MOMENT is a weekly column by the Times Free Press photo staff that explores the seldom-told stories of our region. To hear this story in their own words, go to www.timesfreepress.com/moment.
As golfers cart their way up the path to a tee at Montlake Golf Course on a recent Sunday afternoon, they suddenly see an unusual sight.
It is not unusual for golfers and rock climbers to share space at Stone Fort, located right on the golf course on the brow of Mowbray Mountain near Soddy-Daisy, but this group of climbers is different.
There are ropes and harnesses and all of the other gear used by climbers, but there are also wheelchairs. This is a therapeutic recreation group organized by the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department in cooperation with Outdoor Chattanooga. For six weeks, they have been training on an indoor climbing wall, but for most of them, this is their first time to do real rock climbing outdoors.
More than just a place to climb rocks, Stone Fort is revered by serious rock climbers as one of the best climbing spots anywhere. Unusual sandstone formations tower above the golf course on the mountain bluff.
These members of the Climbing Higher program are determined to get to the top of one of the largest rocks, and most of them make it. While beaming family members and friends watch, staff members and volunteers help and encourage the climbers.
One of those climbers is Anjuli Hurt.
Anjuli grew up in an active family and with a brother who loved to play sports, but she showed signs of a physical problem at birth. At age 5, she was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy and was fitted with leg braces and arm canes.
She has always been active, but her legs have weakened over time and, at age 31, she often uses a wheelchair. Her arms and abs are strong, and she gives a lot of the credit for that to her participation in adaptive sports.
Living in California, she caught the bug for adaptive sports about six years ago, riding a hand-powered cycle. She still cycles, but she finds the terrain more difficult now that she lives in Chattanooga. She participates in wheelchair basketball and tennis, and plans to take part in a water skiing event in July.
But this day, she rolls her wheelchair up to the massive rock and begins her first outdoor climb, with help from volunteer Fred Vail. Sometimes, she must reach down and use her arms to pull her leg up. That is not an easy task with leg braces and the large shoes that attach to them. Little by little, she finds her way up the rock to the very top, showing strength and determination that are humbling to her helpers.
"I kept bashing my legs against the rocks," she says as she catches her breath. "Fred was trying to help me not bash my legs, and I just leaned over and looked to him and said, 'You're not having fun if you aren't bleeding.'"
John Rawlston is a staff photographer with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, where he has worked since the merger of Chattanooga’s two daily newspapers in 1999. He worked as a staff photographer for the Chattanooga News-Free Press (later the Chattanooga Free Press) starting in 1976. Prior to that, he worked for a year as a sportswriter for the Cleveland Daily Banner in Cleveland, Tenn. John graduated from Soddy Daisy High School in 1971. He graduated ...