Article by Native Eyewear Ambassador, Craig DeMartino 2.0.

It’s been 17 years since my life was shattered into a million pieces waiting to be reassembled into what would become my “new normal.” You never think you will end up in that place, I certainly didn’t, but there I was. While I was climbing with a good friend in Colorado, I was dropped 100 feet to the ground—that’s equivalent to a 10 story office building. The accident left me with compound fractures to my heels and ankles, a severed artery in my right leg, a burst fracture to my L2 vertebrae, broken ribs on my right side, shoulder damage, and finally a fractured vertebra at C5.

I survived 5 days in the ICU on a ventilator and awoke to spinal fusions at L1-4 and C5-6, and hardware installed in my feet. The recovery was agonizingly slow, and after three months, I was sent home in a walking cast, a clam-shell back brace and a neck brace, to let me get back to a “normal” life. My days were filled with pain, grieving my lost body, and a strange curiousness about my climbing life.

Was it something I wanted to return to?

I’d been a climber for 13 years at that point. I’d built my life around it, met my wife climbing, and in short, loved it. But now, shattered and in constant pain, it seemed far away. But the itch was still there.

After about a year and 11 surgeries, the cast was still on my right leg. That was as good as it was going to get, my foot wouldn’t fit in any shoe, and my options were looking slim. I longed to be outside again, at a cliff with my wife and friends, exploring, living. So, at the 18 month mark, I re-entered the hospital to amputate my leg below the knee in hopes of getting my quality of life back. After about 6 months, I was climbing again—very slowly, while rediscovering what climbing was and would be to me in my new body.

I trained and became the First Amputee to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan in under a day, lead the First All Disabled Ascent of El Cap, and competed in adaptive climbing comps becoming a Two-Time National Champion and Two-Time Bronze Medal winner in Adaptive World Championships. The things I was doing were great, fun, but also left me feeling a bit flat. I had come through something so horrific only to push and promote myself. I wanted to do more than that with the second chance I had.

I began volunteering with a non-profit that took people with disabilities climbing. It showed me a powerful perspective and changed the direction of my life. I had learned a lot about recovery, and how climbing was instrumental in my healing. I wanted to share this experience with other people with physical disabilities.

Today I work with a non-profit group in Denver called Adaptive Adventures, where I teach people with disabilities how to climb. I work with both veterans and civilians, introducing them to an experience that can be life-changing.

My injuries are obvious to the eye, but it’s been my experience that all people have life challenges. Climbing has given me a way to navigate the struggle and allowed a way through the pain. It’s made me a better climber and husband. It’s made me version 2.0—which is the version I was meant to be all along.

Native Eyewear Ashdown