14 Dec 2017

Fair Play for December 2017

From Fair Play, 4:00 pm on 14 December 2017

The Climb for Life

Paraclimber Rachel Carter

Paraclimber Rachel Carter Photo: Instagram / Rachel Carter

An awkward fall as a teenager changed the course of keen climber Rachel Carter’s life.

But a severe and permanent injury to her left leg – which she cannot put any weight on – didn’t stop her from scaling heights once more.

She thinks she’s climbing better now with one working leg than two and competes in national para-climbing competitions. 

The accident happened when she was 16. She did everything right, but landed hard, breaking one ankle and shattering the other. At the time, it shattered her confidence and her spirit.

She was wheelchair-bound and had to learn to walk again. It has been a difficult road for Rachel. She’s faced so many challenges, medically, physically, psychologically.

Her left leg is permanently damaged and she requires a crutch to walk. She was told that she was “a cripple”… and she started to believe it.

But pain, in all its shapes and forms is no barrier for her now.

Rachel Carter and Zoe George

Rachel Carter and Zoe George Photo: Instagram / Rachel Carter

Her luck changed three years ago when she went under the knife for an experimental surgery. She was only the fifth person in the country to have it, which included having a metal frame attached to the outside of the leg. Rachel had to turn a spanner to help the ankle slowly expand which encouraged new cartilage to grow.

Paraclimber Rachel Carter halfway up a climb on an indoor wall.

Paraclimber Rachel Carter. Photo: Sian Moffitt.

Part of treatment involved seeing a pain psychologist and to understand pain in a holistic way. “I had a lineal approach to pain,” she says. “We can manage our pain really well … [if we] manage other areas of our life.

“My climbing is my pain relief”.

She’s also shaken off the labels that so many gave her. “People give you labels you didn’t choose for yourself… invalid, cripple. I picked that up and wore it subconsciously,” she says.

“There became a defining point … [where] I get to choose the life … and the attitude.”

Six months ago she started to get back into climbing seriously. She came third in the para-climbing national competition earlier this year.

But Rachel’s had to change the way she climbs. Her arms and one leg do all the work, but she can use her left leg to stabilise. She also “top rope” which is a safer option if she falls.

But she knows she can do it … she’s had to climb for so much already.

“Life is a bit of a climb,” she says. “You’ve got to kick off the labels that tell you that you can’t [do something].”