A Romanian sportsman whose career was ended by disease has founded an organization aimed at inspiring disabled children through rock climbing.
In 2010, rising Romanian rock climber Claudia Miu, who had won both national and Balkan-wide contests, was forced to retire from his sports career after developing rheumatoid arthritis -- a disease that severely affects joints.
After the elite sportsman was reduced to lying in bed, he says he began to fear “that nothing good could happen” in his life and admits he came close to being “broken by the world.”
But with the support of family and friends Miu, 37, was able to come through the worst of the disease and eventually returned to recreational climbing as part of his therapy. But he says the period of despair he endured as an invalid made him vow to “do something that mattered, to leave something behind. That's how the Climb Again [Association] started.”
Climb Again is an organization founded and led by Miu that organizes free “climbing therapy” sessions for young people with disabilities. The charity has its own climbing center in Bucharest and has made a remarkable impact on the lives of many young Romanians since its founding in 2014.
Razvan Nedu, 24, climbed for the first time on a mobile tower at his school that was brought by Climb Again. He recalls: “I was scared when I was faced with an overhang for the first time.” Later he says he “climbed on real rock and fell in love with the sport.”
Nedu has just 1 percent of his vision and says attending climbing sessions organized by Climb Again in different parts of Bucharest gave him “a good reason to start traveling alone, to go and discover the city, to become independent. It really gave me confidence.”
Nedu is now the captain of Romania’s National Paraclimbing team, has won numerous medals in climbing contests for disabled athletes, and even instructs able-bodied climbers.
In 2020, together with another vision-impaired climber and Miu, Nedu scaled Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe. Nedu told RFE/RL’s Romanian Service that rock climbing “changed my life radically, it made me see everything anew. It changed my perception of the world, about sports, and about what I can achieve.”
Bogdan Micu, the president of the Romanian Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, which works with Climb Again, says the most inspiring part of the charity’s success is watching the confidence that regular climbing sessions give disabled children who he says were “almost lost” in terms of their integration into society. “They were scared to leave the house, and now they travel all over Bucharest.”
The Climb Again Association recently launched the Beyond Limits project, whose main activity is climbing therapy. The program instructs 50 children and young people with physical and mental disabilities, as well as several suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders.
Instructor Cristian Vlad says the climbing sessions for kids who might otherwise be stuck at home “develops their posture and muscles so that they develop a more upright position.” He adds that “they are no longer shy, [standing] with their shoulders and heads bowed.”
Vlad, who has worked for two years with Climb Again, says the teamwork required by rock climbing brings kids together where “they can easily share ideas, problems, and joys. It makes them enjoy the moments of everyday life.”
Climb Again alumni have become world-beaters in the sport of Paraclimbing in recent years.
Seven athletes represented Romania at the World Paraclimbing Cup, which took place between June 22-24 in Innsbruck, Austria. Nedu and Angelo Simionescu took second and third place, respectively, in the contest.
Cosmin Candoi, who is visually impaired, became world champion in the rapidly developing sport in 2019 when he was just 17 years old. He told a Red Bull interviewer that standing atop the winner's podium with a Romanian flag was an enormous thrill and he is determined to continue in the sport because he says "I know that I can be an example for other young people with visual impairments."