The First Amputee Rock Climber – The story of One Legged Jim Gorin
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In the modern age of adaptive rock climbing or paraclimbing, hi-tech prosthetics help disabled climbers send just as hard as anyone, and sometimes even harder.
In 1982, Hugh Herr famously lost his legs at the age of 17 in a mountaineering accident. After being disappointed with his first rudimentary prosthetics, he began designing his own specialized legs, which not long after enabled him to climb even harder than he did before his amputation. He had these custom tipped feet he would switch out depending on the type of climb, stiff blocks for standing on the the tiniest edge, with no calf pump and even pointed tips which could knife blade into the thinnest seam. Incredibly, he was even able to adjust his height from 5 to 8 feet! And when you see a wild picture like this, you can see why some folks claimed his adaptations were a form of cheating, but Hugh’s response was perfect. He simply invited the haters to chop their own legs off. In any case, the dude was simply a crusher who wasn’t going to let the loss of his legs stop him from doing what he loved. This passion led him to become the first person with a major amputation to perform in a sport on par with elite-level athletes. The man established the first 5.13 on the east coast with Lynn Hill as well as a slew of 5.12 trad first ascents, like Stage Fright, an infamously terrifying line.
He would then go on to be a pioneer in prosthetic design at MIT, where he invented the world’s first bionic ankle.
And that’s usually where the story of adaptive climbing or paraclimbing begins, but long before Hugh Herr was even born there was another pioneer named Jim Gorin, who was at the cutting edge of rock climbing with just one leg.