Climbing while blind: How this 79-year-old rock climber sees nature through her fingertips
Myra Rodrigues' hands are how she sees the world
Myra Rodrigues' hands are how she sees the world. "My hands are my eyes. I rely on touch to do everything, really."
Diagnosed with infant glaucoma at the age of three, Rodrigues has been almost completely blind since she was a young child.
Now 79, Rodrigues navigates her life, living alone in her Toronto home, with little vision.
"I can see brightness in windows," she says. "I see a shadow. [But] I don't see colours anymore and I don't have any detailed vision, that's for sure."
Rodrigues' trust in her touch ability led her to the sport of rock climbing.
In 2018, she was invited to join an outdoor climb held by the Canadian Adaptive Climbing Society, a non-profit organization that makes rock climbing accessible for individuals living with sensory and physical barriers.
That first climb at Metcalfe Rock, outside of Collingwood, Ontario was an experience Rodrigues will never forget.
"I was so excited because I found that climbing can be very tactile," she says. "You're feeling the rock with your hands, with your fingers. You're finding those little crevices where you can put your fingers in to hold on."
The first thing I experienced by touch is the coolness of the rock face...and that always gives me a thrill. Oh, how can I climb this? Where are there little crevices where I can get my fingers into? To lift myself up, climb up. So that's how it starts.- Myra Rodrigues
Rock climbing, for Rodrigues, opens up another way to experience nature. Her highly developed sense of touch, which she has strengthened over a lifetime of reading braille and navigating day-to-day life, helps her be in nature in a new way.
"You have a way of enjoying the landscape without seeing it," she says. "So you can feel the air currents are different. The sounds of birds and so on are different. And it's such a feeling of gratitude when you, when you reach, you say, oh, I'm at the top."
Creating community through climbing
Rodrigues is so hooked on climbing, she decided to start a club to encourage people with vision loss to take up the sport. In 2019, she started CCB Rocks, as a new club within the Canadian Council of the Blind. Their mission is to introduce members to climbing, regardless of experience or fitness levels. The club meets for indoor climbs and were starting to plan outdoor climbs before COVID derailed those plans.
The club is currently fundraising for a climbing trip to a new climbing wall at CNIB Lake Joseph Vacation Centre, and an outdoor adventure in warmer temperatures once pandemic restrictions ease.
"Rock climbing has really meant a lot to me," she says. Not only has it given her a new opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, it's helped build confidence and create a community.
"Many of them have never tried it. And it's a thrill just to have a group there that says, 'Oh, I don't know if I can do that.' And then they try a little bit, and they might try again, [it] might take them two or three times before they get up off the floor. And some of them reach the top. The success, the enthusiasm of the people who have joined CCB Rocks...that's a great joy to me."