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No Barriers Podcast Episode 90: Pushing the Limits with Maureen Beck

Our hosts, Erik and Jeff, speak with climber extraordinaire, Maureen “Mo” Beck. They discuss her career as a world-renowned one-handed climber and her journey from scrambling rock faces in Maine at 12 years old to winning world championships.

Maureen Beck was born without her left hand, but that didn’t stop her from picking up the sport of climbing at the age of 12. Now based in Colorado’s Front Range, Mo spends her nights training at the gym and her days climbing all over the American southwest. She works closely with the adaptive climbing community as an instructor with Paradox Sports and is the Chair of the USAC Paraclimbing Committee.

As a competitive climber, she has won 6 national titles, a gold medal at the 2014 Paraclimbing World Championships in Spain, and defended that title with a gold medal at the 2016 World Championships in Paris. In 2018, she went on her first alpine expedition to the Northwest Territories in Canada’s Nahanni National Park where she and fellow adaptive climber Jim Ewing attempted the legendary Lotus Flower Tower.  Maureen starred in the 2017 Film Stumped which has won numerous awards and toured hundreds of cities all over the world, and in the 2019 film Adaptive. Mo is an athlete for The North Face, Petzl, Sterling Rope, TRUBLUE Climbing, Gnarly Nutrition, and Scarpa.

In addition to climbing, Mo loves gardening, her chickens and dogs, sleeping in cars, and fine Scotch whiskey.


Watch Stumped on Amazon Prime

Learn more about the film Adaptive 

Watch Adaptive on Vimeo

Mo in the Mountains

A Guide to Rock Climbing terminology




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Episode Transcript

Maureen : I think the older I get, the more comfortable with failure I get. If you're not failing, you're not getting better, whether it's literally falling or whether it's not getting to the summit or your objective, not ascending. You're only getting better through failure.

Erik : It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is

Erik : . I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happened to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. Part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. In that unexplored terrain between those dark places, we find ourselves then in the summit, exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call No Barriers.

Erik : (singing) Speaker 2: Maureen Beck was born without her left hand, but that didn't stop her from picking up the sport of climbing at the age of 12. Now, based in Colorado's Front Range, Mo spends her nights training at the gym and her days climbing all over the American Southwest. She works closely with the adaptive climbing community as an instructor with Paradox Sports, and is the Chair of the USAC Paraclimbing Committee. Speaker 2: As a competitive climber, she has won six national titles, a gold medal at the 2014 Paraclimbing World Championships in Spain, and defended that title with a gold medal at the 2016 World Championships in Paris. Maureen also starred in the critically acclaimed 2017 film, Stumped, and in the 2019 film, Adaptive. Mo also loves gardening, her chickens and dogs, sleeping in cars and fine scotch whiskey. Enjoy the conversation.

Erik : So Mo, it's very cool to have you on the No Barriers podcast. You are in now Front Range, which is the East side of the Rockies in Colorado. Climber in our community, so it's really cool. I'm psyched. I think we've probably been climbing in the same rock gyms maybe at the same time, because have we met actually in person or no?

Maureen : We have in super passing and in such a minor way that when I do see you at the gym, I'm like, oh, he's not going to remember me. I'm not going to say hi.

Erik : Yeah.

Maureen : So, that.

Erik : You have a killer film that's called Stumped. By the way, I am such a huge fan of your title of your film. I think that is the greatest title. I just love it. It's like, gives me goosebumps, that title, because of the double-entendre.

Maureen : I can't take credit for it. The filmmakers came up with that, but as soon as they were like, "Hey, is this offensive?" And I'm like, "Kind of in the best way." So, I love it.

Erik : Yeah.

Jeff : Yeah. Perfectly offensive.

Erik : Oh, it's so offensively great.

Maureen : But it was... it is. It's about... it's the problem-solving as well as, it's what I have to work with.

Erik : Yeah.

Maureen : Yeah.

Erik : So, way back in the '90s, Mo, I went on this really cool climb. We did an ancient art with... and I was ... climbed with Hugh Herr and Mark Wellman. It was the first time that I ever heard somebody with a disability, Mark said, "Hey, man, this is really cool. We're climbing with three gimps." And I'm like, "Are you allowed to say that, Mark?" He's like, "Oh yeah, we're gimps. You're a gimp, dude." I'm like, "Okay, cool." So, I've always, since then, really appreciate that. I know you also climbed with this great organization we'll talk about later called Paradox Sports, and they have this ice climbing event called Gimps on Ice, and I totally love that title, but I know they had to change it because the sponsors were like, "Hey, that may not be appropriate."

Maureen : Yeah. I mean, it's like, honestly, I never did anything disabled related or adaptive. I didn't consider myself having a disability, even though I'm missing a significant body part. I just didn't identify with a lot of the groups that were out there. My parents sent me to a summer camp when I was a kid, for kids with disabilities, and I hated it. It just wasn't my scene, but when Malcolm from Paradox reached out to me and said, "Hey, do you want to come out to this ice climbing event?

