If you hear shouts of joy from the tops of Half Dome, El Capitan, and the Royal Arches on September 11th this year, it’s probably a group of veterans. Paradox Sports is bringing twelve veterans to Yosemite National Park to commemorate a difficult day in U.S. history by celebrating veteran community. The group, including ten volunteers and guides, will climb and hike in some of Yosemite’s most famous areas, reaching their respective summits on 9/11.
Paradox Sports, a non-profit started by Timmy O’Neill and DJ Skelton to build communities around adaptive sports, has been leading trips in Yosemite for three years. The organization was founded to create opportunities for people with all kinds of physical disabilities to explore the outdoors. Paradox’s veterans program holds five events each year, including trips to Grand Teton National Park and Mount Rainier National Park.
The Yosemite event is focused on veterans dealing with disabilities caused by their time in the military. Disabilities that, for many, have been holding them back from living the full lives they want to live after returning from service. Paradox Sports finds ways for everyone to climb – regardless of disability – including amputees, veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and blinded veterans. Last year, a veteran named Cody Elliot attended the Yosemite event for the first time. At 25 years old, Cody has seen more than most people his age. He lost some of his best friends in combat and almost lost his own life to an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan. But he survived, minus a leg and a finger, and now he feels he must live for those he lost. “I’m trying to live the lives they would have, “ Elliott says. And he’s doing them proud. Last year, he climbed the Royal Arches route to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 – one of four areas the veterans climbed in throughout the week. The trip with Paradox Sports inspired him to continue to pursue more opportunities to climb and he has started to compete in paraclimbing competitions this past year.
Why climbing? Why not take the veterans skiing or skydiving? Just like in the military, climbing forces the vets to rely on each other and look to others when facing fear or insecurity. In wartime, veterans build a brotherhood to lean on, but that brotherhood often disperses to different areas of the country upon returning. They are left alone to deal with the effects of their experiences or even traumatic brain injuries. Paradox Sports works to build that family back up. The openness of the climbing community, combined with the challenge of climbing, provides a perfect place to find a new brotherhood and a new mission. “Facing the unknown on the rocks of Yosemite brings real risks and perceived risks that results in some really profound learning and an important sense of purpose, “ says Doug Sandok, Executive Director of Paradox Sports. “Our participants bring that newfound strength into their everyday lives and it becomes a resource for moving past their perceived disabilities every single day.”
It is no coincidence that the event takes place in Yosemite, of all climbing destinations to choose. Yosemite National Park has been a climbing Mecca since the 1960s. That legacy was brought into focus this year in particular when the entire nation followed the attempt of Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell to complete one of the hardest free-climbing routes in the world on El Capitan. The park represents some of the most important values of our nation; hard work, freedom, and protection of our precious resources. Paradox Sports has partnered with Yosemite National Park and Delaware North at Yosemite to host their event in this outstanding and powerful venue. This event is provided to qualifying veterans at no cost. Delaware North at Yosemite provides guiding & mule packing services, along with a welcome dinner in Yosemite Valley.
Written by Madeline Pickering