Date: August 3rd, 2017
About Maureen Beck
Maureen (Mo) Beck is a 30-year-old climber from Maine who followed her passion for climbing to Colorado like so many of us have. She climbs 5.11+ and is working on her first 5.12-. She started climbing with her girlscout troop when she was about 12 years old, and she works in the climbing industry at Eldo Walls.
She sounds like so many other climbers out there, but the difference between her and us is that she was born with only one hand. Yeah, it sounds impossible (how do you climb 5.11+ with one hand?), but I’ve seen her climb outside and it’s pretty impressive. She also competes on plastic, and she usually wins. Here are some stats from her website www.moinmountains.com.
- 2016 IFSC World Championships, Paris France – World Champion, Women’s Upper Limb
- 2016 USA Paraclimbing National Championships Atlanta, GA – 1st Place Female Upper Limb, First Female Overall (tied)
- 2016 USA Climbing Adaptive Bouldering Championships Madison, WI – 1st Place Female Upper Limb, 1st Place Female Overall
- 2015 Paraclimbing World Cup, Sheffield UK – 3rd Place Upper Limb
- 2015 USA Paraclimbing Championsips Atlanta, GA – 1st Place Female Upper Limb, 3rd Female Overall
- 2015 Vail Mountain Games Vail, CO – 1st Place Paraclimber
- 2015 ABS Paraclimbing Championships Madison, WI – 1st Place Upper Limb, 1st Female overall
In this interview, I got to talk to Mo about the adversity she faces with climbing with one hand and how she’s learned to obviously overcome it.
What We Talked About
- Why she stuck with climbing, despite the challenges
- What her strengths and weaknesses are as a climber
- How she trains differently
- Her 5.12- project
- What it’s like competing on the paraclimbing circuit
- How to get involved with paraclimbing
- How to accommodate and respect paraclimbers
NBC NEWS: No Limits for One-Handed Climber
Maureen Beck Links
- Personal website: www.moinmountains.com
- Instagram: @moinmountains
- Facebook: @maureen.whalley
- Paradox Sports: www.paradoxsports.org
Training Programs for You
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Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta Podcast, where I talk with climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport. I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and I haven’t been on the podcast for about a month now. I’ve been doing other work, I’ve been traveling, and I’ve been rehabbing my shoulder. I’m about seven weeks out from shoulder surgery, and I would say that things are going really well. It’s still pretty painful a lot of the time, but that’s to be expected and I just sort of have to deal with that.
Climbing wise, I am climbing again, and I am climbing about 10+, and moving up at a rapid rate which is super exciting for me. I love this point of recovery, where you just don’t really have any expectations of yourself and you can just go and have fun. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing, and doing lots of PT, and I’m hoping that in about three weeks I’ll be climbing 5.11s and maybe breaking into 5.12s again, because I get to go to Norway. My friend Paige Claassen- she wanted to go to Flatanger, and she asked me to be her partner, and I’m going to go with her and see Norway. I’m pretty psyched about it- we’re going to go for about three and a half weeks- Seth and I are both going. We will actually be doing podcast episodes from there. We’re going to sort of document Paige’s progress, and we’re going to talk about how she is doing on her project, and about her training. She’s been training a ton for this project, and she’s climbing really well right now. She’s doing things that she doesn’t normally do with training, so we will talk about that and how it’s working for her. If you have any suggestions about what you want to hear from me in Norway, definitely let me know, and I’ll try to make it happen.
If you want your own training program, you can go to trainingbeta.com, and we have tons of programs over there for people of all abilities and all types of climbers. If you’re a boulderer, we have a program for you, if you’re a route climber, we have a program for you. Our two main programs are subscription programs where you get three workouts every week and you go through six week cycles of different focuses. So you might focus on power endurance for six weeks, you might focus on strength, or finger strength, and those are our bouldering, strength, and power program, and our route training programs. Every time you guys purchase programs from us, it definitely supports the podcast, and it supports everything we do on TrainingBeta. So you can go to trainingbeta.com and there is a link at the top for all of our training programs.
Today on the show I have an interview with Maureen Beck for you. She’s also know as Mo Beck, or Momo- it seems like everybody knows her. She is a woman who is thirty years old and she is a climber, and the difference between her and us is that she only has one hand. She was born with one hand, and she’s been climbing with one hang since she was twelve years old. I’ve seen her climb, I’ve watcher her climb a 5.11 in Rifle one time, and honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We stopped everything we were doing to watch her, and it was really impressive to me. I’ve had a few suggestions from people to talk with paraclimbers- so people with disabilities who are climbers- and Mo was definitely the first person who cam to mind. She also works with Paradox Sports, which is a non-profit that works with people wth disabilities to help them climb. She is a big advocate for paraclimbing. She climbs 5.11+ outside, and she is also and extremely successful competition climber. She does World Cups for paraclimbing, she does Nationals, she is currently the World Champion in paraclimbing for her division, her category, which is upper limb difference. She’ll tell you all about this in the interview. Actually, I’m just going to let her speak for herself. Here is Mo Beck. Enjoy.
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the show Mo, thanks very much for being with me today.
Maureen Beck: Thanks for having me!
Neely Quinn: So for anyone who doesn’t know who Mo Beck is, please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Maureen Beck: Yeah, so my name is Maureen, I go by Mo these days. I am a climber from Arvada, CO. That’s where I set up home base. I guess what makes me special despite being a totally average climber, is that I was born with one hand, and I rock climb. I started doing competitive climbing, and I also help run adaptive programs kind of all over. I try to do recruitment for adaptive programming to kind of get everybody with any type of ability or disability out climbing.
