LivAbility Magazine
Graphic: Breaking Barriers

By Savannah Haas

Lily, 12, was born with Spina Bifida and uses a wheelchair.

She began climbing the rock wall a few years ago at the Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center.

Lily is a part of the Breaking Barriers program. A program started in November 2016 and provides youth with the ability to take part in adaptive climbing experiences. The program originally used the indoor rock wall then transitioned to an outdoor setting in the new year, at Tom’s Thumb Trailhead in Scottsdale.

“I liked getting higher and higher each time. I wasn’t really scared when I first started climbing,” Lily said. “I’m excited to climb the rock here because I like getting higher and I like being outside. I like being with my friends and making new friends.”

Lily’s mother, Jena, brought her to Ability360 to get her involved in physical activities and to help her meet friends.

“From my point of view, I see she’s gained confidence, and strength in areas she didn’t really even know existed until she was able to attend the gym, so I think that’s pretty amazing for her,” Jena said.

When Lily first started climbing, someone always had to hold her foot on the rock so she didn’t slip off, and she faced the challenge of not being able to get up any higher than where someone could safely assist her. When she climbed the outdoor boulder, though, the positioning allowed her to climb independently.

“I think she just kept looking up at the wall and knowing she wanted to climb further and further and recently she made it all the way to the top. Then when she heard there was an opportunity to climb outside, and she loves the outdoors, she took to that, and that’s awesome,” Jena said. “She had a lot of challenges, kept falling down up there on the rock. When she was told she was going to climb possibly 108 feet, that’s almost three times as high as the rock wall at the gym, she kind of looked nervous but she was at the top of that rock and she was very proud of herself. I was very proud of her.”

The program will host another outdoor climbing session in April, followed by a paddling activity where participants will start with kayaking and paddle sports in our pool for safety orientation and then move to various lakes ranging from Tempe Town Lake to Watson Lake outside of Prescott.

“The Breaking Barriers program has had an incredible impact on the youth participants, with reported increase in strength, endurance and self-confidence,” Recreation Therapy Coordinator Kelsey Bocken said.

Jena said Lily has heard all her life from her parents that she can do a lot of things, but that it’s important for her to see that she can do it herself.

“Now that she’s getting older, mom and dad just telling her that is not really enough proof, so getting to climb out there, and seeing other people at 360 do things that are incredible for their challenges is really important at her age, knowing that it really is not just mom and dad saying ‘I can do this’. She can really do this,” Jena said.

R. Michael McQuaid, President of J.M. Management Company, board member of Thunderbirds Charities, the official sponsor of Breaking Barriers, said he has seen how the funds given to Ability360 have enabled youth to overcome the physical barriers that they face on a daily basis.

“The Breaking Barriers youth sports program provides activities that would not be available without the help of community partners, like Thunderbird Charities,” McQuaid said. “To have rock climbing, kayaking, and swimming activities available to the youth at Ability360 is fantastic, and watching them overcome physical barriers is incredible.”

Lily summed up the success of the program by saying, “I like being with my friends and making new friends.”

Savannah Haas

Savannah Haas


Savannah Haas is a junior at Arizona State University studying journalism with an emphasis in public relations and political science. She is a military child and has lived in many places, including Germany and Pennsylvania, but most recently moved to Gilbert, Arizona. Savannah loves to take group classes at the Sun Devil Fitness Center and has found a passion in daily yoga practice. You can find Savannah at any local coffee shop that plays Mumford and Sons and sells pumpkin scones.