Breath. Swing. Smack. Breath. Swing. Smack. Brian Fountaine appears calm as he dangles precariously from a rope and methodically works his way up an imposing wall of vertical ice. He swings each axe and digs in the spikes on his feet smoothly and proficiently despite the fact that he has never done this before today. From a distance, Fountaine appears no different from any other crazy climber tackling the frozen waterfalls of Cathedral Ledge; a closer look reveals that Fountaine is, in fact, very different than most. Six years ago, he lost both lower legs while serving our country in Iraq. Sergeant Fountaine has not let this stop him from living life to its fullest. On the contrary, he continues to push his limits outdoors and try new things, he serves as a mentor for disabled athletes and he is pursuing his dream of becoming a graphic designer.
“Facing personal challenges like rock climbing or ice climbing gives you a whole new sense of confidence and purpose that you can bring back to everyday life,” says Fountaine who also rides mountain bikes and sky dives. “Getting out here and having a common goal with other vets – people who have shared similar experiences and understand what I’m going through – is awesome. It makes me realize I can do anything and motivates me to do more and to be better.”
I met Brian last weekend because I was fortunate enough to participate in a Paradox Sports adaptive ice climbing clinic in North Conway, NH. The infamous and hilarious Timmy Oneill ran the event and it was one of the most stellar experiences I’ve had in a long time.
Paradox Sports forged a unique partnership with the Sierra Club, Veterans Expeditions and the Wounded Warrior Project to bring together a diverse team of military veterans, active-duty soldiers and athletes with disabilities. Motivated by the belief that time in the outdoors eases the transition back to civilian life, these groups joined forces to create an opportunity for soldiers to build community and reconnect with the outdoors. Over 18 veterans a day commit suicide and many others turn to substance abuse and violence to cope with the overwhelming difficulties faced after service. With the help of programs like this, some are finding a different way.
Even though most of us had never met before and we all had different reasons for being there, we scaled the frosty cliffs of New Hampshire’s White Mountains together. To say the least, it was inspiring to climb next to a paraplegic, a double amputee, and people struggling with invisible wounds like Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury. The entire weekend, I just kept thinking – “What’s MY excuse?” It’s so easy to come up with excuses every day to justify almost anything that needs justifying. We do it all the time: “It’s too cold to go for a run. It’s too hard to make it as a writer. I might fail so I shouldn’t even try.”
But, the men and women I hung out with this weekend – some who fought to defend our freedom and now live with visible and invisible wounds and some who are athletes with disabilities for other reasons – they don’t find excuses. They just dig deep to climb and do what needs to be done on a daily basis all while staying positive about life. Each of these inspirational folks has chosen to be defined by what they CAN do and not by what people tell them they cannot do. They have decided to put aside their pasts, their stories and their pain so they can embrace the present – exactly as it is - and live each day as fully as possible.
I’m not a veteran, I don’t have a disability, and I feel so honored to have been a part of this intense experience and this beautiful group. I returned from those icy cliffs with a renewed sense of purpose, an elevated perspective, friends I’ll have for life and most notably – fewer excuses.
The following quote from Erik Eisele (a guide and reporter whose cousin was participating in the event) captures the spirit of the weekend: “I’ve been teaching ice climbing off and on for 10 years, and never in that time have I climbed with a large group where EVERYONE made it to the top. Today, however, I watched 20 people ignore missing limbs, leave their wheelchairs, forget IED and RPG attacks that forever changed their lives and just climb. Not one person failed to reach the anchor. In a group where excuses would have been understandable I didn’t hear any.”
If you can’t make the clinic, but still want to be part of this awesome organization, consider becoming an ambassador for Paradox Sports.
For more information visit:
- Veterans Expeditions - www.vetexpeditions.com
- Sierra Club’s Military Families and Veterans Initiative - http://www.sierraclub.org/military
- Wounded Warrior Project - http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/