Neely Quinn: So that’s your job?
Maureen Beck: Well, that’s my unpaid job, right? I have a real job, but every other waking hour is spent of course climbing for fun, because I love climbing. Or it’s sort of thinking about how I can get more people with disabilities involved in climbing.
Neely Quinn: Okay. So a few logistical questions. How old are you?
Maureen Beck: Sure, I am thirty years young.
Neely Quinn: Okay. And did you grow up in Arvada?
Maureen Beck: I did not. I grew up on the coast of Maine, right outside of Acadia National Park, which is probably one of the lesser known climbing areas in the country.
Neely Quinn: Nice.
Maureen Beck: And then I went to college in Vermont, did my typical post-graduate ski bum season in Colorado, moved back to Vermont, and then about four years ago moved back to the Front Range.
Neely Quinn: Cool- did you come back here for climbing?
Maureen Beck: You know I came here for work, but the climbing was kind of a nice bonus. When I moved here, my climbing definitely got kicked into… sort of hyperdrive. All of a sudden, it was all I could think about. I’ve been climbing since I was twelve or thirteen. I started doing outdoor programs with the Girl Scouts, got more into it in college, but when I moved to Colorado- that’s when I started competing and training and taking it more seriously.
Neely Quinn: Okay. And last logistical question, because I have a million other questions. What is your job- what do you do for a living?
Maureen Beck: Oh, I live the dream. I work for Eldorado Climbing walls, so I help people get the climbing wall of their dreams, whether it’s, you know, in their house, their school, new gyms. I really do have climbing on the brain about 24/7 [laughs].
Neely Quinn: Me too!
Okay, now, I want to know how- so you got into climbing with, what did you say, Girl Scouts?
Maureen Beck: Yeah, the Girl Scouts.
Neely Quinn: How did that go? What was that like?
Maureen Beck: So it was kind of awesome. I went to this Girl Scout camp in the middle of nowhere Maine, and they had these giant glacial erratic boulders kind of all over the property. Some of the bigger ones had these many rusty bolts on the top of, and once a week, a counselor would solo up there with the rope in her mouth or something, and run it through the bolts, and then we would all super safe top rope through a single rap ring. That was my first exposure. No special gear, I was still wearing a cosmetic prosthesis at that point, so I kind of clunked my way to the top. But what was really cool was that they didn’t say “Oh you can sit this out because you have one hand and it’s probably going to be hard”. Everybody was like “Why wouldn’t you do this Maureen, you do everything else”. So that was kind of my no stopping, no fear, no excuses introduction to climbing.
Neely Quinn: That’s what I was wondering about- if people were like “Mm, she can’t do this”. So they were pretty supportive from the get go?
Maureen Beck: Yeah, and it was kind of cool because at that point I had already canoed and done archery, so they had seen me do all these other things. My day to day life too- I learned how to tie my shoes at the same age everybody else did, just a little different. So between my parents and everybody I grew up with, it was more of a “why wouldn’t you climb”.
Neely Quinn: That’s so cool, that’s great. But you were wearing a prosthesis at that point?
Maureen Beck: Yeah, yeah.
Neely Quinn: And you were climbing with it?
Maureen Beck: Sure, and it wasn’t a prosthetic for climbing, it was just this arm that’s designed to look like a real hand. It definitely has a negative effect on climbing, because it’s just this plastic thing that lumps around. Fortunately it was just this low angle granite, so it didn’t turn me off entirely from it.
Neely Quinn: That’s good, that’s good. So then how did that evolve? Because now you climb without anything right?
Maureen Beck: Yeah, so when I started climbing more outside the camp, tried some more areas, it was really apparent, like on anything more than slab, that I would need that fourth point of contact. I didn’t really have a climbing prosthetic, and when I was home, I wouldn’t wear my prosthesis. I was kind of more able without it. So slowly that idea leaked into climbing, which was like “Let’s try without it. Oh hey look, I can grab holds with just my stump, I can press on things with just my stump, I can shove my stump in cracks”. So that’s how the evolution took place. Kind of slowly and painfully- it took me two to three years to figure out I should tape it so it doesn’t bleed everywhere, you know?. But those details all work themselves out. Now there’s some people- there are some climbing prosthetics out there, but I just have no desire to try them at all.
Neely Quinn: Really?
Maureen Beck: I feel like I can do more- if it was a plastic jug haul, I think having a giant hook would be awesome-
Neely Quinn: Well yeah. I would like that.
Maureen Beck: No fingers to get tired. But otherwise I can do more without it I think.
Neely Quinn: Tell me about the kind of that climbs you can do, and what holds you back. Because I’ve seen you- we didn’t actually meet- but I just looked up at you with my jaw dropped open [laughs]. You were climbing with Nelly at Rifle, on a 5.11a, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. So tell me what you can and what you are limited to.
Maureen Beck: Yeah, so slab is usually good. Generally, I am a lady, so my footwork- I feel like we get the one up on guys, just having more balance and footwork kind of built into our systems. But for anybody with a limb difference, with an upper limb different especially, you really have to use your feet super smart. And then I’ve always had to be hyper aware with my balance, like how I can side pull. Sometimes I squat a lot more than other people, sometimes I have to get really high feet so I can move hand to hand.
Neely Quinn: What do you mean hand to hand?
Maureen Beck: So if I can’t use my left, or if something is just out of reach, I’m pretty guilty of just saying “You know what, screw it, I’m just skipping it”, and doing a big deadpoint or a big move to avoid a section that doesn’t work for me.
