Maureen Beck was born without a left hand and forearm. You would have never guessed it though if you had seen her grow up just outside the Acadia National Park in Maine, USA. Her parents treated her like they did her siblings. When everyone went canoeing, so did Maureen, except that she taped the paddle to her prosthetic arm in order to move through the water. She says that her family’s positivity gave her the confidence to try anything. At school, Maureen, or ‘Mo’, refused to sit out during sport and tried out for everything, devising new ways to play on account of her arm. The one time she was sent to a camp for differently-abled kids, she absolutely hated it because she didn’t like others feeling sorry for her. She never went again.
Her real passion though was for rock climbing. She participated in the sport in girl scout camp, and it soon became her No. 1 activity. After graduating from college, she took up ice climbing. She had decided to attach a Trango ice tool to her prosthetic to climb but was wondering if anyone had ever tried it. So she posted a question on a rock climbing website and the answer she got back surprised her. Trango’s founder, Malcolm Daly replied that it was okay to attach the tool, but if something should go wrong, she could not sue Trango. He also mentioned that he climbed too, and did not have a lower right leg. This was the first time that Maureen had connected with other climbers who were also differently-abled and she was thrilled.
Daly then asked her if she would like to attend the Gimps on Ice event in Ouray, Colorado. It was an ice-climbing event undertaken by Paradox Sports, an organisation that promotes and helps people with disabilities to engage with rock climbing. Maureen jumped at this opportunity, and it was a life-changing experience. At Gimps on Ice, there were people with all kinds of disabilities who had one thing in common besides their disabilities – they were athletes. She found this very inspirational and in 2012, she moved to Boulder, Colorado and became a part of the climbing community with Paradox. She loved it here because here, no one was excluded. Everyone was there because they loved climbing. That’s all.
In 2013, she competed with others from the community in the GoPro Mountain Games, in their first adaptive climbing category. When she didn’t win a medal, she was upset but used her disappointment to train harder. In 2014 at the first-ever adaptive climbing national championships, she did win and qualified to go to the World Championships in Spain where she became the first American woman to win an International Federation of Sports Climbing (IFSC) Paraclimbing World Championship. She defended this title in 2016 in France. In 2018, she came third, but this time when she lost, she was not disheartened. Mo realised that she had lost because now there were more people taking part in the category and for her, this growth in the sport amongst others like her was more important than winning.
Besides competing, Maureen says she has a long list of things she wants to accomplish. She wants to ‘explode’ disabled people’s interest and involvement in climbing and to take this idea further, she is now the chair of the paraclimbing committee for USA Climbing. She is also an instructor and Ambassador for Paradox Sports, conducting workshops and training across the nation on the many different aspects of climbing for the disabled.
Maureen was featured in an award-winning documentary, ‘Stumped’. In it, she says, “People look at me say, ‘Wow, you’re climbing with one arm.’ They’re like, ‘Now I have no excuses.'” Then, she adds, “You never had an excuse in the first place.”
Now, that’s something worth thinking about.
Here’s a clip from ‘Stumped’.
Adapted from a National Geographic article by Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.