Maureen : It's called Gimps on Ice," I was like, "Oh. Yeah, you guys might get me. That makes me laugh. I think I could be down with that." Even though, yeah, they did change the name to maybe appease some donors or something, I still call it Gimps on Ice, for sure. That is still what I will always call it, because that was just my first time where I actually became comfortable with my identity as a disabled person. It took that irreverence to pull that out of me. I owe that to that silly name.

Jeff : When you say that... talking about Erik being with Wellman and Herr, and hit that story along with you going with that title for the film, there becomes an empowerment part of it, too. It's like, I can refer to myself as this and own it, and therefore it demystifies it, and it takes it out of this... it takes it away from you and give it to me. Is that part of it as well?

Maureen : Yeah, for sure. Taking ownership of something that could be used possibly as something to hurt you or make you feel bad about yourself, and this doesn't apply to all words like that, of course.

Jeff : Sure.

Maureen : For some words like this one, yeah. I just thought that really owning it and embracing it, and it's just, by owning it as the community, I think it gives us power with it. And a lot of words that maybe... what I call normies, or what we call normies-

Jeff : Normies.

Maureen : ... used to describe us, it sounds more prescribed. The disabled community, yeah, that's what we are, but it's so formal. It doesn't sound like much fun.

Jeff : Normies, that's when they use that. You start Stumped with all these lies about how you lost your hand, which is obviously, just puts everyone at ease. So, what are your best lies about how you lost your hand? Yeah, tell everyone.

Maureen : That's probably the best of the best ones. It's like alligator attack. I often use, didn't eat my veggies, because it's usually kids who'll be like, "What happened?" and that's just the most thing to tease a kid about is if you don't eat your vegetables, you'll lose body parts. Also, I'm known for my terrible diet anyway, so it kind of checks out. That opening sequence, though, it's really funny to watch with different audiences because at that point in the film, it's the beginning and everybody has these preconceived notions of when it's okay to laugh and not okay to laugh. At that point, people are still like, "We can't laugh at disabled people. We can't laugh."

Maureen : It's just really funny seeing different audiences. In Boulder, watching that movie where a lot of people know me, people were laughing from the get-go, but when I was in Germany, which is a very serious culture, it was awkwardly silent for at least the first 15 minutes of the film. I do have these friends that have had like horrific accidents that make for really bad-ass stories, and they've persevered and come through stuff, and I'm like, I was just born this way. I feel like I haven't had to persevere anything. I've not had to change or, I feel like a lot of times, I haven't even had to adapt too much, because it's just always what I've known.

Jeff : Yeah, but that is really an interesting part of this though. Erik's the same way. The two of you have a very similar process than a lot of the folks that we all know, who just had these really, like, "Oh," what'd you call it, a normie, like, "normie, normie, normie, normie, normie," and then bam, lightning bolt, right? Then the adaptation has to happen, sort of just all of a sudden, whereas opposed to both of you were given the opportunity, I think, maybe to just segue into it, embrace it. Slowly, I'm going to dial it in over time. I don't know which one would be more beneficial or not. Do you have any insight on that or what would be your thoughts?

Maureen : I think as far as the community is concerned culturally, there's differences between people that had something happen to them, had a traumatic event, versus us who just get to coast, in a relative term, but I think the role that Erik and I can play is like, oftentimes I'll see a forum post or somebody somewhere saying like, "I just lost my arm. I just lost my leg. My life is going to suck now." And for someone like me, it's my job to be like, "Hey, yo. My life is awesome. You can get through this. Life is still pretty freaking rad, no matter what happens to you." That's how... so even though I may not be able to relate to that switch going off, I hope that maybe people can still see the other side of that switch through that. Once they've worked through the trauma, getting through the other side.

Erik : Because you were born without a hand and that's your normal. You're a normie in your own mind.

Maureen : Totally. My grandma once said that God was drinking when he put me together. So, thanks Grandma.

Erik : Kind of like Wild Turkey or something, you think, or maybe Jim Bean or something?

Maureen : Just like, whatever angel was putting me together was like, "Yeah, oh, this arm, leg. Oh, I forgot a hand. Whatever. Send her out."

Erik : Yeah.

Jeff : Well, you do like your scotch whiskey though, from what I understand.

Maureen : I do.

Jeff : Are you neat? Are you on the rocks, or what?

Maureen : I'm on the rocks. I've been led to believe it helps open up the flavors. I have been to Scotland twice, both with the excuse of like, oh, there's a climbing comp. I have to go, but definitely picking those comps so that I could then after the comp, go tour Scotland just sample all the scotch.

Erik : And you also, besides, you climb 5.12, which is for people who don't climb extraordinarily hard, and that was the focus of the film, but you also would probably climb 5.13 if it weren't for what? Like, cupcakes and Mac and Cheese, and M&M's? Is it M&M's part the list?

Maureen : Yeah, I mean Oreos. Goldfish.

