By Ishaw Thorpe
Imagine pulling yourself up El Capitan with one limb, one inch at a time. Now imagine that you also suffer from a severe form of cerebral palsy.
On March 11th and 12th Lehman College hosted a screening of “ReelAbilities,” the biggest film festival in the United States promoting works starring and created by people with disabilities.
ReelAbilities features an international selection of films, from Sweden, China, Spain, Australia and Cuba among others. Some film characters are blind, autistic, or deaf. Others suffer from debilitating illness such as polio or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Films include comedies, dramas, documentaries and love stories.
One particularly powerful story is “Wampler’s Ascent,” a documentary about filmmaker Stephen Wampler and his quest to become the first person with cerebral palsy to climb El Capitan. The documentary has him making his way up the mountain in Yosemite National Park over six days, accompanied by two fellow professional rock climbers. His wife and kids are there, along with his childhood friends. Curious spectators line up below El Capitan. Some hope that he will succeed, while others expect him to fail.
In order to complete the task of climbing El Capitan, which is the height of two Empire State buildings, Wampler has to be in the best possible shape of his life. During the Q&A session after his film, Wampler explains how he prepared for the feat. “I did 3,000 push-ups a day!” He also designed the special equipment that he sat in to pull himself up the mountain, 2 to 6 inches at a time. Ultimately, he will need to do around 20,000 pull ups to reach the peak.
In 2002, Wampler created a camp for children with disabilities. His climb up the mountain, he says, is to set an example. When interviewed for The Bronx Journal TV, the principal director of BOLD (Bronx Organization for the Learning Disabled) Richard Scotti said that the biggest misconception about people with disabilities “is that they’re different.” Stephen Wampler is determined to illustrate that this is not the case. Climbing El Capitan was first and foremost to inspire the kids of his camp, he says. But it was also to show how the disabled are just as ready, willing and able to do anything.
A sample of the films: