Until last summer, Von Ruder never considered himself the competitive type. It was on a humid day in July when he found himself lined up against another amputee rock climber at last year’s inaugural O&P Extremity Games by College Park, held in Orlando, Fla., that his attitude drastically changed. The 30-second competitive rush Ruder felt that day has built steadily throughout the past year and the lifelong climber said he cannot wait to get back.
“I have never been a competitive person in my life until the Extremity Games. I was not even particularly competitive going into the first Extremity Games. Now it is like I am a whole other person. Now I am one of the most competitive climbers I can think of,” Ruder, 46, said. “When you engage in any sport in a competitive fashion it raises the bar. It forces you to be the best you can be. It brings you a focus, an energy, and an enthusiasm. … The Extremity Games ties everything together and it is by far the most therapeutic event I have ever been to.”
Ruder, a left transtibial amputee, lost his leg in a motorcycle accident when he was 20 years old. A self-proclaimed “wild child,” Ruder has been an avid climber and outdoorsman for as long as he can remember. Born and raised in Florida and now living in Micanopy, Fla. (about 20 miles outside of Gainesville), Ruder said that losing his leg was a life-changing experience – but also an experience with a surprising silver lining: an unwavering focus.
“As odd as it sounds, and a lot of people don’t understand it, it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. It has given me a focus in my life,” Ruder said.
Climbing as an allegory
For Ruder, it is not difficult to find the many parallels between the challenges associated with being an amputee with those of tackling the rock climbing wall. It is all about mental strength and a strong desire to keep challenging oneself.
“Rock climbing is an allegory of being an amputee – it is about solving a problem. Solving a problem that is physical, but one that you are going to solve with your mind. Rock climbing and being an amputee just seem like they go hand-in-hand.”
Ruder’s statement rings true especially when you consider that rock climbing was the most popular event at the 2006 Extremity Games, where climbers tackled a 24-foot wall, with up to four climbers competing simultaneously.
Ruder, who has eight 14,000-foot climbs under his belt, went last year in part because he wanted the games to be more successful, but had never really thought about speed climbing. It is a different story this year.
“I wanted to enter the games because I wanted one more person entered. I had no idea the Extremity Games were going to be as popular as they were,” Ruder said. “I didn’t really train beforehand. I climb all the time so I just kind of went at it from that angle. This year is going to be different. This year I am going to be training for speed climbing in particular because I have absolutely every intention of winning.”
A communal experience
Although he does not lack confidence in his own abilities, Ruder is quick to note that the Extremity Games are about much more than who wins or loses. A climber all his life, Ruder had never climbed with another amputee until his first time up the wall in Orlando. It was a unifying feeling for Ruder to know that he was suddenly surrounded by dozens of amputee climbers who shared all of his passions.
“It was like, ‘wow, all these people are in the same situation that I am in’, and it was just great. Now we can communicate about trying different legs, trying different feet, different adaptive devices for climbing. The networking that is going on now is just phenomenal,” he said.
Motivated to act
Suddenly being exposed to all kinds of amputee-climbers was an eye-opening experience for Ruder, who credits last year’s games as being the impetus for starting Planetkind Sports Inc.
A recently sanctioned organization, receiving recognition as a Florida Disabled Sports/USA chapter in January, Planetkind Sports’ mission, according to Ruder, is to educate and support athletes with limb differences to achieve lofty personal goals in an attempt to showcase that they can do all of the same things, athletically, as full-bodied athletes. One of Planetkind Sports first missions is to subsidize the travel cost and competition fees for any local athlete who is interested in making the trip to the Extremity Games. The feedback has exceeded Ruder’s expectations.
“I didn’t want to start out with too high of expectations, but there has been such a great response. A lot of amputees in the area want to get into rock climbing and some other sports and they just need that little push to get them going – to see that there are other people getting out there doing things that are typically thought of as highly unusual for an amputee,” Ruder said.
Taking the plunge in trying something different and pushing past perceived limitations is what Planetkind Sports encourages.
“The Extremity Games is a life changing opportunity. I recommend to everybody, whether they are an amputee or not, whether they are disabled or not, come out to the Extremity Games and watch them – you will not be sorry.”
Andrew Kelly is the assistant editor of O&P Business News.