Neely Quinn: Wow.
Maureen Beck: So I don’t really consider myself a dynamic climber, but I think it does come out now and then, just out of necessity. So that’s why I think I like Rifle- the style is kind of toes to nipples and then you move your hands.
Neely Quinn: It’s true [laughs].
Maureen Beck: Because it’s really back and forth balancey, I like it. Even if something is a nasty sloper, if I can just get a little bit of my stump on it and lean against it, it can stay better than fingers a lot of the time.
Neely Quinn: That’s incredible. Do you have to strengthen it? Your stump?
Maureen Beck: Kind of. So it’s kind of got this permanent callous thing that keeps the pain away a little bit [laughs]. Pretty much every move I do involves some kind of- unless I’m crack climbing where I can just shove my stump in and twist it so it jams- every move I do, I’m in some kind of a lock off in order to keep that tension on my stump, so I don’t just peel off the hold. I have to pay a lot of attention. My bicep just kind of gets stronger as I climb, but all of my elbow tendons. I’m really susceptible to tennis elbow, because it’s just always engaged. Especially if I’m doing lots of sessions on steep stuff, that can be pretty gnarly sometimes
Neely Quinn: Wow. Okay so tell me about your competition life? You just had a comp right?
Maureen Beck: Yeah, we just had our Nationals for adaptive climbing.
Neely Quinn: And what happened?
Maureen Beck: It was cool! So I won again, which was neat, but my field was really small, so I won out of two people. That’s one of the reasons I like to recruit for adaptive climbing- it’s for selfish reasons. I really hate winning out of a small field [laughs]. I want more people to climb. So for competitions like that, where I’m the only female upper limb amputee, I like to just try to place as high overall for all women. Some of the other categories, they’re fairly abled. They can have two hands and two feet, so if I place well against them, I feel pretty good about myself.
Neely Quinn: So what would qualify as an upper limb difference or amputee in that situation? Like if they have both hands?
Maureen Beck: So some of them with both hands and both legs would probably be in what’s called a “Neuro Category”, and it’s more officially called “Limited Range and Power”. So someone who has a mass, or has a spinal injury but can still walk. So they can still have all of their stuff, all of their bits and pieces, but there is something, for lack of a better term- there is something wrong with them that keeps them from functioning at 100%. That’s probably- some of them are higher functioning that others. That category itself is actually broken into three. Again, the insider spiel on that is how messed up you are is what category you fall into [laughs].
Neely Quinn: That’s how you guys talk about it?
Maureen Beck: Yeah pretty much. And the same thing with blindness. The more blind you are, the less you can see, you’re going to be in a higher category than people that have really bad vision but can still technically see.
Neely Quinn: Oh.
Maureen Beck: They break a lot of the categories down like that. My category, at least stateside, because it’s still small, it’s just any upper limb difference. Whether someone is missing fingers or their arm. On the Worlds level, you have to missing your entire hand up to your mid upper arm I believe, is my category. And then they have a separate category for someone who has no arm whatsoever. So They’re just doing deadpoint to deadpoint with one arm.
Neely Quinn: Okay. And you’re kind of in the first part of that category.
Maureen Beck: Yeah and they don’t have a category really for people that are missing fingers or have some sort of hand modification.
Neely Quinn: So you couldn’t be in it if that’s what you had? Is that what you are saying?
Maureen Beck: Correct. So those people aren’t quite the limited range of motion, because they’re missing something. It’s kind of this grey area that we are trying to work on with the IFSC to improve upon, because right now we actually have a lot of those climbers on the men’s side for the United States. Even though they place well, they can just never compete internationally because there is not a category for them.
Neely Quinn: Is it people who are just missing- not just- but they are missing one finger or something?
Maureen Beck: Kind of. It’s usually more than that. There’s a condition called symbrachydactyly, where in utero your fingers fuse, and so you’ll see people who are kind of always making the “go surfing love sign”- that’s all they have, the pinky and their thumb, and then the rest of their hand never formed. So that’s something that is really common that we see. They kind of get caught in this grey area. And then the same with people with no arms. There’s not a ton of no armed climbers out there, so they often don’t have the numbers to support international competition. Even though the ones that are out there are really into it and train really hard.
Neely Quinn: Okay wait- there are climbers with no arms? Like, literally none, none at all?
Maureen Beck: They’ll have one. One arm.
Neely Quinn: Oh okay.
Maureen Beck: I feel like I’m a two armed climber, I just have one hand. But there’s people out there that literally only have one arm, and they just do deadpoint to deadpoint to deadpoint. Sometimes I have to climb like that, if I can’t get my left on anything, and I can make it maybe about ten feet [laughs].
Neely Quinn: Yeah I mean, all of this sounds really difficult. So how many people are competing in the women’s category period? Like this last competition you were in?
Maureen Beck: So there was two, and the in the states it’s been as high as three. I’m really hoping for next year’s competition to have four to five. I know they’re out there, it’s just a matter of convincing them that it’s a good investment of their time and money to fly to Boston and compete.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, what can you win?
Maureen Beck: Pride, and you get a t-shirt.
Neely Quinn: Nice.
Maureen Beck: Fortunately next year is a World Championships year- they’re every other year. So that’s kind of an extra carrot to dangle, is if you place in the top three you get to go to Austria and compete at the World Championships. That usually helps.
Neely Quinn: Do you guys get flown out there?
Maureen Beck: We do not, we are on our own.
Neely Quinn: Do you have sponsorships?
