Geoff and I were at Berkeley Ironworks one day, and we spotted this guy climbing with a prosthetic leg! And not only was he climbing, he was lead climbing hard routes, which is something most whole people can’t do. Needless to say, we were duly impressed and just had to talk to him. Here’s what we found out.
GP: How is it climbing with an artificial leg? It doesn’t seem to affect you very much.
CJ: I guess the big difference is the lack of ability to flex my ankle. My left foot is static, so it’s really a matter of placing it right. Most of my falls are a result of my left ankle, so it definitely matters. Especially with crack climbing or other specialized techniques. The overhanging routes you saw me climb look easy because they require the most effort from your hands.
GP: Do you keep up with your buddies?
CJ: It depends which buddies!
GP: The guys you’re with today for instance.
CJ: They’re all better than me… haha!
GP: How long have you been climbing?
CJ: My girlfriend has been climbing her whole life, and got me into it about four years ago. Trad climbing is the real deal to me, I come to the gym to train for that.
GP: When did you lose your leg, and how?
CJ: Well, you know… it was a shark bite.
CJ: No… haha. Just kidding.
CJ: I lost it to cancer when I was 19. Diagnosed in 2002, and lost my leg in April of 2003, and at the time I was a collegeate distance runner for UC Irvine. I started running again after losing my leg and ended up setting a couple of world records for leg amputees in running. When I started working and wasn’t in college anymore I slipped out of running because it wasn’t exciting me the way it did before. When I met my girlfriend she was like “I’m totally in to rock climbing” and I said “sweet, I totally want to be in to rock climbing too!”
GP: So when you started climbing you were already missing the leg?
CJ: I think I climbed once when I was in high school for a day, but that doesn’t really count. I pretty much have only climbed with an artificial leg, so I really don’t know anything different.
GP: How does an artificial leg work?
CJ: This is actually a brand new foot. I can email you some pics and stuff of another one we have that’s actually a climbing prosthetic [see above]. My girlfriend is an engineer so we were sitting around one day and I was whining about my current prosthetic and she decided to help me design one. It has it’s pros and cons. The biggest con is that it blows through shoe rubber really fast. The foot is carbon fiber, the socket where my leg ends is also carbon fiber. I still have my knee. The only thing that’s really new about the prosthetic I have on now is that the big toe is split from the others so I can wear sandals. I used to wear sandals anyway and just velcro it to the bottom of the foot. I have a running prosthetic too, it looks like the one that South African guy Oscar Oscar Pistorius used in the Olympics. Kat Williams says it looks like two bent back baby boomerangs haha.
Bohan: I saw a show about Everest and one of the guys had previously lost both his legs, so he had two fake legs. The cool thing was that instead of strapping crampons onto his boots, he would just unbolt his feet and put on his crampon feet. It was awesome.
CJ: Whoa, and he wouldn’t have to worry about frostbite!
Bohan: He did actually lose another inch off his stubs, and it was frostbite that took his legs in the first place.
CJ: Ouch! But on the bright side if you lose both your legs you can make yourself taller… haha
Bohan: And you’d be really really light!
GP: Do you ever wish you had lost both your legs?
CJ: Not normally.
Well, there you have it. CJ is one awesome dude making the best of his situation. The best part is, he offered to go climbing with us out in the real rocks! Awesome!
Interview by Pitts and CJ