What is Paraclimbing?


About Paraclimbing

  • Invented: 1940s
  • Founded By: Jim Gorin, Hugh Herr
  • Highest Governing Body: International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), USA Climbing

Paraclimbing (also called “adaptive climbing”) is a climbing sport designed specifically for athletes with physical disabilities, such as the loss of one or more limbs. An internationally recognized sport, paraclimbing involves climbing walls in a set route and is often used as a method of recovery and therapy for disabled athletes, in addition to its role as a competitive sport.

The history of paraclimbing can be traced back to the 1940’s, to the first known amputee rock climber, Jim Gorin. Due to a childhood bone disease, Gorin lost one leg at the age of six but was inspired to become a prolific rock climber. Gorin eventually became so skilled at rock climbing that he became the chairman of the rock climbing section of the Southern California Sierra Club chapter. Many years later, paraclimbing gained new public popularity because of Hugh Herr, another famous disabled athlete. Herr lost both of his legs to frostbite after being stranded with a group of friends during a trip up Mount Washington in New Hampshire. However, despite his amputations, Herr continued his love of climbing, developing his own prosthetics that enabled him to climb.

Over the years, as disability advocacy has grown, paraclimbing has become an increasingly recognized and regulated sport. The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), an IOC-recognized governing body, manages paraclimbing. Though it has not yet made its Paralympic debut, the sport may be considered for inclusion in the 2028 Los Angeles Paralympics. Additionally, the recent inclusion of standard sport climbing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics indicates that paraclimbing may soon be popular enough to join the Paralympic Games.    


What is paraclimbing?

Paraclimbing is a sport designed for athletes with disabilities and is similar to rock or sport climbing. In paraclimbing, athletes climb a wall both vertically and horizontally, following a set route by using hand and footholds in order to navigate obstacles. Paraclimbing is an internationally recognized sport managed by the International Federation of Sport Climbing and by USA Climbing in America. Though paraclimbing has not yet made its Paralympic debut, the sport’s rising popularity makes it a strong candidate for inclusion in the coming years.   

What are the biggest paraclimbing competitions in the world?

The biggest paraclimbing competitions in the world are the IFSC Paraclimbing World Championships. The first official international paraclimbing competition was held in Ekaterinburg, Russia, in 2006, and the first IFSC Paraclimbing World Championships were held in Arco, Italy, in 2011. Since then, many paraclimbing events have occurred worldwide throughout the year, including the Lead Paraclimbing World Cups and the Paraclimbing World Cup Finals.

What are the different categories of competitive paraclimbing?

There are multiple categories of competitive paraclimbing, which are tailored to the large variety of disabilities that can be found in the sport. Typically, paraclimbers participate in one of six categories: Neurological/Physical Disabilities, Visual Impairment, Upper Extremity Amputee, Lower Extremity Amputee, Seated, and Youth. Each of these categories has a different set of rules and regulations. For example, in the category of Lower Extremity Amputee, athletes are given the choice of using a leg prosthetic, while athletes in the Upper Extremity Amputee category are not permitted to use any prosthetics. Similarly, in the Visual Impairment category, athletes are allowed to have a sight guide on the ground to assist them in climbing.