Sam Frears was born with Familial Dysautonomia (also known as Riley-Day Syndrome), a rare genetic condition that affects the nervous system. Familial Dysautomia has left Sam, now 41, with various physical impairments. He is partially sighted, and has mobility issues, as well as being more vulnerable to illness and exhaustion. Despite his physical problems, however, Sam is determined to live life to the full. His passions are acting, football (West Ham in particular), and since 2011 … rock climbing!
From Able Magazine #109 (January/February 2014)
Sam’s climbing career all started in autumn, 2011. A close family friend had been impressed as he cycled past climbers at a North London climbing wall, and, bringing it up in conversation with Sam, had teasingly told him that he “wouldn’t have the guts” to make it to the top. Not one to pass up a challenge Sam decided to prove his friend wrong. Sam called his carer, Courage, and asked him to book them in for a climbing session. Courage, who also has restricted movement of one of his arms, was initially hesitant, but was motivated by Sam’s enthusiasm and agreed they should give it a go. They booked a session with James from R&J Adventures, and so their climbing adventures began.
Since his first session climbing has become a large part of Sam’s life. He now climbs regularly at indoor walls around London, and has successfully moved into climbing outdoors too. He’s recently climbed in North Wales, the Peak District, and New York. He has completed several long abseils (going down rather than up), including a 200 foot descent into the Avon Gorge. In the Spring 2013 Sam took part in a British Mountaineering Council Paraclimbing competition. Whilst not coming away with a medal, Sam showed remarkable persistence in the later climbs of the competition, and may well be back next year. It is testament to Sam’s give-it-a-go mentality and his continued determination that he has achieved so much in the rock climbing world.
Of course, climbing isn’t always easy for Sam. On his first session it took almost an hour for Sam to reach the top of the wall. Two years on, Sam can now reach the top in less than five minutes but there are still challenges to overcome. Sam can’t see the holds in the same way most climbers do and some movements are more difficult for him. However, through practice and perseverance, and with the help of James and Courage, Sam has developed techniques to overcome these challenges. Sam has and continues to well and truly prove that he does indeed have the guts, and more, to get to the top.
Climbing is known for both its physical and psychological benefits. Sam finds that climbing has impacted positively on his exercise routine and has improved his health and fitness. It also gives him the mental satisfaction that comes with taking on and overcoming new challenges. Along with this sense of personal achievement is the camaraderie, mutual trust and understanding that’s developed between Sam, Courage, and James as they undertake various sessions, trips and challenges together.
So, what would Sam Frears say to someone who fancied giving climbing a go but had worries about it? In the words of one of his acting heroes (David Jason, as Only Fools and Horses’ DelBoy) Sam declares “He who dares, wins!”. He goes on to say “Be brave, and do what you can; all you need is a good teacher to support you”.
More: R&J Adventures
Sam’s instructor is James from R&J Adventures. R&J Adventures run adventure activities including indoor and outdoor rock climbing, camping, hiking and mountaineering. We aim to be able to offer activities for people of all ability levels.