Erik : Oreos?

Maureen : Yeah. It's interesting. So, now I'm 34 and I do feel like I have to start maybe paying a little more attention, or when I eat better, I'm like, whoa, I feel better, because I didn't have three burritos for breakfast. I can climb better when I don't start my day with an egg McMuffin.

Jeff : Hey Erik, by the way, listen to what she's saying right now. She's throwing you knowledge, bro. So, ease up on the Cinnabons early in the morning.

Erik : I haven't had a Cinnabon in 20 years.

Jeff : You're way older than 34, by the way.

Erik : Yeah.

Maureen : For me, it's more of a balance. I don't know that there's any climb worth sacrificing what makes me happy in the long run and climbing does make me happy in the long run, and yeah, I'll make short-term sacrifices if I'm training for a comp or training for an objective, but I'll never be that person who eats kale every single day of the week, just to be able to climb hard. That's not worth it to me.

Erik : But you did train hard for your big climb. What was it called? Days of Future Past? Is that what it's called?

Maureen : Yeah, it's named after some old jazz song, which I haven't listened to. I probably should by now. It's kind of a funny story. The newest Boulder Canyon guidebook came out. It actually got downgraded to 11D.

Erik : Oh, that's so mean.

Maureen : So, maybe, technically I still have never climbed 5.12. I don't know.

Erik : Yeah, they're like, oh, a gimp climbed it, so it couldn't be 5.12.

Maureen : You know, you said it, not me.

Erik : So mean. That is so mean.

Jeff : [crosstalk 00:11:41] No, that's a very Bouldery thing to do, too. Its like, "Oh wait a minute. It's not 12A anymore. It's 11D." No, it's a 12A, Mo. We're going to leave it at that. [crosstalk 00:11:52]

Maureen : Yeah, I'm cool with it because Mountain Project Consensus is still 12A. Multiple guidebooks before are still 12A. It's a technical cryptic climb, that once you've figured it out, it probably does feel 5.11, but until you figure it out, you're just like, what? Why can I not get past this three feet? It's actually extra hilarious because in the film, I use beta. It's very specific to me that no one else should use. If you have two hands, do not do what I did. I see footage all over Instagram of people trying my beta and falling off, and I'm like, no, don't copy me. I'm not the way.

Jeff : I got the idea in the visuals of the film, even though I couldn't see it, that you have to twist your body like a pretzel, because there are certain things you can't do. Is it your left hand that you're missing?

Maureen : Yes. Yep.

Jeff : So, you've got to do these crazy pretzel maneuvers, to get your right hand where your left hand is supposed to be stretched out and reaching. I can't... it's hard for me to even almost imagine that.

Maureen : Yeah. So, the crux, it's not steep or overhanging. It's pretty much dead vertical, maybe even less than, but it's this greasy crack with terrible feet. I actually couldn't tell you what two handed people do because I've just been so focused on mine, but basically, you traverse into it. So, reach way right into the crack with my hand, bring my stump into the crack as well, and it comes in at one angle, but then I have to twist my stump inside of the crack to really cam it and make sure it doesn't pop out. So, I can then let go with my right hand, and then reach up and right for the crimp that then gets me out of that crux.

Jeff : And you tread that stump, probably, so you have to probably tape it up, right? Do you layer it up?

Maureen : I always climb with it taped because the skin on my stump is the same as the skin on your forearm. It's never going to callous. It's just not designed to callous. All other arm amputees, especially if they're shorter than me, their elbow skin becomes the top of their stump and they can callous. I've tried not using tape thinking maybe I'll become strong and callous, and it just ends up with blood bloody stumps everywhere.

Jeff : Dude such [crosstalk 00:13:52]. That's a metaphor for life right there.

Erik : Yeah.

Maureen : I have... Yeah, somehow.

Erik : So, I climbed with this guy, and I don't know if this is that important, but it really connected me. He's like, "When you get into the 5.11, you can't power your way up." A human being just isn't strong enough. You cannot just do pull-ups up the rock face. It's all about body positioning, and these very specific movements that unlock a door, key a locking a door. Once you discover what that sequence is, the door opens. I just want people to understand that that's the beauty of climbing.

Maureen : It's such a cool feeling, but then it's also anti-climactic when you try something over and over again, and then you get it, there's no fireworks that go off. It's just over until the next one. So, it's this combination of so satisfying and then so underwhelming, and by the time you clip the chains, you're just like, all right, I guess we'll go drink a beer and figure out what's next. It never ends. I think I like that about rock climbing is it does never end.

Maureen : Even Adam Ondra, who's arguably the strongest climber in the world right now, he has things he can improve on and he could be stronger. He could climb smarter. So, there's just always ways to grow. As I get older and broken, and can't climb as hard, I can expand my skills more in Alpine, or I can get better at trad climbing on easier stuff. Climbing never has to end, which is something I love about it.

