Life Lived Unfrozen
Question: What could inspire 30 teams of people to climb up Table Rock at nine am on a Saturday morning?
Answer: The LIMBitless Challenge.
When founder Ron Kern asked me to attend the LIMBitless Challenge to write about the experience, I’ll have to admit, my internal clock groaned at the hour. However, when I arrived at the Table Rock trailhead, on a beautiful, fortunately cloudy morning, I was met with the air of a festival. The parking lot was thronging with teams, and everyone was getting pumped up to climb. Families, police officers, firemen, and camera crews milled about chatting and laughing, with Table Rock looming in the background, at once a goal and a promise.
Having never actually hiked up Table Rock in my life, as I stared at the cross from the bottom of the hill, it seemed to ask a question—how in the world would we get up there?
The question remained as I learned the history of the LIMBitless Challenge, a surprisingly simple yet no less touching story. Michael McCulley, despite needing a wheelchair, mentioned to his friend Matt Payn that he wanted to climb Table Rock, and Payn simply said “Let’s do it.” A team of friends attached ropes and started climbing, and found the response was overwhelming, with complete strangers stopping to help the team journey to the top. Everyone involved realized it was the start of something great for the adaptive community, and the LIMBitless Challenge began.
The LIMBitless Challenge reaches more than the adaptive community, however. The event speaker solemnly told the crowd that whether you are in a wheelchair or not, everyone is in some way mentally paralyzed by fear—fear of effort, fear of embarrassment, fear of failure. But by simply choosing to dedicate a morning to this challenge, the people there had made a choice to live life unfrozen—to adventure, to seize the day.
And seize the day we did. Initially, I had planned on simply observing the climb, as I didn’t personally know any of the adaptive teams. However, this is not the sort of event that one is merely witness to, and I ended up serving water to climbers at multiple points along the trail, a journey in many ways just as exhausting for my sadly out-of-shape self. And just as rewarding, because by serving water, I witnessed the effort and defiance of the teams for the entire climb.
The first part of the trail is said to be the hardest. It is steep and rocky, and teams new and old are still getting in rhythm, with some pulling straps attached to wheelchairs, and other team members pushing from the sides and back. As the trail evens out, energy returns, and I grinned as some young teams started running up the trail with seemingly boundless energy, challenging each other to impromptu races.
And near the top, where the trail gets steep again, I could see that all the teams had been on a journey—they were sweaty, slower, practiced. As the teams neared the top, awareness of the end crept up on them. “Just a few more minutes!” “We’re almost there!” “Look you can see the top! We can do this!” Then came a final burst of energy as the goal was neared, the building excitement as the teams pushed near the top.
But for me, perhaps the best moment was when a team member, exhausted and ecstatic from pulling his friend’s wheelchair up the trail, noticed that I had been giving water at multiple stops, said simply “Hey, nice job! Thank you.” It was then I became more than an interested observer, and was proud to contribute something—however small and fragile—to the team.
Cheerleaders, cold water, and celebration greeted each team as they finished the climb.
As I arrived at the plateau, it was already full of teams resting, many sprawling over the edge of Table Rock to catch the breeze and soak in the view. I could see the base camp from which we started, and once again asked myself how in the world everyone had done it—the small parking lot looked so far away. And I realized that I still didn’t quite know how we all made it up to the top of Table Rock.
The question the mountain asked in the beginning of the challenge still stood. Yet at the same time, it didn’t matter now, because no matter how the climb had happened, no matter how hard or even impossible it had seemed from the bottom, it was done. Somehow—as a community and as a team—we had answered the challenge and climbed Table Rock.
And it truly was a victory. I saw the smile bursting off the face of an adaptive woman as she was lifted to the top, surround by friends and strangers who all delighted in her triumph. I watched the crowd erupt in applause at a man whose prosthetic leg had given out, but who was determined to finish the climb in a borrowed wheelchair. I heard of a young man who astounded those around him by getting up and walking the final leg of the challenge unassisted. And I saw the determined smile of the final participant, a young woman in leg braces who walked the entire way by herself, slow but steady, exhausted but victorious.
The LIMBitless journey showed me that the choice to seize the day is a choice anyone can make, and that there truly are no limits to the life lived unfrozen.
View all photos from the 2017 Limbitless Challenge here.
Janae Wilkerson recently graduated from Northwest Nazarene University, where she studied English and philosophy. She has donated her freelance writing skills to non-profit organizations for several years, writing press releases, various summaries and pitches, and social media content. She is excited to work with LIMBitless, and can often be found staring into space writing stories in her head.