We Are Climbers. 1-John Churcher
Blog By John Churcher
John Churcher - Visually Impaired Paraclimber
My name is John Churcher and I am a GB Paraclimber, competing in the B2 Visual Impairment category. I have only 3% vision and am registered as blind. I have a genetic condition called Usher Syndrome, so also have a 50% hearing loss in both ears.
A casual chat to a friend, who then invited me along to the local climbing wall, became the start of my climbing career and participation in a sport that has given me a new lease of life. It has also given me the goal to promote climbing to other people, especially for people with disabilities. When I am in the middle of a route I do not feel like a disabled person as I focus completely on locating the next hold. Climbing also gives me challenges and adventure. Eigerparaclimb 2015 was a project to promote paraclimbing by enabling Paraclimbers to summit the Eiger. This was an amazing achievement for everyone involved, and we went on to gain a National Adventure Award for ‘Inspiring Others'. It is my best outdoor achievement, especially as I became the first blind person to successfully summit the Eiger. The film of the project is called 'Defiance - The Eigerparaclimb' by Finalcrux Films, and it is still being shown at film festivals, so still promoting paraclimbing.
Being a member of the GB Paraclimbing Team is something that I am very proud of. Now in my 5th year, and I am still very proud to wear my GB team kit, and feel honoured to represent my country. In competition climbing, my most memorable occasion was when I gained the rank of 3rd in the IFSC Paraclimbing World Masters, in Gijon (Spain), in 2014. Hard to believe that I became 3rd in the World. It was an amazing experience to have the Union Flag projected above the podium to recognise my achievement as a member of the GB Paraclimbing Team. My sight guide at this time was Mark McGowan.
The current GB Paraclimbing Team has 10 members, consisting of VI, leg or arm amputee, and NPD (Neurological/Physical Disability).
Climbing is a sport that I can do individually or as part of a group. As a visually impaired person it is a sport that I do not need to rely on anyone else, especially when training on bouldering problems, or using an auto-belay. During competitions I do have a sight guide who tells me where the next hold is, using a radio microphone via my hearing aids. It can still take me a while to locate each hold, so my stamina and strength to hold on is crucial.
If I had to choose between indoor and outdoor climbing, then it would be outdoor climbing, because as a blind person 'no holds are out of bounds'. This gives me a much greater sense of freedom and I forget about my disabilities.
My advice for others would be 'give it a go, you never know where it might lead you', so visit your local climbing wall and enquire about taster sessions.
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My selfie taken on the summit of the Eiger. July 2015
Route 3 Rope Problem during BMC Paraclimbing Series at Newcastle
Training on a boulder problem
Link to Johns website and Blog : http://www.johnchurcher.co.uk/
Link to Finalcrux Films Eiger Paraclimb :
GB Paraclimbing team website link: http://www.gbclimbingteam.co.uk/paraclimbing