Jeff : Yeah. When we got down from Everest, the first thing that our expedition leader said to Erik is don't let Everest be the greatest thing that you ever do, right? Because I think that people who are drawn to those big objectives like you with your 5.12, or a big mountain, we work so hard to be able to try to achieve that, and we're generally purpose driven people. It's in our genes.

Jeff : Then when we succeed at something like that, there's a few different ways it can go, right? You can have a void and... I've seen people, mountaineers, climbers fall into a little bit of an addictive personality with substance abuse, because it's like, "Oh, I'm done with that. Now I need to find that next fix." Did you park it for a few minutes, after you got done with that, or did you keep that training... fitness level up and just keep cranking?

Maureen : Yeah. So, fitness level? Not so much because right after I ascent, three weeks later or something was the premiere of the film, and the film was really well received. So before I knew it, I was on planes to Europe and showing the films on all the coasts, and big cities. It was wild and such a privilege, but it did mean a lot of... if I was home, I was sleeping and hanging out with my family, and if I was on the road, I was on the road. So, it was probably about a year of talking about climbing, but not really climbing

Erik : Isn't that the best kind of climbing sometimes? Just sitting around, drinking a cup of coffee, talking about climbing?

Maureen : Totally. Just like this. But I was lucky. Right after, while all that was going crazy, someone reached out to me about doing an Alpine expedition in the Northwest territories, which is totally my... I've never done this style of climbing before. I kind of trad to climb, but not really, and it was just pitched to me as a next step that fell in my lap, that was different enough, that I didn't have to go be like, "Cool. Now, I have to go climb 12B or 12C." It was a different progression that I think helped diversify my goals, so I'm not getting sucked down any one particular hole.

Erik : And by the way, for everyone, this climb, I think what you did was Lotus Flower Tower, which is on Jeff and my dream list. I mean...

Jeff : Yeah. we've been wanting to do that for a long time.

Maureen : It's cool.

Erik : Did your stump get right in the crack? Was that crack climbing pretty easy or what?

Maureen : No. The pictures are such a lie. I think if you read the comments, they tell you like, oh, it's thin tips, but photos, your brain just tells you, it's going to be splinter hands, and it's not.

Erik : It's not.

Maureen : It's thin, shallow. The headwall is gorgeous, but it's thin, shallow flares. I just remember my partner chiseling moss out to get tiny little knots in, and you're actually climbing the face the whole time. You're not jamming. The lower half of the root was much bigger. It's much easier, but it's super Tross. The most convinced I've ever been that I might actually get hurt is just rocketing Alpine Tross. The headwall is beautiful and clean, but it's not splitter. The climb itself, I'm not sure why that climb is 50 classics.

Jeff : Legendary. Yeah.

Maureen : Yeah, legendary. The whole time I'm up there, I'm like, I don't know if this is actually that good, but the whole package...

Jeff : Wow, Erik, maybe we should reevaluate our goal. We're getting [crosstalk 00:18:34]

Erik : That actually totally shattered my dreams.

Jeff : I know.

Maureen : Well, it's also just a magical place. We bivy-ed. We took two days and the bivy ledge is huge. The Northern lights came out, and the only night of warm, clear, windless weather we had was the night of our open bivy.

Erik : Oh, lucky.

Maureen : So each pitch, I'd be like, what am I doing here? But then the whole package was magical. Being up in the Nahanni National Forest and the true wilderness, and naming all of the [inaudible 00:19:02] I can. Yeah.

Erik : Was the guy an amputee as well, your partner?

Maureen : Yeah. So, Jim lost his leg about five years ago. So, that would have been only three years before we did this, in a climbing accident. This was his like, "I almost died. What's something that I've wanted to do forever, but kept pushing off because life gets busy and the family happens, and the work happens?" He's like, "What do I want to do, now that I just pulled through this near-death thing?" For him, it was Lotus, because it's always been there, but it's a pain in the to get to. It's a logistical nightmare and it's expensive.

Maureen : It's real easy to put those kind of dream aside, and he just said, "Nope. I'm going to do it and I want to do it with another amputee, because I just think that would be cool." Because he's new to the world. He's new to the community, new to the club. Again, I think he got... I learned a lot from him, because he has done a ton of Alpine climbing and big peaks, and big walls and stuff. Then he got to learn a little bit from me about just what it's to have a disability that you can laugh about, I think.

Erik : Would you guys argue, like, "It's way harder to be missing a hand," He'd be like, "No way. It's way harder to miss a leg." Then I could be like, "No way. It's way harder to be blind."

Maureen : Dude, all of my one legged friends have been like, "I would much rather be missing a leg than a hand." So, I don't know what their problem is.

Erik : Now. Let me shift tacks. So, you grew up in my favorite place on the East coast, Maine, right?

Maureen : Yeah.

Erik : I love Maine. I love it. They got the mountains and the snow, and the ice and the ocean, and rivers. It's the best East coast state. Sorry for everyone else in New England. And you tried rock climbing, I guess. At least the way you explained it, you thrashed and completely failed. Now, so you're thrashing and failing when you start something. Where's the positive feedback loop that makes you want to keep doing this and become a five star climber?

