Paradox Sports: Climbing to New Heights

08 Sep 2021

Jessica Schmidt Ice climbing in Ouray. Photo by Will Strathman.

One in four Americans lives with a physical disability. But as Jessica Schmidt, amputee and ambassador for Paradox Sports, says, “Having a disability doesn’t mean you can’t. It might mean you go about it differently or take a little longer, but if you want to, it can be done.”

By Vicki Martinez


At Paradox Sports, the resounding mantra is: “Ability should not prevent opportunity.” Through education and training programs, Paradox Sports is changing perceptions about what people with disabilities are capable of accomplishing.

“Our mission,” says Dave Elmore, executive director for the Boulder-based nonprofit, “is to transform lives and communities through adaptive climbing opportunities that defy convention.”

Founded in 2007, Paradox Sports has since become the industry leader in providing adaptive climbing opportunities. They offer a comprehensive program, encompassing national climbing trips, training for climbing facilities across the country and year-round local programs. 

The Mission

The first facet of the Paradox Sports mission is what Elmore refers to as “point of entry.” Paradox Sports coordinates, hosts and staffs multiple trips every year to rock- and ice-climbing destinations such as Ouray, Yosemite National Park, Shelf Road near Cañon City and Rumney, New Hampshire. Elmore says that national trips are the “heart and soul” of Paradox Sports, introducing people to the sport of climbing and exposing disabled people to a larger community of adaptive athletes.

Blind climber Shawn Sturgess in Joshua Tree National Park. Photo by Kyle Queener.

The second piece of the organization’s mission is the Adaptive Climbing Initiative (ACI) program, sponsored nationally by The North Face. “The ACI training is our highest point of contribution nationally in terms of making climbing more accessible to people,” says Elmore. ACI instructors travel to climbing gyms, VA facilities and university programs across the country, delivering the ACI program to any facility interested in creating its own adaptive climbing community.

How was the program developed? “Paradox literally wrote the book on adaptive climbing techniques,” Elmore says. “We synthesized that to create the ACI curriculum.” 

It only makes sense that local programs are the third facet of the Paradox Sports mission since the organization was founded and based in the climbing mecca of Boulder. Paradox Sports hosts bimonthly meetings in different climbing gyms throughout the Front Range. In fact, this is where Jessica Schmidt and Dan Boozan were first introduced to adaptive climbing.

Finding Their Footing

Describing herself, Schmidt says, “I have a right hip disarticulation amputation—like a Barbie with its leg popped off.” As a child, Schmidt had some exposure to climbing through a youth wheelchair sports camp. But it wasn’t until later, taking a sabbatical from competitive wheelchair tennis and looking for a new sports outlet, that she fell in love with climbing. “Rock climbing is a full-body workout and that’s what I was looking for,” she says, “and, I really liked the problem-solving involved with climbing.” To date, Schmidt has competed in five Paraclimbing Nationals and made the USA Paraclimbing team every year, twice placing first in her category, based on type of disability. She has been to three Paraclimbing World Championships.

Dan Boozan in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Will Strathman.

For Boozan, a devastating bicycle accident in 2011 resulted in a traumatic brain injury, leaving him with a paralyzed right arm and shoulder and only one functioning lung. A friend, having heard about a climbing program in the area, encouraged Boozan to check it out. Boozan’s initial response was, “Dude, I have one arm. I can’t climb.” Despite his reservations, Boozan attended a club night and was immediately taken in by the camaraderie, the support and the easy-going atmosphere. “We’re well known for our irreverence and that’s what really pulled me in. No one takes themselves too seriously and there’s not a lot of room for excuses,” he says. “The community is very supportive in a very lighthearted nature.”

Paradox Sports opened a world of new possibilities for Boozan. “It showed me that I’m not that far from the athletic pursuits I used to do as a bike racer,” he says. “They’re just different. But I can still shoot some big bowls and do higher-level activities, even with this disability. I’ve gotten to the point now where I’m looking for bigger challenges.”

Both Schmidt and Boozan currently serve as ambassadors for Paradox Sports and are helping others with disabilities discover the welcoming community that taught and encouraged them to pursue new heights.

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