Climbing Wall Opens to Encourage More Victories

With so many things closing due to the 2020 pandemic, it’s refreshing to hear about something fun and new opening.

In September, Ranken Jordan celebrated the official opening of its adaptive rock climbing wall.

The wall was incorporated into Ranken Jordan’s expansion in 2018. However, before it could be used, it needed a few finishing touches that required additional funding.

Because of Mitchell Herndon and his generous friends and family, the rock climbing wall at Ranken Jordan was finally completed to benefits kids of all abilities.

Mitchell had enjoyed rock climbing as part of his therapy at another facility to strengthen his muscles and improve his coordination.

He later became a patient at Ranken Jordan when his disease progressed. He quickly became known as “the mayor of Ranken Jordan” both for his political activism and his sociability with the staff and patients. He admired the rock climbing wall and had hoped to someday use it.

Unfortunately, Mitchell didn’t see that day. He passed away in 2019.

Celebrating a Life of Determination

Many friends donated to Ranken Jordan in his memory. Mitchell’s family thought using the funds to bring the climbing wall to completion would be a fitting tribute to Mitchell’s lasting contribution to the Ranken Jordan community.

Today, Mitchell’s memory lives on in the smiles and improved confidence of the kids who are safely experiencing the thrill of ascending the rock wall—and seeing life from a new perspective.

“The first time we used the climbing wall, a huge crowd gathered and cheered the kids on as they climbed,” says Alyssa Kuhl, a recreational therapist at Ranken Jordan. “Hearing others cheer them on really motivates them. After seeing others do it the first time, more kids now want to try.”

Mitchell’s father, Matt, says seeing the wall finished brought great joy to his family and to the therapists at Ranken Jordan.

“Hearing the cheers of parents and staff as patients pulled themselves to the top of the climbing wall was exhilarating. We’re grateful that Mitchell’s time at Ranken Jordan will be remembered this way.”

Matt continues: “We know that the hospital is better because Mitchell was there, both in terms of his personal legacy and the climbing wall he helped complete. He never got to climb it. But he still climbed his fair share of walls and obstacles in life. The wall stands as a symbol of the determination and perseverance Mitchell, and all Ranken patients, show as they climb high to reach their goals.”

Taking Confidence and Strength Higher

The recreation therapy team collaborates with physical, occupational and speech therapists to identify patients who could benefit from using the climbing wall. “We work together on kids’ goals,” Alyssa says. “The experience of climbing the wall often gives kids the confidence to do more in their other therapies. The rock wall is challenging and lets us change up kids’ activities and their therapy. It gives them a sense of pride as they build strength, balance and endurance.”

Recreation therapy also supports children’s emotional health, self-esteem, and confidence. The goal of recreation therapy is to introduce kids to different leisure lifestyles that they can continue once they’re home.

“The climbing wall is a different form of physical activity,” Alyssa says. “It gives kids a chance to try an activity that they may not have had an opportunity to try before. This is another way Ranken Jordan get kids out of bed to do things that you wouldn’t expect in a hospital.”

The Ranken Jordan team works with Upper Limits, a professional rock climbing gym that offers adaptive climbing. Their certified team brings extensive knowledge of safety and ropes.

Kids must be medically approved before they can climb, but most can participate. “There is no limit, whether they need a lift or a transfer,” Alyssa explains. “Kids are placed in an adaptive chair and safely strapped in. Then they use a handlebar pulley system to ‘ratchet’ themselves up the wall. Kids climb at their own pace using their own strength. They essentially do pull ups with the bar to go up.”

Upper Limits comes to Ranken Jordan every other week, thanks to the generosity of the Herndon’s family and friends. These climbing events will be able to continue for a long time to come, thanks to additional support from the Margaret and Richard Riney Family Endowed Play Dates Program, designed to bring play, learning, and entertainment opportunities to Ranken Jordan.

“We focus on the kids’ needs while Upper Limits focuses on safety with its expertise with straps and ropes,” Alyssa says. “It takes a few of us working together to help these kids climb but they have a well-rounded experience. Seeing them smile is one of the best parts of the whole experience.”

All four of Ranken Jordan’s recreation therapists have climbed the wall so they know how it works to explain to the kids. “Some kids are concerned that they don’t have strong enough trunk control,” Alyssa says. “Since we have personally experienced it, we can reassure kids it’s safe and that they are carefully strapped in to allay any fears.”

Even Brett Moorehouse, the hospital’s president and CEO, went up in the chair, as did a nurse practitioner.

“There’s always lots of excitement leading up to the next climb,” Alyssa says. “Some kids have climbed multiple times and go farther each time. Or they are able to get past their fear of heights. It’s cool to see them set goals for themselves and make progress. They gain self-confidence and realize they CAN do it—and then they realize there are other things they can do, too.”

As the “mayor of Ranken Jordan,” Mitchell Herndon would certainly have been celebrating these victories that he made possible.

“If the mark of a true leader is to get things done, Mitchell would be proud to know that he was able to bring the Ranken Jordan climbing wall to completion,” Matt says.


Thank you to Mitchell and all those who helped bring this rock climbing wall to life!