Maureen : Man, the feedback loop is a good question. So, I tried it the first time because it was at summer camp, and I tell this story a lot where at summer camp we do all sorts of activities, and for any given activity, I used to wear a prosthetic as well. So for most things, I could just duct tape my way through it. I could duct tape the archery bow to my hand. I could duct tape the canoe paddle to my hand, but when it came time for rock climbing, I remember the counselor was just like, "Oh, you only have one hand. You can sit this one out." I was like 12 or something, so I'm pretty sure my reaction was the 12-year-old version of, "F you. You can't tell me what to do. I'm going to prove you wrong."

Maureen : And so I still tried it. I don't think it went great, but I did it and I kind of proved her wrong, but I didn't become a climber then and there. That was just my first exposure. I got really into reading about mountaineering, because I grew up in Ellsworth, Maine. It's just outside of Bar Harbor. Not really big mountains, and I just remember somehow at the local bookstore, I bought my first issue of Outside magazine, because I really liked hiking. Then I bought my first books on mountaineering and I was just like, this is really cool. Eventually, by the time I was in high school, I had climbed all the big peaks in Maine and New Hampshire, and then decided to try this rock climbing thing again, because everybody in photos of rock climbing, they look like total badasses and I wanted to be a badass. So, I totally got into climbing for the image.

Erik : Nice.

Maureen : But again, it was something new and exciting, and I just didn't like normal. I was from a small town and normal is boring, blah, blah. When you're an emo teenager, you always want to stand out and be different, and for me, that was rock climbing. I got lucky that I picked something I could still do when I wasn't an emo high schooler versus, I don't know, dying my bangs purple.

Erik : Did you just start ice climbing though too, even before rock climbing? Like you ...

Maureen : No. Yeah.

Erik : Didn't you attach a tool, a Trango ice tool to your stump? Was that you?

Maureen : It was. It's how I first met Malcolm, because I posted photos of it on rockclimbing.com, I think, and he reached out and said, "Don't sue Trango if you hurt yourself with that, please. We have nothing to do with your half arm."

Erik : That's not cool.

Maureen : That was actually in college. So, by the end of college, I was running the climbing programs at my university. I was instructing all sorts of stuff, and the next step... Especially in Vermont. In the winter, you can either ski or ice climb, and usually the seasons exclude each other. If it's a good skier, it's a terrible icier, and vice versa. My senior year of college was a terrible ski year, but the flows were deep and blue. I said, "Let's do this. What's more Vermont than freezing your tail off ice climbing?" So, in my buddy's garage, we just chopped the handle off an old EMS rental tool, counter sunk a screw into it and went nuts, and it worked horribly. It was so uncomfortable. It was so cold, that I actually stopped ice climbing for a while, because it was just so miserable. Then when I moved to Colorado, I figured out how I can climb just with two tools, two normal tools.

Erik : So, I have a question about you. you say you went to the school of hard knocks and your friends helped you adapt a bunch of techniques, and stuff LIKE that. That's a cool way to do it, because you said you weren't really into these organizations. You just out with friends, which is the way it should be. So, what were those early adaptations that your friends helped you to figure out?

Maureen : Yeah, and like, it was cool and all learning from friends and just figuring out, should I rock climb with my prosthetic? Should I take it off? Can I possibly belay? I did all of that pre-internet. I know it sounds crazy, but in middle school, early high school, we didn't have internet. Even if we did, there weren't... you couldn't go to paradoxsports.com or you couldn't Google how to rock climb with one hand like you can now. Yeah. You just had to find friends dumb enough to try stuff with you. Which for me, fortunately, it was easy and it was hard. I did learn it all and I knew I was safe, but I definitely ran into some people who were like, "Oh, I don't trust a one handed belayer."

Maureen : And at the time, I just accepted that. I was like, "Oh, maybe you're right. Maybe I'm not safe," but now looking back at 20-year-old me, I'm like, screw those guys. You are safe. You know what you're doing. You're safer than every other Yahoo who's checking out the chick in the yoga pants rather than paying attention to his climber. So, I think through those experiences, I've become a more fierce advocate of, just because you don't look normal and maybe don't do things quite to textbook, use your critical thinking skills because you are still safe and capable. Then you can still be a 100 % skilled rock climber.

Maureen : Before I thought I was a safe lead belayer, I definitely felt like I was just a liability to my group of climbing friends. They brought me along as a not fully participating partner. They had to plan on someone else being there to lead belay them. That sucked. So, me figuring out how to lead belay changed the dynamic in my relationship with climbing. I was now an actual independent climber. So, I get really pissy when I hear about climbing gyms that won't even try to teach someone with one hand how to lead belay, or even top rope belay in some of these places. I get into crazy mom mode about it and call the gym, and I'm like, "Just so you know, they can belay."

