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UCF program helps disabled Knights use rock-climbing tower. Video by Deanna Ferrante, Central Florida Future

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A group of UCF students are offering a new perspective of individuals who use wheelchairs. To see it, you might want to try looking up.

Participants in UCF’s new adaptive climbing program are using the rock-climbing tower at the Recreation and Wellness Center to rise above the skeptics and climb over old stereotypes.

The program serves as a sense of empowerment that brings them to the Climbing Tower.

“For me, when I do it, I just feel so free,” said Katherine Torres, a senior health services administration major. “It’s really cool just being able to challenge myself and do things that a lot of people don’t think I could possibly do.”

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Torres has a muscle weakness that doesn’t allow her to stand or walk. However, she said she loves to challenge herself and prove to the naysayers — those who think she is defined by her disability — just how wrong they are.

“People with disabilities are able to do things, just in a different way,” she said.

The university started the program this summer, although the project has been in development since 2013, said Nathan Vink, assistant director of Outdoor Adventure. The program aims to assist students with different abilities to experience the benefits that come from climbing, whether they’re novices or experts.

“We feel like this gives students something to work toward,” Vink said. “A challenge. A way that they can get involved … and also feel included, feel like their voice is heard, that they’re as important on campus.”

The RWC recently purchased the special equipment, which enables students with limited mobility or partial paralysis to use the climbing facilities.

This equipment, called the HAUL system, uses pulleys, a special seat harness with strapping and padding, and handlebar-style “ascenders” to aid paraplegics and students with limited feeling in scaling the wall.

The system allows for a four-to-one mechanical advantage, which means if the individual weighs 100 pounds, it feels like he or she is lifting 25. But, it also means that the person travels one-fourth the distance up the rope with each pull — the amount of arm strength it requires is substantial.

During the summer, the RWC held a training course for the student staff that works at the climbing wall. The training was to ensure that they not only had the technical skills to work with the new equipment, but also the interpersonal skills to deal with different types of students.

“When students first come to our open climbing wall, a lot of them are super intimidated,” said Kristin Gloystein, a grad student who works at the Tower. “Getting rid of that intimidation factor is really important for us, especially for people who have never considered using a climbing wall before.”

Kylee de Castro, a senior psychology major and the Tower lead, said she was fully on board with bringing the program to UCF.

“I just think it’s an awesome system to have, that nobody feels like they can’t come here and experience it just because they aren’t able-bodied,” she said.

The adaptive climbing program is just one part of the RWC’s adaptive and inclusive recreation. Others, such as the Student Assisted Workout program, also help students with disabilities use the machines and workouts offered by the gym to create and maintain an exercise plan.

The next step forward in expanding the inclusiveness of the recreation facilities is a special kayak for use on Lake Claire, which has a distinctive seat and lighter paddles to make it easier for students with limited mobility to navigate. The Outdoor Adventure department is currently waiting for it to ship.

Torres said she’s eager to test it out once it arrives, and for many of the RWC staff, that determination and excitement is the reason they continue to make improvements.

“It’s a lot of discovery and a lot of exploration,” Vink said. “But really an important piece, we feel like. A way that we can continue to answer the question, ‘What more can we do?’”

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Deanna Ferrante is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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