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Cerebral palsy hero climbs El Capitan

Stephen Wampler shares El Capital climb with local residents Sunday at United Methodist Church

Posted: March 8, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 8, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Stephen Wampler hangs more than 2,000 feet in the air at the side of El Capitan, the largest solid granite rock formation in the world. Wampler is the first man with cerebral palsy to complete the daunting 3,000 foot climb.

Hanging more than 2,000 feet in the air, Stephen Wampler was exhausted, physically and emotionally. He considered giving up his goal of climbing to the top of El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the world located in the famed Yosemite Valley.

After remembering his commitment to children with disabilities, he decided to keep pushing forward.

In September 2010, Wampler, age 46, became the first person with cerebral palsy to reach the summit of the monstrous granite wonder known as El Capitan.

“When you are hanging 1,000 to 2,000 feet off the ground, your mind plays tricks with you,” Wampler said in an interview with The Signal Tuesday. “There were times I thought I was going to die.”

His climb is documented in the film, “Wampler’s Ascent.” A free screening of the film is offered Sunday at ValenciaUnited Methodist Church, followed by a special question and answer session with Stephen Wampler.

Wampler persevered. After training for more than 18 months, using a specially designed climbing chair and with the help of two climbing partners, he reached the top. The chair was fashioned with a special pulley system which allowed him to pull himself up two to six inches at each pull of his arm.

By the end of the climb, Wampler had done the equivalent of 20,000 pull ups to reach the top.

“Failure was not an option for me,” he said.

Wampler was born with cerebral palsy, spending most of his life in a wheelchair. His condition left him without the use of his legs and only the ability to grasp and pull with his left arm. His right arm, doing the majority of the work.
Using sheer willpower, Wampler did what many thought impossible. Only half of all climbers who attempt El Capitan make it to the top.

Wampler is now among the elite and the only person to complete the climb with a disability of this kind.
Climbing for a cause

His journey to the top of El Capitan began in May 2009.

He decided he wanted to do something big to raise awareness for his foundation, which funds Camp WAMP (Wheelchair Adventure Mountain Programs), a special outdoor adventure camp for disabled children.

After admiring the massive size and beauty of the granite dome, he decided to climb it and film the experience. All proceeds from the documentary go toward funding Camp WAMP.

“The reason I climbed was to inspire millions of kids around the world and tell them that no challenge is impossible,” he explained. “There’s nothing out there that is stopping you except for your own mental blocks.”

Wampler’s own love for the outdoors and nature was inspired by a similar camp he attended for nine summers as a child. He hopes to offer many other children with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, just as he did.

The difficult climb taxed Wampler’s physical strength and emotional fortitude. He dangled at the side of the 3,000 foot granite rock for six days and five nights. He spent 8-to 12-hours each day, slowly completing pull ups to reach the top.

On the fourth day, he passed out twice. He experienced dehydration, hallucinations, fear and utter exhaustion. He cut his climbing schedule in half that day to rest and recover from the taxing side effects, but eventually continued on.

“The climb wasn’t for me,” he explained. “I did it to prove to kids with disabilities that anything can be overcome, no matter what your abilities.”

The screening of “Wampler’s Ascent” will air at 4 p.m. at Valencia United Methodist Church, followed by a special Q&A session with Stephen Wampler. The event is free and open to the public. VUMC is located at 25718 McBean Pkwy.



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