Maureen Beck: Uh, not cash sponsors, no. So usually I combine forces with the other Denver athletes that go out, and we usually do some kind of GoFundMe to kind of offset the costs. We usually sleep twelve people to an AirBnb and stuff like that. It’s worked so far. So on a World’s level, at the last World Championships, there were six in my category. I have a feeling in Austria there is going to be about twelve.
Neely Quinn: So how’d you do at Worlds?
Maureen Beck: I won this year!
Neely Quinn: That’s what I heard.
Maureen Beck: It was really fun.
Neely Quinn: Nice work.
Maureen Beck: It was close, they set the routes too easy. I’m not sure why. This other girl in my category- I don’t think I won because I’m stronger, I just got lucky. We tied in qualifiers, we both topped in finals, so it came down to time in finals. The finals route was maybe only a 10+, which is disappointing when you’ve been training all year. But because I’d been training hard, I was able to climb it faster than she did. So I guess the benefit of training hard is that I had the confidence to just shotgun the route, and that’s how I got my win.
Neely Quinn: So they are routes. How long are the routes that you’re doing?
Maureen Beck: Maureen Beck: So this last year in Paris, the routes were actually on the speed wall, just because of scheduling. They couldn’t fit us on the big cool lead wall. So that was kind of another disappointment. At the World Championships in Spain we were on the same wall that Adam Ondra was competing on, and then in Paris we kind of got downgraded to the speed wall. Again, we didn’t really train for that. We were training for the overhanging, crazy lead-style comp routes, and then you show up to Paris and find out that you’re on the little baby speed wall. We were like…
Neely Quinn: Really? Come on.
Especially the leg amputee categories. Even though it’s overhanging it’s still kind of slab, because it’s just flat. It’s really hard for a lot of the leg guys, especially if they don’t use a prosthetic, they really just have one foot. A lot of them got hosed. A lot of the guys that placed well in the last competitions didn’t even make finals because it’s just a weird style of climbing.
Neely Quinn: Yeah you’re campusing up a vert wall.
Maureen Beck: Yeah they’re on crimps, and they’re just like “This is not good”.
Neely Quinn: Yeah.
Maureen Beck: So it was a little bit of a surprise.
Neely Quinn: So why do you think that happened? It’s still like a pretty small community that you guys have, right?
Maureen Beck: Yeah, so it’s getting bigger. The World Championships in Spain had fifty-something athletes. We’re on track for eighty, which I think is incredible comp over comp growth, except the IFSC decided to instate some new rules about minimums for categories. So even though we had eighty people register, they ended up cutting so many categories that they only had fifty competitors again, so over thirty people were not allowed to compete. Just because they maybe had five competitors instead of the minimum of six.
Neely Quinn: Do you think that that was fair, or?
Maureen Beck: I think it was premature. One day I really hope we have enough competitors that those minimums make sense. But it doesn’t make sense when it’s actually shrinking the growth and shrinking our participation. To their credit, they heard a lot of us complaining about that, so this year they are instituting a merge system, where if there are only people in blind two and four people in blind three, they will compete against each other. It won’t be fair, necessarily, but you’ll still get to compete.
We had a girl, she had no arm, but she was the only one- so she didn’t get to compete. But she told everyone that she’d rather compete knowing that she’d get dead last, knowing it wasn’t going to be fair, but just for the sake of getting out there on that stage and competing. So that’s something that’s getting fixed, which is nice.
Neely Quinn: That’s good- I mean it’s still in it’s infancy, so-
Maureen Beck: Yeah, and what’s really cool, is this past weekend was the first paraclimbing World Cup of the year, in Austria, and they had sixty people competing which I think is the most yet for a paraclimbing World Cup, and there were no Americans there. So it’s really good to hear that the Europeans are hard at work.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, wow. No Americans.
Maureen Beck: Yeah. So I believe that there are four paraclimbing World Cups a year, all of which are in Europe or India. I usually pick one to go to.
Neely Quinn: Got it. Why do you like competing?
Maureen Beck: It forces me to get out of comfort zone, just in terms of travel. It’s an excuse to book a flight and go, and then once you’re there you can always stay longer and learn about the place. My first international comp was in Spain, and Spain wasn’t really high on my ticklist of places to visit. In fact it terrified me because I don’t speak Spanish. But making the US team just forced me to kind of pony up and go, and it was an amazing experience. Using comps as an excuse to travel is really fun. And then paraclimbing does have a really cool community. I get to hang out with all these other one armed climbers. We can trade beta, we can talk about what works, what doesn’t work. It’s pretty motivating to meet my competition from Hungary, and she’s putting down hard grades too. It’s really cool to feed off of each other’s energy.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. How hard have you climbed?
Maureen Beck: Um, I’ve put down 11 redpoints outside, and I’m hopefully gonna get my first 12 redpoint soon.
Neely Quinn: Are you working on something?
Maureen Beck: I am, yeah. I’m one move away, frustratingly- one move away [laughs].
Neely Quinn: Do you want to tell me what it is? Or do you want to keep it a secret?
Maureen Beck: Yeah, oh no. I mean I’ve been up there screaming for the last couple of months, so it’s not a secret. It’s Days of Future Past at the Animal World- in Boulder Canyon. This is kind of the worst time of the year to work on it, because Animal World is kind of a summer crag- or winter crag rather. It’s sunny.
Neely Quinn: Yeah it’s hot up there.
Maureen Beck: Yeah, so like the other night we were there until eleven o clock at night. It’s like, I love it, but I’m also kind of sick of it so I just want to get it over with so I can stop doing that nasty cat litter approach, and just get on with my life [laughs]. But I really like it.
