Pro Adaptive Climber Maureen Beck Wins Competitions with One Hand
"If I could make a wish on a genie bottle to grow a hand tomorrow, I'd say no way...I might have never found climbing if it weren't for my hand. So I think rather than using your disability as an excuse not to do, use it as a reason to do."
Maureen ("Mo") Beck may have been born with one hand, but that's never stopped her from pursuing her dream of becoming a competitive paraclimber. Today, the 30-year-old from the Colorado Front Range has racked up quite the résumé with four national titles and two world championship wins in the female upper limb category.
Beck, who serves as an ambassador for Paradox Sports, found her love for climbing at just 12 years old. "I was at Girl Scouts camp and tried it just for fun," she says. "I was instantly fascinated and started buying books and magazines about mountaineering. Eventually, I started saving my babysitting money so I could book a guide once a year at the national park I grew next to, just to show me the ropes."
Climbing might be perceived as something that would be tough with one hand, but Beck is here to tell you otherwise. "It's different, but I don't think it's as hard as some people may think," she says. "It's all about solving a puzzle with your body-so essentially someone who is five-foot is going to approach a climb differently than someone who's six-foot because everybody's body is different. We are all as limited and unlimited in climbing as we make ourselves."
For Beck, climbing went from a weekend activity to something much more when she was in college. "I started signing up for competitions even though there weren't any adaptive categories, knowing that I'd probably come in last," she says. "But I still entered for fun and used it as an excuse to meet new people."
At the time, Beck had spent her whole life avoiding the adaptive climbing community simply because she didn't want to identify as being disabled. "I never thought I was different, mostly because my parents never treated me that way. Even when I ended up getting a prosthetic, I spun it like it was really cool. I'd be at the playground telling friends about my robot hand and they would think it was awesome. Somehow, I always managed to have fun with it," she says.
That also meant that she avoided support groups of any kind, not feeling she needed it, she says. "Plus, I thought communities like that focused on people's disabilities, but I was so so wrong."
In 2013, Beck decided to do her first adaptive event called Gimps on Ice. "I thought that if they had the word 'gimp' in the title, these guys had to have a good sense of humor," she says. "Once I got there, I quickly realized it wasn't about everyone's disabilities at all, it was about our collective passion for climbing." (Want to Try Rock Climbing? Here's What You Need to Know)
Beck got invited to her first climbing competition in Vail, CO, through people she met at that event. "It was the first time I had the opportunity to measure myself against other people with disabilities and it was an incredible experience," she says.
The following year, Beck attended the first-ever national paraclimbing competition in Atlanta. "I was just so surprised at how many people were putting themselves out there and really going after it," she says.
Placing at that event gave climbers the opportunity to make Team USA and compete in Europe for the world championships. "I wasn't even thinking about that at the time, but after I won nationals, I was asked if I wanted to go to Spain, and I was like, 'heck yeah!'" Beck says.
That's when her professional career really started. Beck went to Spain representing Team USA with another climber and competed against four other women from around the world. "I ended up winning there, but I was definitely not the strongest I could be," she says. "Honestly, the only reason I won was that I had been climbing for longer than the other girls and had more experience."
While most would consider winning a world championship a huge accomplishment, Beck decided to look at it as an opportunity to get even better. "From there it was all about seeing how strong I could get, how much better I could get, and how far I could push myself," she says.
Throughout her career, Beck had used climbing as her only source of training, but she realized that to be at the top of her game, she was going to have to take things up a notch. "When climbers reach a plateau, kind of like I had, they turn to finger strength training, cross-training, weightlifting, and running to optimize their skills," she says. "I knew that's what I had to start doing."
Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as she'd thought. "I had never weightlifted before," she says. "But I had to-not only to get my base fitness up but to help with my shoulder power to maintain balance. Otherwise, I would get more and more lopsided by overusing my working hand." (Related: These Badass Athletes Will Make You Want to Take Up Rock Climbing)
Learning to do some of the more traditional climbing training came with its own set of challenges. "It was hard for me, especially when it came to strengthening my fingers as well as any other hanging or pulling exercises," she says.
After a lot of trial and error, Beck ended up learning modifications to those workouts customized for her. In the process, she experimented with everything from really expensive attachments for her prosthetic to using straps, bands, and hooks to help her do exercises like bench presses, biceps curls, and standing rows.
Today, Beck tries to spend four days a week at the gym and says she is constantly working on ways she can prove she's just as good as any other climber. "I kind of have this complex where I imagine people saying 'Yeah, she's good, but is only getting all this attention because she's a one-handed climber,'" she says.
That's why she decided to set a goal of completing a climb with a benchmark grade of 5.12. For those of you who may not know, a lot of climbing disciplines give a grade to a climbing route to determine the difficulty and danger of climbing it. These usually range from a class 1 (walking on a trail) to a class 5 (where technical climbing begins). Class 5 climbs are then divided into subcategories ranging from 5.0 to 5.15. (Related: Sasha DiGiulian Makes History As the First Woman to Conquer 700-Meter Mora Mora Climb)
"Somehow, I thought that completing a 5.12 would make me a 'real' climber-one-handed or not," Beck says. "I just wanted to change the conversation and make people say, 'Wow, that's tough even with two hands.'"
Beck was able to fulfill her goal earlier this month and has since been featured on this year's REEL ROCK 12 Film Festival, which highlighted the world's most exciting climbers, documenting their gripping adventures.
Looking forward, Beck would like to give the world championships another go while continuing to prove that anyone can climb if they put their mind to it.
"I think people should use their differences to reach their full potential," Beck says. "If I could make a wish on a genie bottle to grow a hand tomorrow, I'd say no way because it's what's got me to where I am today. I might have never found climbing if it weren't for my hand. So I think rather than using your disability as an excuse not to do, use it as a reason to do."
Rather than being an inspiration, she wants to be able to motivate people instead. "I think being inspired can be pretty passive," she says. "For me, inspiration is more of an 'ah!' feeling. But I want people to hear my story and think, 'Heck yes! I'm going to do something cool.' And it doesn't have to be climbing. It can be whatever it is they're passionate about, as long as they just go for it."