Erik : But there is a part of your personality... because it sounds like, okay, so you start playing soccer and you're like, "I'm going to be the goalie." It's like, okay, well, wait a second. That's the worst position for a person...

Maureen : I wasn't even good at it. I don't know.

Erik : But maybe that's just part of your personality, right? I've taken blind kids rock climbing in the gym. I remember distinctly one kid who is a good athlete. I think he played goalball or something, and he did one climb on the wall and he's like, "Oh, I'm not very good at this, and I guess I'll just stick to goalball. I was like, no, that's the opposite reaction. It sounds like you're the kind of person who doesn't really need that positive feedback loop. You're just going to figure it out, I guess, right? Or, is that your philosophy or are you just maybe prone towards that?

Maureen : Yeah, maybe. Well, I think it's more rooted in, I guess when I was younger, I liked proving people wrong more than I liked being successful. I liked the shock factor of, "Whoa, the one-arm kid, the goalie. That's dumb," but I was also the goalie because I hated running."

Erik : Does that still work for you or was that just the young you?

Maureen : It still kind of works for me. I think the older I get, the more comfortable with failure I get. There's also the philosophy with skiing, where it's like, if you're not falling, you're not getting better, and it's true for climbing. If you're not failing, you're not getting better, whether it's literally falling or whether it's not getting to the summit, or your objective, not ascending. You're only getting better through failure. I've never learned much on a climbing day, where everything goes to plan and it was easy. I've had fun and it's pretty, but I've never learned anything on those days. I think the older I get, the more I appreciate how much there still is left to learn and I appreciate being new at things. Climbing has some weird elitism to it. I hope it's getting better, but when I was younger, it wasn't cool to admit you weren't an expert.

Maureen : Do you know what I mean? You can be like, "Oh, take me climbing. I don't know how to do that, but show me." You had to be like, "Yeah, I know how to do it," but I'm not going to go because I don't know how to do it, and I'm too ashamed to say that I don't know. I wasted so much time posturing about climbing, and when I finally was like, "I don't care if people think I'm a goober or a noob. I just want to go climbing and learn everything I can." Life got so much better.

Erik : I bet you mentors love that, because I found that in my own personal experience, if you are just open about what you want to learn, people take you under their wing and they'll teach you.

Maureen : Yeah. I've been climbing for over 20 years now and I still... I've been climbing a lot in the last decade and I still... even just simple sport climbing, which you'd think you've run out of things to learn. I still learn. I think really what it comes down to is I love learning. I started fly fishing a couple of years ago and I'm still pretty bad, but trying something new at again is really fun, because eventually, when you've done something for so long, all of your improvements are going to be so small. You might even not notice them, but it was so fun to start a new sport where I was a total beginner at and see that improvement pretty quickly when you're a beginner.

Jeff : You threw a lot of lines into some bushes and shit, didn't you?

Maureen : Oh yeah.

Jeff : Yeah.

Maureen : I probably sent some fly tyer's kid to college, I'm pretty sure, with what I was losing in those trees.

Jeff : Yeah, but I mean, I get the sense from you, obviously, yeah. I mean, the whole goalie soccer thing, in my mind, everything I know about you, that kind of encapsulates you, right? You're like, "I can be any player. Yeah. I mean, maybe people would peg me as being an attack person. I could be up in the... firing off goal, but no. I'm going to choose goalie, the one position on the soccer field that really isn't congruent. Oh, I'm going to take up climbing, which most people of as digits, toes, hands.

Jeff : No, and I'm going to do that." That is definitely... you're wired... and I think that, in a way, that goes back to that first thing I said to you, which was, was it a traumatic event that did a paradigm stop, bam, and you had to figure it out from there? Or was it this young girl who was born this way, who over the course of time, her personality... Your personality clearly represents, I think, this process that you've been in since the day you were born.

Maureen : Because I've never thought of it that way, but yeah, I think so. I mean, it's like that kid you took climbing who decided that he was over it already. I guess I've never decided to be over that.

Erik : Yeah, and you know what's cool as well is that there are all these ideas that you've got to follow your strengths in life, all these business books written about this idea, give up your weaknesses, go for your strengths. That's exponential [crosstalk 00:30:39].

Maureen : I think I'm a 'fake it till you make it' person.

Erik : Yeah, exactly what you're saying, and I like this, because we always talk about this No Barriers map, right? Is there a map that people use to navigate their lives? Maybe there is, but it's not the map people think, because it's not like you put in the length of your arms or how many hands you have, and out pops what you should be doing in life. That is not the map. I wouldn't have ever stepped into the mountains if that were the map. So, I think that's the beauty of this no barriers way we all navigate the world.

Maureen : Yeah. I think a lot of that has to do, too, with always saying yes. I should have said no to that trip to Lotus. Not my style. I don't really do trad, let alone Alpine. I should have said no. Then I thought about the only reasons I have to say no is because I'll be uncomfortable and I'm nervous about looking like I don't know what I'm doing, but those are bad reasons. So actually, I told Jim yes before I even had fully researched what the climb was, because I was like, "Yes, I'm in. Wait, what?" But I even have to force myself, sometimes, into those new experiences that I'm slowly learning they'll always work out. They'll always pay off. It might not look like how you thought it was going to look like, but the other side is always worth it. So, yeah, I've decided to be a yes person. If someone wants to...

