Catalyst Sports, a nonprofit organization based in Atlanta, provides regular opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities to participate in various sports, including “adaptive climbing.” Adaptive climbing involves supporting rock-climbers with specialized techniques and equipment, depending on individual needs. The program takes place at the High Point gym on Broad Street in downtown Chattanooga.
Catalyst was founded in 2012 by Eric Gray, who describes its mission: “To give people with disabilities access to the life-changing impact of adventure within a supportive and inclusive community.” Catalyst’s first climb was taking a group of disabled veterans up Grand Teton in Wyoming. The Chattanooga Catalyst chapter was established the following year.
The City of Chattanooga’s Parks and Outdoors Department, specifically the Therapeutic Recreation Division, organizes the local chapter’s activities. Program manager Elaine Gossett, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, describes the city’s role as “to facilitate the adaptive monthly climbs, recruit volunteers and participants, and spread the word to the community about the program and the abilities of our participants.”
Anyone with a physical disability is eligible to participate in the program, which is free of charge. Gray says the program works with individuals with a wide range of disabilities, including “spinal cord injuries, arm and leg amputees, cerebral palsy, blind or visually impaired, spina bifida, and stroke.”
Participants in the monthly climbing sessions who want to take their sport to another level have access to additional opportunities through Catalyst Sports. “We also facilitate one-day and overnight outdoor climbing programs that allow athletes to go from climbing inside to experiencing the great outdoors,” says Gray.
All of these opportunities are heavily dependent on volunteer support. Gossett reports that the local chapter has 20 active volunteers, who have each received online training related to adaptive climbing and how to support the program’s athletes. Volunteers must be belay-certified by High Point, and they have access to hands-on training at each session. Gossett says the goal of the training is “to help the volunteers feel successful while creating the best possible team for our adaptive climbers.”
One of these volunteers is Kevin Kana, who moved to Signal Mountain from Colorado in 2022 and quickly got involved in the local climbing scene. After first volunteering at a special event last September, Kana has become a regular at the monthly climbs. He says the most fulfilling part of volunteering with the Catalyst program is “the smiles from the participants.”
“They are usually ecstatic about getting a few moves or all the way up the wall. That type of energy is infectious,” says Kana. “Also, seeing the same participants show up to improve their climbing and getting to know them better has been super.”
Adjacent to the Catalyst program is the city’s own “Climbing Higher,” which is geared to those individuals with intellectual and cognitive disabilities. Jessie Mock, CTRS, therapeutic recreation coordinator for the city, says, “Climbing Higher started in 2008. It is split into two separate hours, the first for younger climbers and the second for older climbers.” Climbing Higher is held in six-week sessions at the Riverside location of High Point.
Both the Catalyst and Climbing Higher programs need more volunteers and exposure to thrive and grow. To learn more about how you can help, visit the Catalyst Sports - Chattanooga chapter webpage at https://catalystsports.org/locations/chattanooga/. You can also check out the Chattanooga Therapeutic Recreation Services’ Facebook page for information on upcoming climbs and other inclusive adventures.
by Ginger Gibson