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One-handed Boulder climber spreads message in REEL ROCK film coming to Colorado Springs

November 6, 2017 Updated: November 6, 2017 at 9:00 am
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Boulder's Maureen Beck will be featured in the REEL ROCK 12 film fest stopping Wednesday at Colorado College. She will be seen with her left stump scaling a 5.12 grade route in Boulder Canyon. Photo credit: Cedar Wright

Peter Mortimer hesitates to call Maureen Beck inspiring.

Anyone who rock climbs while missing one hand inspires Mortimer - which partly explains why the co-founder of REEL ROCK wanted Beck featured in the sport's premier film fest. The tour stops Wednesday in Colorado Springs.

The thing is, Beck hates the word "inspiring."

"I happen to have one hand, but first and foremost I'm a climber," she says from her Boulder home. "Like, it's not all angel choirs and roses and inspiration."

So if you're in the audience watching the 20-minute show of Beck scaling a wicked 5.12 grade with the stump on the left arm she was born with, try not to feel inspired. That wasn't Beck's intent when she agreed to the cameras shadowing her in Boulder Canyon.

"My goal is to make everyone so aware of adaptive climbing that it's normal rather than abnormal," she says.

Beck is an ideal subject for REEL ROCK, says Mortimer, a 1997 Colorado College graduate also living in Boulder.

"She adds a lot to the lineup this year," he says of the festival's 12th year with 500 screenings worldwide. "We're always looking for characters and amazing athletes that have these special qualities and special spirits that people can connect with."

Beck, who works for a company that builds climbing walls, is known for her bubbly personality. She gardens, tends to her chickens and dogs, drinks scotch and sleeps in cars during expeditions between her paraclimbing world championships. (She defended her title last year at the International Federation of Sport Climbing's competition in Paris, and in September, she took gold in her category at Scotland's IFCS World Cup.)

She never doubted herself when she started scrambling as a teen in her native Maine woods. Her parents never let her believe she was limited, even when as a child she struggled to cut the steak on her dinner plate. On her grade-school soccer team, she played goalie, the one position where having two hands would have been convenient. Climbing "appealed for how it was something that maybe didn't make sense for me, like something I shouldn't do," she says.

Beck tried prosthetics initially. She recalls "a janky robot arm" among the contraptions she built, all resulting in "general not-goodness." Going with what she had turned out to be "really relieving."

"What she puts her stump through is one of the most incredible things to watch," Mortimer says.

The other REEL ROCK 12 films feature legendary free soloist Chris Sharma climbing ropeless above a raging sea; the bold and eccentric Brad Gobright attempting a heart-stopping first ascent before his El Capitan speed record in October; and Margo Hayes trying to be the first woman to scale a 5.15 route.

REEL ROCK has a history of unveiling emerging stars. Beck expects the film will give her more exposure than ever.

"Which I'm a little self-conscious about," she says. "Have I actually earned it, or is it just because I have one hand?"

Either way, she thinks it might earn her more invites like the one she recently got to go on an alpine trip in northern Canada. "I haven't done anything like that," she says. "I'm trying to not say no to things."

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