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Jaisa Sulit and The Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society

Jaisa Sulit recalls the events leading up to her accident. She was learning to ride a motorcycle, it was 2010 and she was on her first day of training.

“I was on a 250 Suzuki Marauder practicing my left and right turns when I accidentally let go of the clutch. My bike accelerated into the curb where upon impact, both me and the bike got thrown 10 feet across the air, slamming into a chain link fence. I bounced off the fence and landed on my head.”

She sustained a burst fracture of the 12th thoracic vertebra and 60 per cent spinal cord compression; an injury which left her with no movement from the waist down.

Before her accident, she was bright and active, and she’s bright and active now. Before her accident, she had only ever climbed indoors. Her life is different now and Jaisa continues to grow and make strides in her healing.

This summer, she climbed the Stawamus Chief. Her pursuit was facilitated by the Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society (CACS).

This program, emerging into the Canadian therapeutic and climbing spheres, is bringing new experiences to people with disabilities. It’s creating programs and healing for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to benefit from climbing. Spearheaded by Brent Goodman, this project creates opportunities for individuals living with barriers to benefit from climbing.

Brent and an enlivened group of partners and volunteers has begun running programs at the climbing gyms in Greater Vancouver and Squamish, he has teamed up with Canada West Mountain School¬ and is running climbing sessions outdoors in Squamish. The program began in the summer of 2016 and continues expanding, reaching people like Jaisa.

Jaisa is a neuro-rehab occupational therapist. She has held a post as a lecturer at the University of Toronto since 2005. She is therefor distinctly suited to comment about the healing qualities of climbing. As a therapist turned patient, she holds a vantage on the process that few others do.

In 2010, Jaisa sustained her spinal cord injury.

In 2015, she moved from Toronto to Vancouver to refocus on her healing. She was curious how connecting more closely with nature would impact her recovery.

This past January, 2017 she met Brent through common membership with Spinal Chord Injury BC. She had found out about a climbing night being running with the Canadian Adaptive Climbing Centre at the Edge Climbing Centre in Vancouver and decided to give it a try.

In June 2017, Jaisa climbed of the Apron on the Stawamus Chief. If you pause to consider it, that is a remarkable progression.

Jaisa is acutely aware of how the climbing experience benefits her healing. “The spinal cord thrives off of novelty. New activities, new terrain, new challenges,” she explains.

She advocates for functional physiotherapy and says that one of the great advantages for an activity like climbing is the wide variation of routes and types of movement.

“Because my injury affected sensation and movement in my feet, the way in which climbing forces me to pay attention to, engage, and trust my feet has been something that no other activity has challenged me to do.”

The specific therapeutic movements associated with climbing aside, Jaisa observes the healing capacity of fostering the mind-body connection.

“By forcing me to get out of my head and be in my body, climbing leaves me feeling less depressed, stressed and anxious. And as the academic community is beginning to see, there is a clear mind-body connection where improved mental health leads to improved physical recovery.”

In addition to her training as an occupational therapist, Jaisa is a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Instructor. She says that a key element of this training is body awareness.

“Climbing does the same thing because it forces me to be aware of my body from the tips of my fingers to the tips of my toes.”

Therein is the magic of time spent in the vertical world.

Climbing is rad for everyone, but people living with barriers to access these activities have the most to gain. At the efforts of Brent and the CACS, Jaisa and dozens of others are beginning to realize the benefit of new climbing experiences.

Keep an eye out for the Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society beginning to run a program at your gym or crag. To learn more, check out their website.