Erik : Maybe there was a glass of scotch in your hand when you said yes to that adventure.

Maureen : Could be, but if someone was like, "Hey, do you want to go try polka dancing?" I'd be like, "Not really, but okay. Let's go."

Jeff : Well, yeah. I just wrote this not but just a few months ago, but I literally almost... you just quoted, [inaudible 00:32:19]. Oftentimes in my life, I've felt like I've been asked to do something, and without really giving it a lot of rational thought, said yes, because I know that there is a chance of failure, but that if I'm pressed onto it, and now I've made... I've spoken to the world. Like, "Okay, I'm doing it. I'm doing it now and I'm accountable." Now comes the fun and the hard part, like, "Okay, I'm doing it. The world knows.

Jeff : Now, I've got to learn how to do it. Now, I figure it out and risk everything to be able to get to that point." I just wrote that a few months ago, and I think some people would interpret that as being reckless, right? Some people might say, "Well, that sounds awful reckless to me. I'm not so sure. I almost feel like it's holding yourself accountable."

Maureen : Yeah. I always think of the reasons I have to say no. I do list them out and they never say like, "Oh, you could die or you could lose your career." If that ever appeared on the no list, sure. I probably wouldn't do it, but I realized that my noes were lame excuses to not change and not challenge myself, and I wasn't happy with that. So, the yes column wins out 90% of the time.

Erik : Yeah. I heard you say that you don't really want to be known as a paraclimber or the best woman climber. You just want to be known as a good climber, and I relate to that. You know what I mean? In a way, we're like Jamaican bobsledders. You know what I mean? You're recognized because you're unique, yet at the same time, sort of a dilemma in your brain, right? Because you want to be recognized for, I don't know, your accomplishments or your effort, but not just the fact that you're an amputee or whatever. So, how do you reconcile that in your brain?

Maureen : It's hard, especially professionally. So, Stumped set me up for this pro climbing career that I never knew I wanted or had a chance at, and I've really struggled with it because I'm sitting at tables with people that climb 5.14, 5.15, that are going to the Olympics, and I'm just like, there's serious imposter syndrome with that. Then you're always worried about being tokenized, like am I only here because I'm the token diversity hire?

Erik : Well, yeah. When you showed up for your first comp, you were the only amputee woman so you got an instant gold.

Maureen : Yeah. It's like, "Yay, I won!" I think you should get credit for showing up for sure, but I was like, I'd rather win-win. I've had to wrap my head around what it means to be successful without ever... Let's be real. I'm probably never climbing 5.14. Maybe 5.13, but so it's like, what does it mean to be a professional athlete if you can't tick those numbers? And there's relative stuff. I've had people tell me like, "Oh, well, if you grew a second hand tomorrow, you probably would just climb 5.13 plus off the couch." So, it's reassuring hearing that coming from people, but then I'm also getting more comfortable in the role model role, which I struggle with a bit, because from where I'm at, I'm like, well, I didn't wait for anybody who looked like me to do at first.

Maureen : I just went and did it, but then I realized not a lot of people are comfortable with that or have that privilege to just go do it. I have heard from a lot of people who thought... they told me, they were just like, "I also have one hand, or I have a disability and I never thought I could do this until someone showed me your movie, or until someone showed me your Instagram." So, that's the why, I guess. That's the reason why. I'm not going to be pushing the hardest grades. There's already other one-armed climbing ladies out there who climb way harder than me, which is awesome. I think my reason why would be to create a comfortable space for people to push themselves that maybe they never saw themselves in before.

Jeff : Beautiful. Wow.

Maureen : But not too comfortable.

Erik : What's your biggest comp out there, your competition with another woman who's amputee? You say there's really good climbers out there in the world.

Maureen : Which is awesome, because when I started, if we look at competitions especially, when I started, there was three of us in the world championships. In the entire world, there were three one-armed women competing. Now, there's a dozen, which is amazing. I've never been so happy to get my ass kicked because I feel like that means my work here is done, but there's this wonderful lady Celine from France. I look at her and I'm just like, "You can do that?" She's motivation for me. If she can do it, I can do it. My friend Kimber up in the Northwest, she's doing some crazy ice lines, leading hard ice. I'm like, "You can do that? I guess I can do that too." It's kind of this great circle of motivation among everybody.

Jeff : I get the sense that maybe you're pioneering and doing these things, obviously, for you that maybe along the way you realize you're a reluctant ambassador and spokesperson, and pioneer, that because of that, you have to shoulder that at some point. Is there a reluctance there or do you embrace that? Do you dig it? When you're with Paradox, do you find yourself digging the role of being a teacher in that sense, or is it just kind of, "I just want to do my thing."

