AGS foundation fund new mountain crutches for Mel.
My Mountain Legs
To achieve any tough physical goal, takes training, determination, the right mindset and often the right team around you. But for many para athletes like myself, mobility equipment can be one of our biggest barriers, or thankfully often, a means to going further, independence, and finding a new possible. This was certainly the case for me when I had the opportunity to join the Adaptive Grand Slam team for their Chamonix challenge in October this year.
Since my last stroke resulting in loss of use of my left leg and reduced in the right, I have always walked through two crutches for mobility and balance when not having to use my wheelchair. I walk and weight bear through my arms, so I have always found my every day crutches to hold me back when I have wanted to push further, or go onto different terrain such as rock, mud, snow and sand. I am an endurance athlete and share the endurance engine and mindset to keep going, but integrating this with anything using my crutches has not been a successful option in the past due to lack of adaptability.
After a weekend training with the AGS team in Herefordshire, back in the summer, I was able to identify what I would need from a pair of crutches if I had any chance of joining the team on their Chamonix Challenge and attempting Gran Paradiso, however far.
There are limited options on the market currently, many variations of a standard crutches design but not for what I was going to need from them. I was looking for full support, lightweight but robust for the challenges ahead and adaptable to rely on, on differing mountain terrain including snow and ice. I have in the past tried using ice spike / crampon attachments to my crutches but these were not able to withstand any significant usage.
I knew of a company who did make something that I thought would be the best fit for what we were looking for, although based in Canada and at a much higher price than that of standard crutches, these have not been an option for me to try and I wanted to make sure they were up to the job. After a lot of research around crutches design and discussions, with the support from AGS, I was able to purchase a pair of Boundless carbon fibre crutches from Sidestix https://www.sidestix.com along with an armoury of accessories that would hopefully enable me to go further and push harder than ever before. Aside from being the only crutches to enable changeable accessories for different terrain, made to measure Sidestix Boundless crutches feature a unique shock absorbing feature which helps reduce joint compression, pain and fatigue; something that as long-term crutch user I find goes hand in hand. I was keen to try these out, and once delivered, complete with an assortment of attachments and accessories, I put them to test just before leaving for the mountain.
There wasn’t much chance to get used to these new crutches before heading out, but it gave me a bit more confidence knowing I could use them with no obvious issues. Because of the shock absorbing system, these crutches were noticeably heavier than what I am used to, but took the trial run well. The real test was about to begin.
I’d been given carbon tubes and aluminium ones as an option for more hard-wearing use. Although I agreed why the aluminium option was there, for our imminent challenge, I decided to go with the lighter carbon option in the crutches as I was already noticing the extra weight, before the huge challenge ahead of me. In my backpack I’d packed the extra adaptions I’d need further up the mountain, a pair of substantial ice spikes and a set of snow shoe attachments complete with Vibram discs, along with the few small tools needed to make these changes. I began my climb in the standard ferrules, though of a far greater standard of ferrule for this sort of thing than what I’m used to. Once needing to swap out the ferrules to adapt to changing terrain, it was just a case of undoing the bottoms of the crutches and replacing with the required adaption.
I can say I really put these crutches to the test on Gran Paradiso. The first part of our climb to the mountain hut was fairly technical for me on my crutches and on a slippy rocky uneven ascending path. The crutches performed well, and it wasn’t until we hit the snow level, which had reached much further down than expected, that I had any issue with slippage. My hands also held up well, something that I have suffered with a lot in the past with blisters.
The following day was all about the snow and ice, so changing from ferrules to snow shoes and ice spikes was new territory in every way. I steadily gained confidence in these new aids, it was surprising has secure and how competent they made me feel. Although my feet were slipping a lot in my boots and me unable to control my legs, my crutches held strong and let me pull myself up the mountain with all my effort. I was in a completely new environment in so many ways, and although incredibly tough, incredibly slow and frustrating at times, I was able to achieve far more than I ever thought I would, have before. I was able to go further than I ever have before, thanks to my team, and thanks to having the right equipment, essentially being my mountain legs.
It was a good test for not just me, but my new adventure crutches on our challenge. I had a few small teething issues that I have now addressed and improved for future adventures, but overall, I am really pleased to have found a new possible, and to have been able to explore this by having the right equipment that has enabled me to do so.
There is so much I am thankful to the Adaptive Grand Slam team for, and I am wholly excited for future challenges and what else is possible.