Both Skelton and O’Neill had personal reasons to start the organization. O’Neill had been taking his brother, a T-12 paraplegic, on climbing trips for years, including an ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan. “Paradox was just a continuation of what I was already doing with my brother,” O’Neill says. “It helps me deal with my brother’s paralysis, by acknowledging difficulty.”
Skelton, a Captain in the U.S. Army, suffered severe trauma while in Iraq in 2004. Dubbed the “most seriously wounded US Commander,” Skelton still serves in the Army and is currently finishing up his latest tour in Afghanistan.
“We are there to remind you what you have forgotten. That you have self worth. That you can overcome this,” Skelton says, in an interview from Afghanistan. “Only within ourselves and through the support of peers, can we overcome any setback life throws at us.” He calls the philosophy ‘post traumatic growth’, flipping a disability into a way to fully experience life.
“Sometime we use adaptive equipment and uniquely built gadgets to replace the limitation, other times it’s just the emotional support and treating everyone equal, holding everyone accountable for living life to the fullest, regardless of limitations, either physical or mental,” he says.
Climb, Then Walk
Christa Brelsford, a 27-year-old with blonde hair, blue eyes and a creamy complexion, belays Demartino while he breezes up a tough 5.11, polished from years of climbing. Two years ago, Brelsford was working with an adult literacy program in Haiti when the earthquake hit. The Alaska native immediately raced downstairs, but the house collapsed before she could get out. A stairway railing shielded her from getting crushed, except her foot. Thirty-six hours later, Brelsford, who said she’d been given nothing except “cough drops, cookies and a saline drip” flew to Florida where her foot was amputated.
Tommy Carroll, a prosthetist based in Loveland who designs artificial limbs and lost his own leg in a motorcycle accident in 1990, lowers off a climb and walks over to Brelsford. She credits Carroll with teaching her how to climb—and walk—again.
“Climbing? She nailed it,” he says. “It was walking that was giving her trouble. “A 5.13 climber before the accident, Breslford started climbing again as soon as she could. Four days after she got her first prosthetic, she strapped on crampons and ice climbed at the Paradox Sports event Gimps on Ice. She’d never ice climbed before in her life.