Neely Quinn: Can you tell me about the climb? What is it like and why did you pick that one?
Maureen Beck: Yeah so I really wanted to try to climb 5.12. I kind of dabbled around and tried a couple, and this is one that clicked, where none of the moves felt impossible. I could make all the reachers, I could make all the clips. Then at the end of the day, after my first day of falling up it, I thought “This doesn’t feel any harder than my first 5.11”. The first time I ever picked a project, it felt just like this, and that was a full number grade easier. So that’s what kind of clicked, the idea that I could do it. It’s a really cool climb. You start up some kind of 5.10 slab, and then you get a big rest on a huge ledge, and then the crux is moving right over this blank face into a gross, greasy, flarey crack. Out of that onto a face with a couple of hard moves, and then you get this glory jug. The crux is over, and then I couldn’t tell you how the rest of the climbing is because I’m so pumped by the time I get there, but I think it’s maybe hard 10, easy 11, to get to the chains. And then top is sort of overhanging crack jugs, which is pretty cool.
Neely Quinn: Yeah that’s really cool. Is it 12a, b?
Maureen Beck: 12a. But like, because it’s my style of climb, it really make some hopeful that I can find something similar that’s harder and still put it down.
Neely Quinn: Yeah for sure. Do you feel like your confidence has grown and you’ve gotten closer and closer to getting it?
Maureen Beck: Yeah I think it started back when I sent my first 11. A couple of years ago I was convinced that I was going to be a 5.8 climber for the rest of my life, and that was fun, and that was all I could do. Then when I started competing and started training and started seeing all these doors opening, these possibilities opening. Then when I sent my first project I was like “Holy crap, that actually didn’t take that long and was kinda fun, and why can’t I go harder?”. I’ve just been kind of eating away at it ever since.
Neely Quinn: So how far do you think you’re going to take this?
Maureen Beck: I don’t know. It’s so climb and style specific. There are 5.9s out there I will never be able to do. If there is a key left jug I can’t reach… there’s lots of climbs I can top rope but never lead, if there’s a clip I can’t reach or something like that. So I don’t know. I’ve become more interested in offwidth climbing because I can’t climb anything smaller than a .75- my stump just won’t fit in the crack. So then I thought why not go bigger? I think once I get my sport binge out of the way, I want to explore some offwidth some more.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, Vedauwoo here you come.
Maureen Beck: Yeah.
Neely Quinn: That sounds terrible [laughs]
Maureen Beck: It’s kind of the opposite way I’m going with all my sport climbing, but.
Neely Quinn: That’s pretty cool. I mean, yeah. I’m just really impressed. How tall are you?
Maureen Beck: I’m 5’6”.
Neely Quinn: Okay so 5’6”. And how many inches do you think you’re missing on your left hand?
Maureen Beck: Oh man I just measured. I think I have a -13 ape index.
Neely Quinn: Whoa.
Maureen Beck: Yeah, yeah. So I feel like every climb I do is some kind of insight attempt, because it just doesn’t matter what I’m seeing until I’m actually up there.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, your body is so much different than anybody- even a child’s. Because you have the height, but yeah. Your beta is probably usually different that other people’s.
Maureen Beck: If I can do full extension it’s great, but if not, yeah.
Neely Quinn: Okay, so I want to know more about the community that’s growing of paraclimbers. I’ve been seeing a lot of paraclimbers in the gym in Boulder, and I think it’s really cool. And sometimes, I wonder if you guys come up against any adversity being in the climbing gym? Or are people generally really supportive?
Maureen Beck: I think no matter where you go, staff are going to be supportive, because the word is out. You don’t need all your limbs, you don’t need your legs to climb, it’s cool. Staff might not technically know how to help you. One thing that the organization I do a lot of work with is working on- they’re called Paradox Sports- they’re trying to educate gyms across the country in what to do if someone wheels in through your front door, what to do if a blind climber walks in, other than just saying “Here are the ropes, good luck”. So I think from the gym staff level, things are amazing. Locally, here in Boulder, because we do have so many adaptive athletes, I can go to gym here and no one looks at me twice. It’s really cool. They’re just like, “Oh whatever, a girl with one hand, I don’t really care”.
Neely Quinn: I don’t know about that, but they’re probably accepting.
Maureen Beck: Well maybe they’re good at hiding it. I was just somewhere else in the country that will remain nameless, I guess, and I could just feel the eyes on me. It’s actually really similar to when I go to a regular bro-style weightlifting here with my husband. He’s not a climber so sometimes I got to his gym. can’t leave the locker room before I just feel eyes on me. It just doesn’t feel comfortable. People aren’t malicious- they’re just curious- but you don’t want people staring at you when you’re working out. Especially when you’re flailing at easy stuff. It’s like, I don’t want witnesses to this [laughs].
Neely Quinn: Stop watching me!
Maureen Beck: Exactly. So I think I’m really lucky to be here in Boulder where generally it’s just not a big deal, it’s really cool. and people are really good about not coming up to me and being like “Hey that was really inspiring!”. And I have to say “No, that was me falling off of v1. That is not inspiring at all. No”. People here are generally cool, and it just never comes up that they give you a high five because you’re doing something despite having one hand. They’re just like “Oh that’s really cool, you did that just because it’s really cool”.
Neely Quinn: Well that’s kind of what I was going to ask you too, is are there things that you would like the general population to know? Like, when I saw you climbing, I was one of those idiots that was like “That’s really impressive”, and I’m sorry for that.
