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Climbers Like Me: Poppy

Tell us about yourself - who are you and what do you love doing?

I’m 25, dyspraxic, and a big fan of playing outside, in particular climbing, mountaineering and swimming (or just splashing around honestly). Normally I’m a children’s occupational therapist although I’ve been out of work travelling in my van for the past year. I’m especially interested in improving accessibility in climbing and in my free time I manage social media for @paraclimbinglondon and write for @ukparaclimbingcollective.

Give us three words that you identify with most?

Clumsy, keen, sleepy.

What brings you the most joy outdoors?

Being surprised and excited by the things my body can learn to do! It takes me longer than other climbers to learn new skills, both in terms of technique and ropework because of the problems I have with coordination and information processing. The flip side of this is that every time I build a trad anchor or coil a rope I get an incredible sense of accomplishment and gratitude for how my brain and body work together that I don’t think you quite get if these skills come naturally to you. I also love the absolute trust that’s implicit when you’re in these situations with other people, and the friendships that result (but I’m sure everyone says that!).

What has been your biggest challenge to date?

My biggest challenges in the outdoor world aren’t to do with climbing or even ropework. It’s all the logistical things that go alongside adventure sports, like getting the timing right on trips, driving the van in remote places, keeping the van organised, packing my bag efficiently, not losing or breaking or water damaging gear, cameras, guidebooks (I irreparably soaked two phones on climbs last year). The biggest climbing challenge is managing how awkward it is to fall when you struggle with coordination; it’s not just falling more often, it’s also not being able to react quickly enough to land well when taking a lead or boulder fall, or falling on an approach. This has led to a few hospital trips and extended periods out since I’ve been climbing, so I’ve spent a few years practicing falls with my paraclimbing friends which has gradually resulted in less trauma for my ankles and coccyx. I also take extra precautions like wearing my helmet for the whole approach in and out, slinging myself in in any situation with a drop, and resisting the temptation to waddle around in climbing shoes between routes - I’d strongly recommend other dyspraxic climbers consider doing the same!

If you could share a core value or abiding principle with others, what would it be?

You never regret saying yes to a swim.

Tell us one small change we can make as individuals to help our community?

Don’t make assumptions about other people’s experience! As a climber with lots of years of experience and impeccable ropework and safety skills, I still take a bit longer to do things, forget gear, and can’t climb the hardest grades. Lots of disabled climbers get patronised by people who assume things like this are a reflection of someone’s experience or competence, and it gets old quickly. It’s always best to intervene if you see something actually unsafe, but if you’re just seeing someone who does things a bit differently to you then think twice before assuming. Small attitude shifts like this can make climbing a more accessible place for lots of people.

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