Over two months ago I was scrolling through Facebook and came upon this post…
In a slightly over excited manner I shot to my car and drove to the centre desperately trying not to let it show how excited I was and come across as either a) a total geek or, much worse, b) a stalker. For those of you who are confused by any of this I introduce you to Fran Brown, World Paraclimbing champion and all round amazingly inspirational woman.
I’d first heard of Fran through the Women’s Climbing Symposium, in which she was heavily involved in 2012. A link from the symposium website led to a short film about her. It drastically changed my views of disability and made me change the way I think. She was an intelligent women, speaking without rhetoric, exaggeration or boastfulness about having overcome a disability by training incredibly hard and thereby becoming a World Champion. Her film didn’t speak to me of disability at all – it spoke eloquently of ability and making things happen. So when I saw that she was right there, three miles away at the climbing centre, you can imagine I was quite keen to meet her.
Fran and Nikolas Royale, who is also a disability climber and climbing coach and was Fran’s climbing partner on the day, had been in the centre since early on, so I tried desperately not to harass them the moment I entered the centre, but my impatience got the better of me and after about 20 minutes I sidled up to Nik and introduced myself with a mouthful of nervous nonsense. Both Nik and Fran gave a warm and friendly welcome, showing themselves as sportspeople in total touch with reality and keen to engage people, especially people who are genuinely interested in the beautiful sport of climbing.
We talked for a while and then I shyly asked if she could show me her climbing. After climbing all day, with three cracked ribs (from a training fall), she whipped up one of the top roped lines so quickly I hardly had time to take pictures. Nik expertly belayed from his wheelchair and described his role as the only qualified climbing instructor in the UK with cerebral palsy. Fran came down and explained that she trains for 30-35 hours per week. The sentiment from Nik was the same. He has cerebral Palsy, which reduces sensation in his limbs and significantly affects his movement – sometimes he can’t feel the wall. In 2012 he was told not to climb until 2014, so three months later he was back on the wall and said that he feels the way to be the best is to train harder than anyone else. – that it takes this dedication to become the best.
Fran described how her disability – she is an incomplete tetraplegic – means that although she has some use of her legs, her weight bearing capacity is limited and her movement is also inhibited. With her hands, she said that she doesn’t have full grip and this, understandably, sometimes makes sloping holds difficult. As she said this I thought of all the times I moan about how hard slopers are and I took a massive gulp of humble pie and decided there and then, that I’m not moaning about climbing again. What she made me realise at that point was that if I can’t do something in climbing, it’s exactly that – I can’t do it. There are two choices – either leave it or do something about it. What I learned over three weeks later about Fran is that she leads 7b. That blew my head away yet again.
There were a few things that I forgot to ask in the haze of excitement on that day; like, how hard do you climb, what exact training you do, where do you like to climb outdoors, how do you even get outdoors climbing given the inhospitable ‘walk-ins’ to many outdoors venues and so much more. What this means though, is that I’m hoping to meet up with Fran in the future to ask her these questions and hopefully answer any questions you have for her. So, as a starting point you can see Fran Brown talking about her climbing and how she got to where she is on this short film and, if you have anything you’d like to ask her, post below and maybe she can answer them for us some time.
Many thanks to Nik Royale and Fran Brown for their patience and generously giving me their time at Manchester Climbing Centre. Thanks also to Manchester Climbing Centre for supporting Womenclimb.
You can click here to find out more about Nik’s Story on the DMM website.