And I almost went up to you and was like “Hey, that was really impressive”. So tell me.
Maureen Beck: Well it’s tough, right? It’s kind something I think about a lot. Because on one hand, I’m coming out like “Hey, just leave me alone, I’m just doing my own thing like you are, you and me, we’re not different”. But I’m also learning to acknowledge that it is pretty crazy sometimes, what we do. It’s really crazy watching someone like Craig DeMartino climbs 5.13 with one leg. So mentally I try to walk this median like where I don’t get upset if people give me props and stuff, because it is cool. And I especially like it if they kind of funnel that energy into pushing themselves. There’s this thing in the community called the “I Word”. Generally people don’t really like being called an inspiration or being inspiring, because that’s kind of mushy-gushy-wooey.
Neely Quinn: Mhm.
Maureen Beck: I personally would rather someone be like “Wow, that’s motivating, I’m going to go out now and do something crazy”.
Neely Quinn: Well that’s actually what happened- the conversation between my husband and me was like “God, we suck, we really need to try a little harder”.
Maureen Beck: Well I don’t want people to feel like that about themselves!
Neely Quinn: No, that’s just us, but… [laughs]. Okay so you in general don’t really love it when people come up to you and say anything?
Maureen Beck: I don’t think that’s true. I think that there is a way to do it, and I’m being really bad at articulating this. There isn’t really a guide of what to say to adaptive climbers, and every one of us is different, right? Some people don’t want to be talked to at all, and other people are like “Oh I love inspiring people!”. Just me personally, I like to be seen as a climber first, a lady climber second, and then like oh P.S. I’m missing a hand, whatever.
Neely Quinn: P.S.
That’s good to know. And you were taking about Paradox getting into gyms and educating them. I think a lot of my listeners do work in a climbing gym, or they’re associated. Are there a few key points that you can share with us about how to approach a person in a wheelchair, or a person who comes in the door?
Maureen Beck: Yeah, I think when in doubt, just be upfront and blunt. At the end of the day, you probably will say something that offends somebody somewhere. I call myself and my friends, we’re gimps. We’re the gimpy climber crew. And other adaptive people would probably hate that. But I think it’s just important to be upfront and be like “Yo, look, you’re in a wheelchair, let’s climb, what can I do to help you do that?”, or “Can I offer you any advice?”. I think that being direct, like a kid- when I see kids, especially back when I was wearing a fake arm, they would come up to me and look at my arm and be like “What’s that?”. It’s so much more refreshing to have someone talk to you than to get the side eye.
Neely Quinn: Yeah.
Maureen Beck: Again, it’s that thing when you go to a gym that’s new, and people are just kind of staring and you and you feel it. It’s just not welcoming, even if people don’t mean bad by it. I think just talking about it, just saying “Upfront, you’re missing a leg, that’s cool, let’s climb, whatever”. I think that’s just the best attitude. Walking the fine line of acknowledging that there is something different and it could take some finagling and something- you know, you have to approach things differently and adapt. But at the end of the day you’re still just climbing.
Neely Quinn: Do you feel like that in the rest of your life too? Like when you’re at your husband’s gym and you get the side eye in the locker room or whatever, do people ever just say to you “Hey, how did that happen?”.
Maureen Beck: Totally, yeah. And I usually tell them “It was really boring, no alligator, I was just born this way”.
Neely Quinn: And does that bother you? Are you like “God, not again”.
Maureen Beck: No, nope. It’s usually when that’s followed up with an “Oh, bless your heart for trying”.
Everybody tries. It’s not what makes me special.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. You’re like, also, my name is Maureen.
Maureen Beck: It’s tough though, because at the same time, you wouldn’t be talking to me if I had two hands, because there is in general, nothing remarkable about what I’m doing [laughs].
Neely Quinn: That’s true.
Maureen Beck: So it’s all a balancing act. At the end of the day, I think everyone is just psyched to get out and climb.
Neely Quinn: I think part of the reason I wanted to talk to you is that you are the “I Word” to me, but there are so many people with- I’m going to say the wrong word- with differences, I’ll say. And I just wanted to get a little glimpse of that community.
Maureen Beck: Yeah, totally.
Neely Quinn: And I think everybody else does too. We’re curious.
Maureen Beck: And I think that’s where I came down with, I’m okay with having this somewhat public- facing profile. Back when I was that Girl Scout, clunking around with my fake arm that was useless, I thought I was the only adaptive climber. It would have been really easy for me to say “Well, tried it, wasn’t fun, done”. Somehow I stuck with it, but if one or two other people can see me and they maybe have one arm or something else, and they’re like “Oh cool, I can try that”, that’s all worth it.
Neely Quinn: Do you feel like because you’ve been dealing with more this kind of adversity for your whole life, do you feel like you deal with adversity- I don’t know. Do you think you have a better handle on it than some people?
Maureen Beck: Maybe. I think it was just, again, that like, no excuses. No reason to say no. Just from day one. My parents made me do absolutely everything. They made me learn how to tie my shoes, even if I would get frustrated. At the end of the day, yeah it would be easier for them to just cut my meat for me, rather than just watch me struggle through it because I couldn’t hold the knife right. But they still made me do it, and I think that learning through struggle, setting that as your baseline- like struggle is normal- that’s the ticket.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I mean, your parents- it seems like they did a lot of things right.
Maureen Beck: Yeah I think playing the lovable hardass is the way to go.
Neely Quinn: Bad cop, bad cop.
Maureen Beck: Yeah.
