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Taylorsville Journal

Children of All Abilities Climb Taylorsville’s Rock Wall

Apr 08, 2016 10:24AM ● By Tori La Rue

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

Taylorsville -At first, 9-year-old Spencer Cline had a hard time climbing the rock wall during an adaptive recreation class at the Taylorsville Recreation Center. 

“His instructor rigged up a special system for him and basically carried him up the first few times, which [made] him feel successful,” Spencer’s mother, Michelle Cline, said. “It’s amazing to see how far he’s come.” 

Spencer finished one seven-week adaptive rock-climbing course and came back for a second in January. Now he scales the rock wall using mostly his own strength and climbs up to the top of the wall multiple times during the two-hour class. 

“His gross and motor skills have improved in the program, but the greatest difference to see is the amount of confidence he has in himself,” Cline said. “This program — it makes a difference in people’s lives.” 

Cline checks the adaptive recreation courses offered by the county each season because she believes they offer some of the best programs for kids with special needs but are also inclusive. This means they also allow kids without special needs to play too. This allows her younger son, who does not have special needs, to be involved in the same programs as Spencer, who’s autistic.  

“We’re the opposite of other kinds of programs, I guess you could say,” instructor Ashley Arnold said. “We aim our focus toward special needs, but any regular-bodied person or regular-abled person is invited [to] come, too. We offer equipment for a full range of abilities.”

In addition to the normal pulley system, adaptive rock-climbing staff can rig up three-to-one and five-to-one pull systems, which allow participants to pull only a third or a fifth of their body weight to move toward the top of the rock.

When Spencer needs an extra boost on the wall, his belayer power-belays him, or jumps and pulls their side of the rope as he ascends, to help him move forward. 

Garrett Draper, 7, said he doesn’t like climbing but prefers to use adaptive rock-climbing equipment to ascend instead of climbing up the wall. 

“Garrett’s autistic and tends to get frustrated quickly,” his father, Blake Draper, said. “That’s why I think he prefers to use the ascension method. Since he started doing that, he’s liked coming here a lot more.”

Instead of climbing the wall, Garrett pulls a bar from above his head to his waist, which propels him upward. This system is designed for those people who don’t have mobility in their lower body, but abled-body climbers, like Garrett, still love it, Arnold said.  

A similar ascension system, known as the easy chair, allows climbers to strap themselves into a fabric seat, which supports their back, and use the same bar-pulling system. If participants don’t have mobility in their upper body and can’t pull themselves using the bar, belayers can pull the climber up, allowing them to experience ascension without climbing the wall. 

“We have methods that will work for just about anyone who wants to climb,” Arnold said. 

Arnold coaches Garrett while he uses the ascension method. 

“Hold your hands high above your head and then pull down,” she said repeatedly. 

At the March 9 class, Garrett ascended higher than he’d ever gone before. He was smiling on his way up, and he let out a giant sigh once he returned to the ground.

Spencer was coming down from his climb at the same time as Garrett. Cline covered her eyes as her son descended from the top of the wall. 

“I can’t watch,” she said. “I have an intense fear of heights. I think that’s why it didn’t occur to me to sign him up for the class earlier.”

Once again on the ground, Spencer said he liked climbing. 

“It gives my muscles strength,” he said pointing to his biceps. 

“Some kids can just scamper up the wall, and that’s great for them, but it’s work for Spencer, and he tries really hard and has improved so much,” Cline said. “I’ve noticed so much improvement in the deficiency he has in his finger skills.” 

Cline said she foresees keeping Spencer involved in the program long into the future because it has helped him to realize he can do hard things. 

For more information on this adaptive program or others offered by Salt Lake County, visit

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