Good morning, my name is Rand Abbott. I am a United States Marine Veteran, with a service-connected disability of spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries incurred through my military service. Before that life-altering day that my spinal cord snapped and retracted following a devastating surgical error, I was a globally recognized climber and big wave surfer. When I finally left the hospital two years later, I weighed 84lbs and could not hold a glass of water.
Almost immediately the drum beat message from many well-meaning people began – I’d never leave the wheelchair again, and climbing and surfing, well, those were part of my past. I was no longer a veteran, I was a disabled veteran. It didn’t seem to matter what came after, because “handicapped” or “disabled” was always the word that came first.
During my extended time in the hospital undergoing many surgeries and treatments, pain medication became as normalized as drinking water. Chronic pain was my new shadow, and at first, this medication was the only tool I had to keep the shadows at bay. I realized pretty quickly that anything I wanted to accomplish in my new reality would mean getting past a reliance on pain medication and getting back to the activities I loved. Sure, it was “impossible”. But I’m a Marine. We’re not used to letting “impossible” get in the way of what needs to be done.
It took me 6 months, 8 hours per day, six days per week, in a program designed to help me gain strength and mobility back from zero, to get my mind and body back to where I was ready to define and overcome my chosen challenge. Each day of that program, I started my training day by rolling to the white board and writing:
I WILL SURF AGAIN
I WILL CLIMB AGAIN
I WILL CLIMB THE NOSE ON EL CAP
Here I am today, 9 years later. I’ve had to rewrite my book for how climbing is done, because most of the climbing I’ve done in that time has never been done by someone like me, climbing with my arms, without the benefit of toeholds, leg strength to power me up to that next hold, guidebooks that lay out each pitch with instructions and difficulty level based completely on having those capacities. Along the way I’ve helped other climbers with disabilities learn, challenge their barriers, and change their views of themselves and what they can accomplish. When I’m climbing, I leave my wheelchair far below. I’m doing the impossible.
Now, with a team of dedicated and incredibly talented climbers, I’m about to make good on that promise to myself. I will complete the first adaptive aid lead climb of the most iconic climb in the world. I will climb the Nose of El Cap.
But I’m not only doing it for myself. In my darkest hours at home following my time in the hospital, as I tried to reenter my old life, now in a wheelchair, I kept a loaded gun at my bedside, and each morning I considered taking my own life rather than enduring yet another day of struggle, pain, loneliness, memories I couldn’t stop replaying. I managed to get through those dark times, but it could have gone another way. It went another way for my fellow Marine and best friend. He made a split-second choice that was different from mine. So many of our veteran sisters and brothers make that choice in a moment of darkness. We lose 22 veterans to suicide every day. We can change this. But it starts with recognizing this tragedy.
My team and I will be using this climb to raise awareness of the avoidable tragedy of veteran suicide. We’ll wear gear with “22” visible as we climb. I’ll speak about this issue on broadcasts during our climb. Getting through another dark day might seem impossible. But we can do the impossible. We can change this awful statistic into saved lives and success stories.
We need your support to make this climb happen, to spread the word about it, to document and share our messages of awareness, inspiration, and action. Bring what you have. Expect transcended expectations. Join me.
Additional money raised not used for the Climb will be donated to YOSAR Yosemite Search and Rescue
GallantFew American Veterans Team non-profit (We exist to help veterans find hope & purpose. We serve veterans from any branch, any era, anywhere).
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