Neely Quinn: Totally random question- I’ve heard about prosthetics that are super high-tech, where they are coming up with things that attach sort of to your brain, I think, so that you can think, “I want to move my hand here” that that’s where it would go. Is that something that you’d ever consider doing?
Maureen Beck: So I don’t know that I even have the right nerves for that, if they never even developed. But I don’t think I could do it. I’m such an old dog- I don’t use any prosthetics anymore outside of weightlifting, and a couple of years ago I did a lab test for one of those fancy hands that has articulated fingers. When I saw those fingers moving I pretty much passed out.
There’s this thing called Phantom Limb Syndrome, where if you lose a limb you think it’s still there. I had some kind of reverse Phantom Limb Syndrome, where my brain saw a second hand and was like “Holy crap, you shouldn’t be there”, and I passed out in the lab.
Neely Quinn: Did you really pass out?
Maureen Beck: Yeah I got pale and had to sit down, they gave me water, and I got all clammy. So, fun fact about me, I get woozy apparently.
Neely Quinn: I guess so.
Maureen Beck: So yeah I don’t think I could. And then at the end of the day, it also kind of just weirds me out personally. I think it’s great for people that want it. I had a basic myoelectric when I was a kid, and I only used it as a hammer.
Neely Quinn: What’s a myoelectric?
Maureen Beck: It’s a battery powered hand, and it has sensors that touch your skin and as you flex muscles it can open and close. But back in the 90s it was heavy and ugly, so I used to just pound nails into boards and punch boys on the playground. [laughs] I returned that. I’ve never been on the super high-tech side. My go-to prosthetic when I wore one was just that passive mannequin hand.
Neely Quinn: Right. And you never do that anymore?
Maureen Beck: No. I finally stopped wearing it out to Home Depot and the grocery store, but I would still wear it to work. Finally I realized, you know, I get to my car at the end of the day of work, and the first thing I would do is take it off, because it’s just hot and sweaty. It’s kind of like wearing your ski boots all day long. Finally I was like, why am I even doing this? I can type faster without it, I can carry more without it, this is silly. So when I started with my last job, with people that I already knew that worked there, I was like “This is the day, I’m done”.
Neely Quinn: Did anybody say anything?
Maureen Beck: No, not really. They were just like “Oh, you’ve got one hand”. I also knew it was probably time to lose it because one time when I met up with a group of friends, and I was coming right from work and I still had my arm on. My entire friends group went “Whoa, you have two arms, that’s weird”.
Neely Quinn: They had phantom hand syndrome?
Maureen Beck: Exactly, they had the phantom hand syndrome. So I was like, “Okay, if even my friends don’t see this plastic thing as a part of me, I’m over it”.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, that’s some good evolution there.
Maureen Beck: Yeah.
Neely Quinn: So tell me about- so you say that you spend some time recruiting. I’m pretty sure there’s probably some people out there listening to this that want to know more about that. Can you tell me more about that? How can people get involved?
Maureen Beck: Sure. So my active recruitment is usually just like casually scrolling through Facebook, and as you see those inspiring videos go viral, I’ll try to track down who’s in it. Last week there was this clip going viral of this guy with one arm going rock climbing. I was like “Well shoot, those aren’t rental shoes, he owns his own gear, he knows what he’s doing, why haven’t I heard of him?”. So I tracked him down, we’ve been chatting, and I convinced him to come to Nationals next year. He was convinced he wasn’t ready because he’s only climbing 5.11 and I was like “Bro, you’re fine. Come to Nationals”.
Neely Quinn: You were like “You might win”.
Maureen Beck: “You’re good, you should come”. So it’s stuff like that where I’m just always on the hunt. Then just through my website and social media, I’ll get pinged now and then from someone who’s like “Oh I just lost my arm, I used to climb”, or “I just had a bad accident with my hands and I’m worried I’m not going to get full function back, what should I do?”. So a lot of the time they kind of find me- that happens a lot.
Otherwise, if somebody wants to get involved more as a volunteer or community member, I would definitely kind of stress kind of approaching it as a community member side. That’s why I really like Paradox- they don’t really have volunteers or participants, they just have everybody. Everybody climbs together. If you’re somebody who’s missing a leg and it’s your first time climbing, you’re going to learn how to tie in, you’re going to learn how to belay, and your “volunteer” that was assigned to you, they’re going to climb too. It’s really about being part of the community and not just showing up for your one night a month belay service.
Neely Quinn: Right. So what if you live in the middle of Kansas, if there are even climbing gyms there? What if you don’t already have a Paradox?
Maureen Beck: Any local gym, I think, should have some kind of adaptive program that’s ready to go, so that if someone does come through the door, or if some local limb loss support group wants to have a night of climbing, they have the infrastructure ready to go. I think working through your local gym is definitely the way to do it.
Neely Quinn: Okay. Alright, I have- we only have like five more minutes. Because this is a training podcast technically, I want to know about your training. What do you do to train?
Maureen Beck: I try to do the normal stuff. I have my training cycles and all that jazz. What’s different for me is that there are truly things I can do, at least not without great discomfort. So like hangboarding- that’s really hard for me to do. I’ve tried hanging a sling for me left, and things are just still out of balance, and it hurts my neck and shoulder. So I don’t hangboard- instead I use those Grippūl by Beast Fingers that you attach to a kettle bell and lift up. The theory is that you’re working the same finger tendons, but it’s a pulling up instead of hanging from action. So that’s something I can do with one hand. That’s usually how I do my finger strength work outs. I also use not being able to hangboard or campus as an excuse to just climb more. I’ll just pick out crimpier, more powerful boulder problems, and that will be my strength workout for the day.
