Alyssa Mattox’s mother, Angie, said she is getting more brave and doing more than she ever thought she could do.
Alyssa, 11, who has an autism-like syndrome, is one of eight children participating in twice-weekly rock climbing at Boulders Sport Climbing Center as part of the City of Harker Heights’ Adaptive Sports Superhero program for children with intellectual disabilities.
Her 6-year-old son has sensory issues, and doctors recommended rock climbing for improving his joint problems, Angie Mattox said.
“We’re really proud to be a part of this program,” Boulders owner Richard Kahabka said. “It’s a gift.”
Boulders became involved with the Superhero program two years ago when the facility set a goal to become as inclusive as possible for the entire community. Since then, it has organized four month-long rock climbing sessions for children with special needs.
“We put up a billboard that said, ‘Everyone’s Welcome,’ and then we had to ensure that everyone was (actually) welcome,” Kahabka said.
The facility has hosted climbers with a range of disabilities, many military-related, including eyesight loss, mobility loss and amputations. Staff members modified the facility for universal climb-ability.
“Coty loves it,” said Amy Dunn, mother of 20-year-old Coty Lloyd. “If we have to miss a night, he says, ‘I miss my friends.’”
His grandmother, Kay Douglas, joins the group each week to cheer on Coty.
Born and raised in Killeen, Lloyd has Downs Syndrome. The rock climbing helps his weight control, Dunn said.
“Each week he gets higher and higher on the wall.”
Lloyd participates in several adaptive sports programs, including soccer and basketball, as well as the Special Olympics.
“All of the kids really love the rock climbing,” Dunn said.
Kahabka’s enthusiasm in the gym is contagious. The parents and support staff cheer alongside him as he talks each child through their climb. Several Boulders employees assist.
“If you show up with desire, you can do this,” Kahabka said. “The program is so fulfilling for us … to see the parents’ and kids’ reactions. We’ve had nothing but amazing (participants). Sometimes I think we get more out of it than the kids do.”
With about 7,000 children in the surrounding community, the facility hopes to remain involved in rock climbing.
“Our purpose is to create a community of climbers,” Kahabka said.
“We try to focus on the ability aspect of it. Some of these kids walked in the door and touching the wall was a major accomplishment, and now, they don’t want to leave.”
Kahabka said Boulders employees consider everyone a climber.
“Your definition of a climber is your definition of a climber, whether you never get more than 10 feet off the ground or you do this all the time.”
The facility can help anyone progress as much as they wish.
After the rock climbing Superhero program finishes on Wednesday, Lloyd and several other participants will play flag football. Many of the kids see familiar faces at each sport, facilitating socialization and friendships among the youths and parents.
The biggest challenge of each day is conquered after the young climbers have reached their goal—letting go of the wall and trusting the rope and harness to bring them down to safety.
Lloyd hesitated for a few moments at the top of the wall. His mother, grandmother, Kahabka and a volunteer shouted words of encouragement. Slowly but surely, he made his way back down.