Jess Sporte embodies her last name (pronounced just like sport). She has played wheelchair basketball, sled hockey, and tennis, and three years after moving to Colorado, Jess found a new community in climbing and Paradox Sports. While her body may look different, her climbing experience is like anyone’s: it’s about finding the next move.
When Jess was four months old, her leg was amputated due to a tumor. Thanks to supportive parents, Jess wasn’t held back from experiencing the world like everyone else. Today she is a Program Lead for Paradox Sports, where she helps people of all abilities experience climbing.
What are some of the best things about climbing?
I love the inclusion of the sport. Every other adaptive sport I’ve played, I’ve had to have adaptive equipment to participate: wheelchair, monoski, etc. Even for swimming, I have to customize and sew my bathing suit. This is the first sport that I could show up and rent the exact same gear as everyone else. The other aspect of inclusion is that with climbing, everyone is struggling with something and has to figure out their own strengths and weaknesses in order to send (finishing a route without stopping).
How is climbing outside different than in a gym?
First, the views! I love climbing outdoors for the views. Second, climbing outdoors is both more challenging and easier! When I climb outdoors everything is “on.” I can use whatever I can reach which makes it much easier as I’m 4’10” and can’t always reach the holds the 6’ tall route setters make. On the other hand, I feel the risk of climbing when I’m outside which makes climbing in general much more heady.
What might surprise people about your experience climbing and time you spend outside?
I actually have spent more time outdoors due to climbing than I would have if I didn’t climb. Also, it is easier for me to climb than it is for me to hike!
What would you like people to know about being an athlete with a disability?
Athletics are for everyone. Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you don’t have a drive to win. Don’t patronize me. If I’m climbing a 5.7 warm-up, there’s no need to congratulate me.
In our Adaptive Climbing Initiative courses (teaching facilities and facilitators how to host adaptive climbing), we really drive the Stoke Factor. The stoke factor is reading the stoke of the participant. If the participant is super stoked to have climbed the 5.7 then, yes, be stoked. But often, beginner grades are not the project for adaptive climbers.
What are some of your favorite National Forests to visit and explore?
Climbing is what has really brought me outside and to our public lands. Because I only started climbing when here in Colorado, I’ve spent the most time in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests.
What tips do you have for beginners who want to start climbing?
It’s important to treat beginner adaptive climbers the same as beginner able-body climbers. If you are worried about safety, we have a lot of adaptive climbing groups across the nation! Check out the USA Paraclimbing Facebook page that is filled with resources and you can find someone who will climb similar to you. Regardless of your abilities, climbing is exhilarating and provides a great sense of accomplishment.
Jess Sporte is a Program Lead for Paradox Sports based in Golden, Colorado where she is an active athlete and also enjoys reading and crafting. Follow her on Instagram at @sporteadventures.