Maureen : No, I do find it rewarding because I feel I'm able to help give people opportunities that weren't there for me. I fantasize about what if I was actually 15 years old now and I had rock gyms everywhere, and I had other disabled people to climb with? If you take the new me, fast forward to her 34, 35 years old, what crazy stuff is she going to be doing? So, I have no regrets. I'm stoked about how everything's turned out for me, but if I can help create an environment where other people can push it even further, I find that really rewarding and that's motivating for me. And it's cool to pass on that knowledge.

Maureen : I had to make up the knowledge. I feel like I've only recently started finding mentors in the climbing world because I just had to make it up, and so I really relish being the mentor for those coming up behind me now, and helping them find opportunities.

Erik : Tell us about some of the people you've brought up through the ranks, like some of the people you've worked with at Paradox, some of the work you've done educating folks at rock climbing gyms, so when somebody who's differently abled comes into the gym, they're not like, "I don't what to do with you." Right?

Maureen : Yeah. That's actually some of my favorite work. Of course, I love the club nights or the climbing trips with other adaptive people to get them stoked, but I think the most impactful work that I do are those trainings where I go to a gym or a college with a climbing wall, and I spend the entire weekend working with normies, teaching them pretty much how to deal with disabled climbers, because that's that ripple effect thing where if I had to go climbing for a weekend with disabled climbers, I've touched five, six lives, but if I train 10 people how to do that and they turn around and help 20 people that walk through their doors, that actually helps way more people.

Maureen : The trainings are always so interesting because there is a technical component with the Wellman rig and all sorts of other technical stuff, but most of the skills are soft and I spend a lot of time coaching people, how to not be afraid of people with disabilities. And not in the icky way, but in the, how can I talk to you? How can I ask you what you need? How can I help you? Being comfortable talking to us we're humans, which sounds crazy, but there is this shyness and fear, and that's what I spend most of my time breaking down. Which is why I to use words stump and gimps, because it's just like, we're human. We can laugh. It's okay.

Erik : Yeah. And are there a lot of young climbers, adaptive climbers coming up that you've worked with?

Maureen : Yes. I've never been more excited because I feel like not that long ago, I could probably tell you, I know 90% of the adaptive climbers in the US. It's a small community. Now, every day I'm finding a new Instagram account or hearing from someone else that's an amputee or some other kind of disability, and is out there just crushing it. There's a 16-year-old girl missing her right hand who I'm terrified of because at last Nationals, she was a youth and now she's an adult, and I'm like, "Oh, she might actually beat me." It's really cool because she'll reach out to me to be like, "Do you have any tips on training?" and I'm like, "Kind of. I don't know if I want to give them to you though."

Erik : Right.

Maureen : But a lot of what I do, I really see as working myself out of the job. If there is no longer in need for me to be teaching people, to be guiding or coaching or motivating or paving... If there's no more ways left to be paved? Cool. That means everybody is getting after it, which is what I can only hope for. So yeah, if I don't do this forever, that's great.

Jeff : Yeah. That means you've done something... that you're creating a legacy, even in your youth right now, because obviously, two old guys can talk about... 35, 34 is very young, but you've already created a legacy in that sense.

Erik : You're already being put out to pasture.

Maureen : Yeah, and I'm kind of ready for it, I think.

Jeff : Well, hey, thank you for joining us today, because I know that time is the greatest commodity that we have. So, we appreciate you spending some time with us today. And Stumped is on Amazon Prime, is that where people can watch it?

Maureen : I think so. I know Adaptive, which is the film about the Lotus trip, that is on Amazon Prime right now.

Jeff : Okay.

Erik : All right, then.

Jeff : All right, and then how else would people be able to see Stumped?

Maureen : Definitely on Cedar Wright's Vimeo.

Erik : Yeah, it's on Vimeo. It's on Prime, but I think you have to have an outside TV membership or something like that, right?

Jeff : Okay.

Maureen : Yeah, and it costs like eight bucks on Vimeo, but I think it mostly goes to Cedar, who put a lot of his heart into that, so if I can help buy him a beer, that's great.

Jeff : Yeah. No, I'm buying him a beer. He's thirsty. He needs it.

Erik : Well, thank you so much, Mo. Really great discussion and yeah, if you want to reduce your ability down to 5.10s, you can come climbing with me and my friends.

Maureen : Any day, any day.

Erik : All right, cool.

Maureen : All right.

Erik : Thanks everyone.

Maureen : Thank you.

Erik : No Barriers.

Erik : The production team behind this podcast includes Senior Producer, Pauline Schaffer, Sound Design, Editing, and Mixing by Tyler Cottman, and marketing support by Heather Zoccali, Stevie DiNardo and Erica Howey. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, Guidance, and thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how you can spend your time and we appreciate you spending it here with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it and give us a review. Show notes can be found at no barrierspodcast.com.

Erik : (singing)

No Barriers

No Barriers

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