Keith Warrick had to battle for his life from the moment he was born. He’s persisted through countless surgeries and therapies to overcome heart, skeletal, respiratory and neurological challenges. Still, through climbing Warrick discovered a way to thrive. He became the National Champion in his division in 2017 and placed 12th at the IFSC Paraclimbing World Championships earlier this year in Briançon, France.
At 27 years old, Warrick lives in West Mansfield, Ohio and wants to spread the word about how climbing can help those with disabilities.
Keith Warricks’ Story:
On June 22, 2017 I stepped up to my first National Adaptive Climbing competition route. Little did I or anyone else realize that this competition would spark my travels across the world, but getting there was an uphill battle.
I was born with a serious heart condition which required heart surgery before I was 24 hours old. I have continued to live with life threatening medical complications but I refuse to allow my disabilities to control every aspect of my life, I will define my limitations. Too many people listen to the nay-sayers, cynics and downers. Then they don’t try to overcome obstacles. Luckily for me, I have parents that believe in me and didn’t listen to all the “professionals.”
My parents were told that there would be things I would struggle with. My first cast came when I was just eight days old and I continued to wear if for the first year of my life. It wrapped around my right foot and ankle to treat my club foot, a rare birth defect that caused my right foot to twist out of position. Following the cast, I wore an AFO, a brace for my foot and ankle, until I was 2. In addition to my club foot, I struggled to walk because of severe muscle weakness in my right leg and moderate muscle weakness in my left leg.
Multiple areas of my body are affected by VATER syndrome, a rare syndrome that we were told affects one in a million babies. VATER syndrome is an umbrella term for several different birth defects that commonly occur together. For example, I have three hemi vertebrae that limit the range of motion in my neck and upper spine. It wasn’t until this past World Championship Paraclimbing competition in France that I met someone who has the same syndrome.
I have chronic fatigue that makes everyday life and training hard on some days. I deal with dehydration issues and with a speech processing disorder (my parents were told I would most likely be unable to effectively communicate with people other than close family members). I have a history of hypoventilation, and this causes my carbon dioxide levels to run high, especially when I am exerting myself—there have been times that I am so focused on climbing that I don’t breath the way I should.
My current doctors know all this and, fortunately for me, support my climbing 100%. My cardiologist, Dr. Kurt, is a rock climber as well so he knows the physical strain climbing puts on a body.
I got my start in climbing at Recreation Unlimited in Ashley, Ohio. Recreation Unlimited is “a place where no one has a disability and all are equal.” The nonprofit organization provides programs in sports, education and recreation. Recreation Unlimited has a massive challenge/climbing tower, and I had my sights set on climbing it the moment I saw it. Despite the tower’s impressive height, I climbed it like it was as easy as climbing stairs.
A little over four years ago my Mom heard of a new program starting at Vertical Adventures in Columbus. It was a free Adaptive climbing event, so we signed up to attend. It was amazing! Everyone at Vertical Adventures was welcoming and truly happy to see all the people who came to participate in their event. We have seldom found that in our journey as a “differently-abled family.” I never imagined that I would find a sport that I was truly good at. It is therapy for me. I have always dealt with and still struggle with flexibility and muscle pain due to my disabilities but climbing helps in ways nothing else has. I have gone from monthly flare-ups feeling lethargic and my back and legs being in pain to less frequent flare-ups.
Climbing has since helped me be more confident. Now, I ask to climb with others and am willing to encourage my friends to try climbing, too. Climbing has also helped me with my role as an assistant coach for a football high school team. When I am with student-athletes I am able to relate to them in pushing themselves to do more, train hard and listen to their coaches even when they’d rather not. With climbing I have learned to push myself in ways I would have never imagined. I have had to overcome great doubt every time I approach the wall in competitions. In the last six months I’ve made great strides in working on my self-esteem. It’s freeing to be on a wall, making moves and crushing routes, even when I have to remind myselfI got this.
I live in an area where there aren’t options for many disabled kids in school and I would like to see that change. Climbing has opened doors for me, so why shouldn’t I help open doors for others? We all have obstacles to overcome.
Watch Keith Warrick’s story on abc6.