Through Immanuel Adventures, Deerfield Residents Conquer Rock Climbing Walls

Famed explorer and mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”

Earlier this year, five Deerfield residents worked hard to conquer not only the rock climbing walls at Climb Iowa near Des Moines, but also their own misconceptions about age and ability. Their quest was part of Immanuel Adventures, a program that gives residents unique physical activity offerings.

It’s a way for seniors to push themselves and grow in their physical activities and adventures, says Deerfield Wellness Manager Justin Riesberg.

“Rock climbing was chosen to kick off Immanuel Adventures so seniors could get involved and push themselves a little bit further, a little bit harder than what society gives them the opportunity to do,” Justin said. “It’s a chance for them to do something that maybe they’ve never done before. Or, maybe they’ve done it in the past, but it’s been a very long time.”

Deerfield residents Milo and Loretta Ware were rock climbing novices before joining the program. During a family vacation roughly 15 years ago, Loretta passed up an opportunity to go rock climbing with her children and grandchildren — a decision she regretted.

“I felt like I was too old,” she said. “When they came back and told me about how much fun they had and what they’d done, I understood it a little better. But I always felt like I had missed out and should have done it.”

When the opportunity with Immanuel Adventures came up, Loretta and Milo quickly signed up. The couple said the challenge presented was one they couldn’t pass up.

“At this stage in my life, you’ve got to start checking things off,” Loretta said. “As long as I could physically do it, I was going to do it.”

The pair and three others were given a workout program outside regular gym hours, consisting of strength training three days a week. During the training, the group focused on leg and upper body strength to build the endurance needed to take to the walls.

“We’ve seen them get stronger week-to-week, and it’s been awesome,” Justin said. “I knew all along the residents could do this … they didn’t. But to have them prove me right has been awesome to see.”

Through the program, the group visited Climb Iowa in northern Des Moines for eight weeks. There, they used special rock climbing shoes and a harness to climb multiple walls, depending on their ability. Most residents used a “bouldering” wall that reaches about 12 feet in height and doesn’t require clipping into a rope safety (belay) system to lower people from the wall safely.

Some residents used a 25- to 30-foot-tall climbing wall that required additional training on the use of safety harnesses. The taller wall also required more strength and skill, Justin said.

The physical and mental challenges the program presented were important to Milo. Those factors quashed any fears he may have had going into the program.

“When you get up higher, actually push off the wall and let (the belay) machine bring you down … that took a lot of nerve,” he said. “It was a real challenge to overcome the fear of falling. But you see other people doing it, so you know (the harness) is going to hold you.”

When Justin introduced rock climbing as Immanuel Adventures to Deerfield residents, he said the initial response was “a lot of laughter.” 

“They thought I was joking until they realized there were flyers about going rock climbing,” he said. “Once the laughter died down, they saw we were serious. We were going to get a group, and it was going to be fun. People haven’t really looked back since then.” 

“Most of them think we’re crazy,” Milo laughed. “We thank Justin for that.”

Loretta said the support of Justin, the other participants, and the staff at Climb Iowa made the challenge easier. She and Milo recently told their family of their accomplishments.

“Our grandson said right away, ‘Go for it, Grandma,’” Loretta said. “He was enthusiastic about it. Some of the people here at Deerfield ask, ‘How come you do that?’ and I say ‘Why not?’ Sure, you might fall, but you fall on (padding). It’s not like falling outside.”

The program has been a great way to beat societal norms and conquer preconceived notions about what seniors can do.

“You only have one body, so you might as well take care of it. There’s no refund,” Loretta said. “Enjoy your body while you can. Better move it or lose it.”