wouldn’t be able to tell who it is.  And having spoken with total strangers before be chase they have waved at someone behind me!!  It is a situation I can relate to.

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