Neely Quinn: Mhm.
Maureen Beck: I spend a lot more time than the average climber- my guess is- doing injury prevention. Since I do overwork my right shoulder, just in day to day life let alone climbing, I probably do more weightlifting and more Therabands than the average climber in training.
Neely Quinn: Yeah it seems like you’re stressing out your right shoulder more than everything- and then your left elbow.
Maureen Beck: Yeah. Because I have my right hand, so that gets stressed. So I know I’ve had a good cycle when my left shoulder is sore. That’s my goal- to be equally painful and tweaky in both sides [laughs].
Neely Quinn: How do you- you do that with bands?
Maureen Beck: I can do that with bands, I can do push-ups, and I can lift with both sides. And then especially indoors on lead, the more steep overhanging routes I do, because every time I clip I have to hang from that locked off left arm. It’s not always a traditional lock off like you think of it, it can be down by my bellybutton, it can be a flat lock off, versus a nice over your shoulder like you would do on a pull-up bar. That gets me pretty stressed.
Neely Quinn: Your left shoulder must actually be really really strong, even stronger than your right.
Maureen Beck: It might be. Every time I go to my massage therapist I’m always ready for her to say that my right shoulder is monstrous, like Quasimodo. She actually tells me “You’re surprisingly balanced”. I think climbing is just good for your whole body, regardless of how you climb. But yeah. I do spend a lot of time in injury prevention, because if I eff up my right side, that impacts a lot more of my life. If I blow my pulley in my fingers, I’m kind of screwed because I don’t have a left side to do a lot of things.
Neely Quinn: Have you ever done that?
Maureen Beck: I have not. Knock on wood.
Neely Quinn: Knock on wood.
Maureen Beck: Maybe that’s because I don’t campus or hangboard or do any of this silly stuff that usually hurts tendons.
Neely Quinn: Silly stuff everyone.
Maureen Beck: Yeah, from the source [laughs].
Neely Quinn: Anything else that you do to train?
Maureen Beck: I try to mix in some running, even though I hate it. Just because all of my comps are roped routes, so endurance is usually what I focus the most on, more so than the other strength and P.E. and stuff. Especially for the World level comps, because I’ll have two routes one day and one route the next day. Being able to fire that off, but then take my time so I can think through the route while I’m on it, and be able to hang out for a while. Comps are tough to train for, so right now I’m actually training for outside climbing and then getting stronger for comps is a side effect.
Neely Quinn: I was just thinking about the route setters at the comps. Are they trained in how to set for you guys, or do they do anything differently at all?
Maureen Beck: They definitely set with us in mind. I don’t think there is any training or standards. For our Nationals, we’ve had the same guy set for all four years, so each year is better and better and better. That’s more just a variety of routes that can fit a lot of skills. I do think at the Worlds level they still underestimate us, as evidenced by the multiple tops in finals. You should never have multiple tops in a finals route, that’s not how it’s supposed to work [laughs]. They still set them really easy. The World Cup I did was probably two 5.8s and a 5.9.
Neely Quinn: Oh god.
Maureen Beck: Which is just… kind of a waste of time.
Neely Quinn: So note to routesetters, at any gym.
Maureen Beck: Don’t underestimate. Yeah. There’s like amputees that climb 5.13. Our amputee level is probably at 5.12 right now. Blind climbers, they’re crazy. They can probably climb 14s. I think there is still a little bit of underestimation going on- hopefully it stops soon.
Neely Quinn: Cool, any last words? I know you have to go- you’re going to go climbing.
Maureen Beck: I’m going to go climbing. Nope that’s it, thank you so much for having me.
Neely Quinn: Thank you for your candid interview. I really appreciate you being on the show.
Maureen Beck: Sure!
Neely Quinn: Well hopefully I’ll see you around. I can’t believe I’ve never actually met you.
Maureen Beck: Yeah, it’s Rifle season for real now, so I’ll be up there a lot.
Neely Quinn: Okay, alright. I’ll talk to you soon then.
Maureen Beck: Thanks, bye.
Neely Quinn: I hope you enjoyed that interview with Maureen Beck. If you want to hear more from her, you can go to her personal website, moinmountains.com. She’s on Instagram as @moinmountains, and then on Facebook as Maureen Beck. And if you want to learn more about Paradox Sports, you can go to paradoxsports.org.
Coming up on the podcast I have an interview with Tyler Nelson. He’s a chiropractor and trainer out of Salt Lake City at Camp4 Human Performance. He is a super smart guy, and half of the time I don’t even understand the words that are coming out of his mouth. So if you like science and physiology and big words, you’ll really like his interview. We also talk about a sort of contentious topic maybe, which is blood flow restrictive training. So stay tuned for that. Then I have an interview with Esther Smith, I think it’s my fourth interview with her now. This time we are talking about back and neck pain with climbers, and how to avoid it and how to heal it if you do have it.
So that’s what I’ve got on the podcast. If you need any help with your own training, remember I said that we have a ton of training programs over at trainingbeta.com. That’s what we do here- we have training programs that are super easy to use. You don’t have to think, you just have to go into the gym and follow instructions. Our programs are by all trainers across the country, including Kris Peters, Kris Hampton, and Steve Bechtel. Check those out at trainingbeta.com, and there is a link at the top that says “Training Programs”, and you’ll find everything there.
Thanks so much for listening all the way to the end, thanks for the support. If you have any comments or questions you can always email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll talk to you next week.