Local Organization Helps Veterans Reach New Heights
Eric Moore’s toes cling to a half inch of rock 200 feet above the ground. Struggling, Moore fails to find his next hand hold. Friends and family cheer him on as he makes another attempt. He reaches farther scanning for a place in the solid granite to wedge his fingers. He fails. He fails again. Finally his fingers find their mark and he continues his victorious climb up the rock face to the top.
As Moore faces his fears on the side of a giant boulder, Mark Yearsley a slightly more experienced climber, faces his own difficulties. Yearsley, a 10-year Air Force veteran, climbs using a prosthesis not intended for climbing. Though the climb is difficult, Yearsley does not let his amputated leg stop him from achieving his goal of reaching the pinnacle.
Moore and Yearsley are two of several veterans, both men and women, who participated last year in Warriors Rock— an annual free climbing event held for veterans each year at Castle Rock State Park near the City of Rocks National Park in Almo, Idaho. Sawtooth Mountain Guides, an experienced team of certified guides, assists with the event.
Warriors Rock, founded by Diana Lincoln-Haye and Stan Haye, gives veterans and their families the opportunity to enjoy nature, bond with other veterans and accomplish achievements they may not have thought possible prior to attending. The Hayes took up rock and ice climbing later in life and discovered that there is much more to climbing than meets the eye.
“The reason I wanted to offer this event to veterans is because of my experience with PTSD (They lost a daughter suddenly 8 years ago),” explains Lincoln-Haye. “I knew how valuable it was for my own health. I thought it would be good to offer to veterans and their families as well.”
The comradery felt among the veterans and their families is palpable as they cheer each other to greater heights and achievements.
“The group is like an embrace” explains Moore, a former Marine. “I took my son-in-law Hector Coronado, an immigrant from Mexico, and Lance Simmons, a young man diagnosed with Asperger’s who has had major struggles in his life.” Both young men were welcomed with open arms by the group. Moore has noticed a particular change in Simmons since climbing Warriors Rock.
“For Lance this experience was a freeing, paradigm shifting, informative and empowering sensory experience that challenged him both physically and mentally," Moore explains. "He was really impressed with Mark Yearsley and saw that other people with physical and mental challenges and heartbreak are facing that reality and doing something. Since Warriors Rock, he’s moved out of subsidized housing. He enrolled in school. He smiles. He engages people. It was a life changing experience.”
After reflection, Moore realized that climbing is a metaphor for the trials in life. He realized that you have to do more than just survive in life, you need to really live.
Mark Yearsley, an inspiration to the group, has suffered through his own trials. He sustained severe injuries to his right leg, shoulders and back during military service.
“After 22 unsuccessful surgeries trying to reconstruct my right leg and being in a wheel chair for several years feeding on a diet of 500 mg of morphine a day due to pain, the doctor and I thought it would be best to amputate my right leg above the knee,” Yearsley says. Two years of depression followed. Then something special happened.
“I was introduced back into the outdoors through a veterans’ organization,” notes Yearsley. “Once introduced, I started taking other disabled veterans on hunting and fishing trips showing them they too can do whatever they set their mind to.” Yearsley does more outdoors now than he did prior to becoming an amputee.
Yearsley inspires others to achieve their goals through his own example.
“One thing I love to hear from vets is, ‘If you can do it with one leg then surely I can do it with two,’” says Yearsley. He is in the process of starting his own non-profit organization called Outdoor Salute to Veterans. “I will also coordinate with Warriors Rock to get more veterans off their couches and into the outdoors.”
Yearsley recognizes the significance of participating in Warriors Rock.
“Warriors Rock is an opportunity to get out of the house, reach for the stars, and feel a sense of achievement and freedom,” says Yearsley. “Climbing builds confidence, courage, concentration, stamina, discipline and gives you a sense of accomplishment. The first step is to get out and at least try and set reasonable achievable goals.”