John Churcher is currently competing in the IFSC Climbing World Championship in Paris.
John recently spoke to Ian Carpenter – Sense’s National Sports Manager who helps deliver accessible sports programmes and activities – about assistive technology, wanting to see Paraclimbing included in the Paralympics, and living with Usher Syndrome.
How old were you when you first tried paraclimbing?
I was 36, I thought it would be a sport that I could do as a blind person, and be good at. A friend invited me along to a local climbing wall and it went from there.
At what point did you realise that you had a talent for it?
Pretty soon after I started climbing, my grades were improving rapidly so I looked into the possibility of competitions and found out about the National Paraclimbing Series.
Describe your average day?
I start the day by making sure my daughter is ready for school. I then take my Guide Dog to the local shops, get the usual household chores done, check my social media accounts, promote Paraclimbing and try to find sponsorship. But on top of this, I fit in my training schedule and a session at the local climbing wall.
How does Usher syndrome impact on your day to day life?
It’s hard to say. I could list all the difficulties but that is not helpful. I just get on with life. I’m grateful to have two hearing aids, a Guide Dog, a supportive family and accessible technology.
What adaptations or support do you have to help you train, travel and compete?
I have a Guide Dog to help me get to the climbing wall. When I’m competing I have a guide who tells me where the holds are, and use a radio microphone to help me hear their instructions. I also use a talking watch to help me monitor how long I have been holding onto a particular hold, and I use a Fitbit and Apple Watch to monitor my activity levels.
Do you see yourself as a role model for other people with Usher syndrome?
I would like to think that I am showing that people with Usher Syndrome, or other disabilities, can still have adventure and participate in sports that many would not automatically associate being accessible for a blind person.
Tell us more about the World Championships – what are you most excited about?
The Paraclimbing World Championships take place every two years. The first one that I competed in was in 2014, in Gijon, Spain. I came third. It was a proud moment to see the Union Flag on the screen.
This year the World Championships are being held in Paris, from the 14th until the 18th of September. The current GB Paraclimbing team consists of eight members. I am most excited about representing my country.
What does a day’s training look like?
I start the day with aerobic exercises using a cross trainer and exercise bike. I then follow a programme of exercises using my ‘fingerboard’ (Fingerboards are resin or wooden training devices that consist of a variety of holds and grips to develop strength, power and endurance for climbing.). Then I do muscle exercises which consist of sit-ups, squats, pull-ups etc. Then later, I will go to the local bouldering centre where I climb specific routes, and do core exercises. Back at home I will do some further work on the exercise bike. I have also recently taken up running with a guide runner, and hope to incorporate this into my training schedule.
Would you like to see Paraclimbing included in the Paralympics?
Looking into the future – Do you think the Paralympics should exist separately from the Olympics? Or should there be Paralympic events in the Olympics?
I do not think it is very feasible due to the time required to fit all the different categories in as well as the non-disabled ones. Maybe if the Olympics were extended by a week, then it might be possible. Ideally, I believe the Olympics should be one sporting event catering for all.
Sport England figures show that more disabled people are taking part in sport now than ever before – why do you think that is?
It could be the 2012 Paralympic legacy making people realise that they can give sporting activities a go, and sporting bodies realising that there are disabled people keen to participate and enabling them to do so. I also think there is a general trend for people trying to become healthier through sport.
Sense runs a range of sport and physical activities for people with sight and hearing impairments – in your opinion, what are the benefits of taking part in physical activity?
The benefits of taking part in a physical activity are the obvious ones of getting fitter and healthier, but there is also the added benefit that you are not isolated at home, participating in sport gets you out and about, socialising and meeting other people.
What are your ambitions after the World Championships?
I have already started competing in this year’s BMC/MCoS National Paraclimbing Series of competitions to maintain my place on the GB Paraclimbing Team. These competitions are open to climbers with any disability.
What advice would you give to young people with Usher syndrome to help them to follow their dreams?
To give it a go, otherwise you will always be left wondering what if!
You can keep up with John’s climbing adventures by following him on Twitter @jcchurcer
Visit www.sense.org.uk/active to find out more about Sense’s sports and activities programmes for people who are deafblind, and those with complex needs.