At times, it was a bit of a struggle, but when 17-year-old Cenk climbed to the top of the 42-foot-high wall, his happiness and pride were evident in his smile as a dozen onlookers applauded. Cenk, from Istanbul, had lost his right arm in Turkey’s earthquake last February, but he didn’t let this disability stop him from reaching new heights.
Cenk and his friend Yakup, who lost a leg in the earthquake, participated in the indoor adaptive rock climbing program offered by CHD’s All In: Barrier-Free Recreation last Monday. Joining them was Yakup’s seven-year-old brother Josef.
All In’s recent collaboration for this opportunity is a special one: it began with the program’s outreach coordinator, Ryan Kincade, visiting the Ronald McDonald house in Springfield, which serves the needs of families of children undergoing specialized medical treatment. He toured the house, shared information on All In’s programs with them, and showed Yakup photos on his phone of All In’s rock climbers in action. Yakup was fascinated. “I want to do that!” he exclaimed.
Cenk and 14-year-old Yakup, who is from Hatay, are included in a Shriners Children’s Hospitals effort to give Turkish children with severe injuries from the earthquake the care they need to recover—a challenge compounded by the fact that the medical infrastructure in Turkey has been considerably overwhelmed by the disaster, which killed more than 50,000 people and injured over 107,000. Since July, both boys have been receiving physical therapy, getting accustomed to using prosthetic limbs at Shriners Children’s New England in Springfield, and living at the Ronald McDonald House, which is their home away from home until they go back to Turkey at the end of October.
Cenk, who lost family members in the earthquake, was joined at Central Rock Gym in Hadley last Monday by his aunt, who is now his legal guardian. When asked if climbing the highest wall there was intimidating, he answered, “It wasn’t scary at all. It was fun. It would be easier with two arms, but I’m glad I can do it with just one arm.” He added that once he masters indoor rock climbing, “I want to climb real cliffs back in Turkey.”
Yakob and Josef’s mother, Rahil, said that her sons had never been to an indoor rock gym. “This was their first time,” she said “Josef had done something similar to this on a wall in a playground in Turkey, but this is the first time they visited a [climbing] place this large and climbed that high. They loved it.”
All In Program Manager Jessica Levine said that everyone was excited about having the three children participate. “The energy coming from them was contagious,” she said. “These injuries are so new and so life-changing that it can be frustrating trying to navigate their bodies in new ways. The determination they showed throughout the climbing session was amazing. But this is what our program is all about. Everyone adapts, modifies, and makes it happen.”
All In’s adaptive rock climbing program takes place on the first and third Monday of every month, and all three boys plan on returning to the next session on October 2. “Josef especially can’t wait,” said Ronald McDonald House Manager Celine Hamilton Quill. “Every day he’s counting the number of days until they go back. They’re all extraordinary kids, and while they’re here it’s great that they can get out and about and experience joy. This was a team effort of community partners making something truly wonderful happen.”