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Paraclimber Maureen Beck: “If You’re Complaining A Lot, You Should Change The Situation”

Professional athlete, USAC board member, 7-time paraclimbing National / 2-time Paraclimbing World Champion. Works part-time for Eldorado Climbing Walls. Age 35, married, lives in Arvada, Colorado.

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Growing up in Maine, I learned to take advantage of good weather, but also to enjoy bad weather and take adventure in subprime conditions. It’s taught me how to suffer. Maybe having subpar fun taught me to deal with other things, whether jobs or injuries—you know something better is coming up.

It was a shock to my parents that I was born with a disability. They didn’t know, weren’t prepared. They just decided to treat me normally: She’s otherwise healthy, so let’s roll with it.

There were tough times, with four kids. I think my family motto is “Suck it up and deal with it.” We also had a ton of fun. No matter what, we could laugh. That’s a skill that helps with climbing. You can be having a terrible time and terrible weather, and if you can laugh, you come out the other side and want to do it again. My parents taught me to tie my shoes before I went to school. They made me cut my own steak with a knife and fork. They gave me confidence. Maybe they taught me to fake it until you make it.

One thing I’ve had to unlearn is the idea to stand up proud and not ask for help. I wish I’d learned how to ask for help sooner or admit [when] I don’t know what I’m doing. I took my AMGA course three weeks ago, and I was able to raise my hand and say, “Hey, can you help me?” Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. It’s part of disability culture to say you can do anything and inspire people, but you can step away from that.

I almost didn’t finish that 5.12 in [the hit Reel Rock film of 2018] Stumped. We came up with an alternative ending, and if I didn’t do it, I didn’t.

I had my first climbing experience at age 12 at Girl Scout camp. There were very low expectations. I knew I liked it .… I read a lot of books on mountaineering. [Then I] went to college and joined the outing club and went to the climbing gym … I would still run into people saying, “You can’t rock climb; you can’t belay.” I let it set me back; I let it get to me: Maybe they’re right; maybe I should only toprope and never belay.

I came to Colorado and started working with Paradox Sports. They focused on climbing, were staffed by disabled people, with adaptive athletes performing at a high level. [The attitude] was, Well, it’s not an option not to be a full-value climber. Even seven or eight years ago I thought I couldn’t lead-belay, and they helped me work through that.

If you can laugh at something, that means it can’t hurt you. Rather than taking to heart someone saying, “Oh, you can’t belay,” just laugh and do it anyway.

I don’t have too many regrets. I don’t believe in wasting energy with the things you can’t change. That’s a forward-facing philosophy. Complaining is therapeutic, but at the end of the day, if you’re complaining a lot you should change the situation.

Maybe being first in a large family taught me to take space and claim it. Now that I’m a grownup, I don’t let anything stop me just because I’m a woman or have a disability. I go back to being eight years old and fighting for toys with my brothers and asserting my place in the world .… You can show up at the crag and in life and take your place and stake your claim, be proud that you are different.