The Moment Climbing Became My Passion – Pain, Loss, and Self-discovery

This blog was originally published in ILooove.It

By Maricela Rosales


Growing up, I would never imagine that as a young adult I would say my passion is climbing. True Story! I grew up in the heart of Los Angeles California. I was born into a working class family that had no true exposure to the outdoors, physical activity, and healthy living. Anything that was related to the outdoors was a risk seen as avoidable. The youngest of two siblings I enjoyed that risk! Willing to climb on a tree, run as fast as I possibly could, and even find my way on top of the house. I was the adventure seeker. Yet, as I got older those motives were suppressed not because I was out of control but because life got in the way. Do you remember growing pains? I do. And they never went away. At the age of seven, I was diagnosed with structural scoliosis. Despite my love for running, jumping, climbing in the school yard I was in constant distress, fatigue, and on many occasions bed ridden. Physical pain became my worst enemy and my companion. Wearing a back brace for the majority of my life was quite the task. Despite my myoskeletal deformity I participated in many sports. I simply yearned to be active. I gave 100% of my effort knowing that my risk wasn’t what you would consider as normal. To miss school after a game, or a dance performance was something very frustrating and quite often. But I never gave up. However, my family feared that my chronic back pain would forever keep me from being the best at something. They always reprimanded me for putting myself in these situations and participating in physical activities. My parents agreed that I should stop before I really hurt myself, I refused. As the years passed it got worse and my weariness ever so prevalent. By this time my dad was battling colon cancer. He knew how stubborn I was and knew how my chronic pain affected me every day. He concerned himself with my activities and always wished my safe keeping. He reminded me to keep a clear head and strong heart. As I left for college I stopped playing sports and lost motivation. I pushed passed as much as I could everyday despite my physical woes.

My freshman year in college my dorm mate invited me to the student recreation climbing wall. I agreed with no true idea what I was going to partake in. Upon arrival my eyes dilated and my back began to ache. I said “Do people really climb that!? Is it safe? I’m wearing a what? Should I trust these college students with my life? I don’t think it’s good for my back” I mustered up the courage and tried it anyways. Peer pressure much, you bet! My body mechanics didn’t understand the concept of climbing a wall let alone know how to trust myself or my belayer. I talked to my dad about people climbing on this rock wall. He said “Es para locos y peligroso- It’s for crazy folk and its dangerous” After that day I didn’t go back. I refused to feel vulnerable and away from the ground and I agreed with my dad. I apologize.

Sophomore year I didn’t know what I loved anymore. I became dispassionate about being active. Was this the end? Was my physical disability going to get the best of me? It did. But by the end of my sophomore year I was ready to turn over a new leaf. I wanted to be strong emotionally and physically for my family especially for my dad who still was battling cancer. I sought out a job the Student Recreation center in hopes that I could find ways to stay active. I made sure my priorities were in order. I was hired to work for the Outdoor Excursions challenge course. The very rock wall that made me fear being up so high, and exposed made me a really safe belayer, a trustworthy individual, and I started to disregard the pain. I began to find my own sense of self.

Junior year I had to put a stop to this physical frustration. My decision to veer towards holistic medicine was one of the best choices I have done for my well being. I found one of the best chiropractors who overtime with many visitations and therapy aligned my center of gravity, reduced the amount of pain I went through, helped me build strength and I grew 4 inches! I was mastering pull-ups, testing my handstand skills and even began climbing at the local rock climbing gym. I slowly became fascinated with the idea of climbing. No longer was I winded, fatigued, or falling bed ridden. I wasn’t competing with anyone but myself, I started to feel physically stronger, my mind stop whizzing about pain and my everyday happenings. I also realized how supportive climbers were; this made me feel comfortable and eager to try more than once on the same problem. Climbing humbled my state of mind and really pushed me to take an appropriate risk even in my daily life. Though I wasn’t climbing full heartily I was very interested. Because of my new found hobby I had a long talk with my dad about climbing; showing him videos and pictures, talking about it like it was the boy of my dreams. From the moment I mentioned taking up the sport for fun he thought it was maddening and feared for my safety. He did see that seeking alternative medicine, and climbing was changing me. He was happy to see me stand tall, be able to pull myself up and lift. By this time he was terminally ill and in hospice.

One cold December day I meet Natalie Duran at the challenge course. Her enthusiasm entices me to venture with her and the rock climbing club to Bishop California. “Happies? Buttermilks? What’s that?” I said. Unaware of any true specifics I say yes before she can even explain! Out of pure excitement I tell my dad my plans for the holiday break. He is uneasy but knows that I will go anyways. I promise that I would come back in one piece. He bids me goodbye and request pictures be taken. Well, when I arrived at the Buttermilk’s it changed me. It was my first outdoor experience. The cold crisp air on my face, the east sierra mountain tops covered with snow and seeing people climb boulders for the first time was simply joyful. Something only you can experience firsthand. To appreciate the stillness of Mother Nature and learn so much from its stillness. T’was beautiful. I call my dad and explain to him what Bishop is like. He sounds like he’s in a lot of pain but is happy to hear I am enjoying myself and of course in one piece. I head home with a new found passion. I couldn’t wait to tell my family. They’ll think I’m nuts. My dad’s reaction will of course will be a conservative one.

It is now February and my intuition is telling me that the end is near. But I deny that my dad is terminally ill. He notices that I stopped talking about climbing and wonders if I am still going strong. “Estas escalando Maricela, tienes fotos para compartir? “Are you climbing Maricela do you have photos to share?” I let him know that I had placed climbing on the back burner because I want to spend every moment I can with him. He asked me for one final request to take him out somewhere even though he wasn’t allowed to leave home. I decided to take him to Mad Rock which is not far from my parents residence. I lift him and carry him to my car and off we go. As we wait in the showroom to be helped my dad begins to look at the climbing photos on the wall, the hardware, and the shoes. He taps the crash pads and ask if they’re sleeping mats. I smile and tell him all about climbing. As we wait for my order to be processed he sits me down and caresses my callus hands and says “Tu escalando ha sido lo mas feliz que habia visto en tu vida por favor no deja de tus pasiones – You climbing has been the happiest I have ever seen you in your life please do not let go of your passions.” I began to tear. I had been waiting for this moment all my life to finally be just within myself. And to have my dad support me even when things weren’t happy and dandy.

Three weeks later I call my dad on my way to San Diego to climb at Mesa Rim he tells me in an endearing tone “Escala fuerte te amo-Climb Strong I love you.” that same day my dad left this earth. He left me with the most powerful words that motivate me every day. My true motivation for climbing comes from the strength of my father who battled cancer for 5 years. Maintained his cool until the very end and supported me even when he was at his weakest. Since then my climbing is passionate, forgiving, and humbling. I want to thank my friends, family, and the climbing community for helping during my darkest hour. This is an uplifting experience. If you have one love one.

With Kind Regards,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *