Maureen “Mo” Beck is passionate about climbing; she has numerous climbing medals and championship titles to prove it. She also crushes macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, and bagels with cream cheese. (I’m sensing a cheese theme here.) She is an athlete for Evolv, Beast Fingers, USA Climbing, and Paradox Sports. Mo and her husband have an evil cat, two dogs, and six chickens.
This month at EVO LOU, we’re talking about Passion Pursuits. It felt right to ask her some things.
I should start off by saying that I’m completely unprepared for this interview.
Just don’t ask the redundant questions and you’ll be fine.
Oh man. I regret everything.
(Laughs. I take this as a good sign.)
What is the most obnoxious question you get about being an adaptive climber?
Recently I was asked, ‘When you’re climbing, do you forget that you have a disability?’ And I thought, ‘Umm…no. I’m very much aware that I cannot reach that hold.’ Other adaptive climbers were at the interview and overheard the question. They were also thinking ‘Nope! We definitely remember that we only have one leg when rock climbing. It’s pretty forefront!’
That reminds me of the time I met your husband, Brian. He told me about his wifey (you) being an adaptive climber, and I dropped the word “inspirational.” He looked at me and said, ‘Never say the “i” word!’ I don’t think I’ll ever do that again.
HUBBIE, PUPPY, AND MO
(Laughter) It depends on someone’s narrative. Some people are fine with the “i” word, but for myself and the people I hang out with, our mentality is: if we do something really cool, by all means, tell us; but if we’re flapping around on a V1 and someone holds their hand over their heart and says ‘Omg you totally inspire me!’ it’s pretty annoying.
I think people, disabled or not, should be praised for pushing their personal boundaries, but if you wouldn’t tell someone who is abled and flailing, ‘hey that is so cool,’ then don’t say it to us.
That makes me think about my friends on the east coast who don’t climb. They see me in a picture top-roping something and call it ‘amazing,’ and it makes me a little embarrassed.
It’s exactly like that. It’s a little more embarrassing than upsetting. You’re thinking, ‘I haven’t earned this praise.’ That’s something I struggle with anyway, especially in Boulder. Everyone and their Grandma climbs 5.13, and it’s hard not to be grade-centric.
At the same time, grades can’t matter to me, because if a route has a key-left move, then I can’t do it no matter what. I have to remind myself to take it easy, and if I can’t do a move, it’s probably okay.
For sure. Climbers seem to be self-deprecating by nature. So aside from the obnoxious questions, what are the most redundant ones that people ask you?
‘How long have you been climbing, how’d you start, why do you compete, and how are para-climbing competitions different?’ The answer to the last one is that they’re really not. Some people think it’s all warm and fuzzy because disabled people are just happy to be outside, but it’s not like that. They’re real athletes.
USAC does a great job at creating hard routes. IFSC: not so much. At the last World Championship (Paris 2016) the hardest route was a 5.9 (lame), and I won the championship on a 3-way tiebreaker. That wasn’t how anyone wanted to win, or lose. We keep trying to give feedback to the IFSC and say, ‘hey, you can put arm amputees on an overhanging route,’ but they just don’t get it; so that’s annoying. They don’t accept that para-climbers can climb hard.
Yeah. It’s a lot to take a week off work and travel to Europe just to be in a 3-way tie. It really lessens motivation. But, I do look forward to seeing my field grow; there are just some issues that need to be worked out.
Any plans for your post competition-climber life?
I’d love to coach. There needed to be a USAC Adaptive Youth Team yesterday, and I would like to work with USAC develop a certificate for an adaptive coaching. Climbing has been amazing for me, and I want everyone to have the chance to try it.
What’s the coolest thing that climbing offers to someone in the adaptive community?
The ability to do something you’re ‘not supposed’ to do. Someone in a wheelchair ‘shouldn’t’ be able to rock climb, but they get to give the world the middle finger and climb anyway.
"GIVE THE WORLD THE MIDDLE FINGER AND CLIMB ANYWAY"
I love that. Has anyone ever looked at you and said, “Hmm, probably not?”
The worst thing someone has said to me is “I don’t want you belaying me,” and that hasn’t happened in years. I think that’s progress, as adaptive climbing becomes more regular. My goal is to have so much adaptive climbing that it’s not a big deal anymore. I want to normalize the abnormal. I think anyone should be able to roll into a climbing gym and have people say, ‘Ok, cool, let’s do this.’
What’s the best thing people can do to help normalize the abnormal?
I went to a gym recently, and people were staring. It wasn’t malicious, but it was uncomfortable. It makes me never want to climb again, and it makes adaptive climbers never want to climb again. Here in the Front Range, it’s awesome. The Front Range is killing it. I walk into my home gym, and people aren’t like, ‘oh sh*t, she has one arm.’
I just did some things with the Training Beta Podcast, Mountain Project, and I’m an Ambassador for Beast Fingers; they’re really helpful because I can’t hangboard, and they offer a different type of finger-strengthening tool.
I also work with Rhino Skin Solutions; they make all kinds of lotions and potions, but I found them because they make this dry spray that keeps you from sweating.
I use it on my stump, so the tape doesn’t slide off. I reached out to them and said, ‘You probably had no intention of marketing this way, but your product has changed my life.’ Now, all my amputee friends cover themselves in the stuff.
I never would’ve thought of that. What else haven’t I thought of? What chores do you hate?
Dishes. To do dishes I basically have to be in the sink, and I get soaking wet. I hate it. Also, sometimes I don’t use my turn signal. Sorry, people.
I’m definitely going to put that in the interview. Generic question time! What do you love about climbing?
The cool thing about climbing is that there’s always a new way to push yourself; even if it’s a new 5.6 you haven’t done before. If something is new, you’re always going to be a little comfortable. You can always push, even if you’re old, or hurt, or both.
So you strive for the uncomfortable zone?
I like the yellow zone.
The yellow zone?
In the context of green light, yellow light, red light, green light is like running laps in the gym on a climb you’ve done before, red is “I don’t want to do this again, this is scary,” and yellow is, you’re a little uncomfortable, but you’re growing because of it. And that’s the difference between yellow and green: growth. I can’t take full credit for that philosophy, I heard someone say it and it stuck along the way.
That was a wise man or woman. This has been great. Quick, what’s your advice for the new climber?
Climbing is amazing because you can improve so quickly. So don’t dabble, go all in!
*The story behind the picture:
“My bestie James has handicapped placards, because one leg. On Sunday, we parked at the Super Crack lot and while we were climbing, someone left the note “Handicapped? Really? I think not” on the back of his car.
Dear note leaver: I’m not sorry that he/we/disabled people don’t always fit your preconceived notions of what a disabled human is capable of. It’s not crazy that someone who is genuinely ‘handicapped’ can also rock climb, probably harder than you. I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn’t see his placard or the half a dozen gimp related stickers on his car…but, more than likely, you’re just a judgmental idiot.
Climb on, my stumpy friends.”
– Mo Beck