Sight impaired climber Michael Ellis heads to the UK this weekend for a training session ahead of competing at next month’s national paraclimbing series.
Michael , who is also autistic, first started climbing in 2021 after a social prescribing referral from his GP. Working with charity Climb, he has spent 10 months training and has now entered a climbing competition in Wales. Ravenscroft has provided financial support to allow him and Chris Harvey from Climb, who will be his guide, to travel.
“I started as a complete beginner and feel such achievement at so many things that I have been able to do through the support of Climb and sheer determination. Climbing has had an incredibly positive effect on me. It is something I really enjoy and provides lots of achievements and challenges in an environment that works for me, and there are so many exciting opportunities for the future,’ said Michael.
“The chance to compete still feels like a dream. I already get so much from climbing, but to have this opportunity is awesome. I have not been climbing for long, so knowing that I am of sufficient standard is very empowering and confidence boosting. It has also been a wonderful goal to work towards and I am incredibly grateful to Ravenscroft for their support.”
This weekend Michael and Chris will go to the Castle Climbing Centre in London where they will use a much larger climbing wall and meet other climbers in the same climbing category – Michael has been classified as B1, the most severe sight impaired. Next month, they then travel to Caernarfon in Wales to compete.
He said there will be a lot of challenges in travelling and climbing. “A large part of the challenge is the amount of unknowns and uncertainties involved. Speaking to others can mitigate some of this, but until we get there, there will be things which we just don’t know. It will be a different wall and environment and I won’t know how noisy or complicated that will be,” Michael said.
“Chris has done sighted guide training for out and about, which is great, but being somewhere new is always harder work. There are also unknowns as to what happens within the events – where Chris is located to sight guide, the details of viewing the routes, how the day runs and so on. There is inevitably also the worry of what the routes will be like and whether I am good enough.”
But the benefits gained already are helping him prepare. “It has been really enabling and empowering. Sometimes I feel like I don’t do anything or achieve anything or that it is just plain complicated to do everyday tasks, but when climbing I absolutely achieve. I do some things slightly differently, such as a quiet environment or a sight guide, but I am a respected equal and my climbing really is down to me within that teamwork.
“The environment is very much that the focus is not on special treatment for the disabled person, but on climbing and how to make it happen. The attitude and environment is so welcoming and accepting of everybody, which is refreshing in itself and enhances positivity and mental health. I am really excited about going away and competing.”
Through Ravenscroft’s connections with the Guernsey Sports Commission, Michael will also work with the Commission on making other sports more accessible for islanders with additional needs.
“Disability is a really broad term, so there is a big difference in how things could be accessed by a wheelchair user, a blind person and someone with learning disabilities. But I do believe that people are often more disabled by the barriers put up around them than the condition itself. There is no reason that disabled people should not be involved in sports or anything else, but it does require a bit of adaptation, planning and sometimes creative thinking – and then a way of getting people to have a go,” he said.
“Just because someone would find it difficult to access sport doesn’t reduce the benefit they would get from it. The more that people see opportunities and see beyond a person’s disability, increasingly things open up and people’s understanding and awareness around disability improves throughout all areas of life. It is powerful when people are able to do things and the focus is on the activity and not their disabilities. I am very passionate about equality and inclusion, and Guernsey can really lead the way.”
Ravenscroft’s managing director Mark Bousfield said there was strong synergy between the company’s values and Michael’s goals. “We sponsor a number of sportsmen and women and sporting initiatives across our jurisdictions because we know the benefits sport brings. While a climbing sponsorship is a first for us, when we heard from Michael and saw how he has benefited and how passionate he is about people getting involved in sport, we wanted to provide some support. Like him, we believe sport should be inclusive and accessible to everyone and it is fantastic that he is keen to lead the way,” he said.
Main picture: Michael Ellis (right) heads to the UK this weekend to train ahead of competing at a national paraclimbing competition, just a year after he started climbing. He will be joined by Chris Harvey (left) from charity Climb who will be his guide.