Those who want to aim high sometimes have to push the boundaries and excel themselves. Just like little Max, who discovered a fascination with heights when climbing as a therapy with Christopher Nink. Training at the Kanditurm climbing centre in Andernach brings plenty of exciting experiences and quite a bit of progress.

Max firmly grasps the hold on the climbing wall with all the fingers of his left hand. With his right hand, he grabs the second hold and just a few seconds later he powerfully lifts his body weight up with his legs. The six-year-old positions his hands and feet on the climbing holds just a metre above the floor. Christopher Nink helps him from below. However, the state-registered occupational therapist can only help him for a short time. After all, Max doesn’t need long to start moving from one hold to the next out of Christopher’s reach. The little climber has set himself several goals on the wall – in the form of balloons, which are attached at various heights. After the first few metres, he laughs as he grabs the first balloon off the wall and throws it to the ground and the next ones follow from high above. At eight metres above the ground, he stops as he doesn’t feel confident going any further up. But it doesn’t matter; he’s pleased with himself as he ropes back down with Christopher’s help.

The occupational therapist often incorporates fun elements like this into the hours of training. “It makes it easier for children to get used to the heights. Sometimes they hardly notice that they’ve climbed higher than they would normally dare,” says the 33-year old. Christopher works as an occupational therapist, mainly with children, for Heinrich-Haus MVZ GmbH in Neuwied, Germany. As a freelancer, he also works at an occupational therapy practice, specialising in treating children. It goes without saying that in his spare time he likes climbing and bouldering. Christopher has a climbing certificate from the German climbing association (DAV or “Deutscher Alpenverein”). His other hobbies include swimming and mountain biking. He has been able to combine his job with his hobby and approached the Kanditurm Andernach with his idea of offering climbing as a therapy for young people. That was back in November 2016. During the same period, he also talked to his friend Christian Hahn, who works for Höhenpass, a specialist supplier of PPE in Koblenz and a SKYLOTEC partner. Christian didn’t have to deliberate for long. “It’s a project we are happy to support,” he says. So before he started out, Höhenpass supplied him with harnesses, ropes and backpacks for the weekly training sessions.

Max warms up on the bouldering wall.

All about safety: Max checks whether Christopher Nink’s harness is fitted correctly.

Nothing happens without a partner check

Sometimes, Max warms up on the bouldering wall, which is the case today. After a couple of minutes, however, Max gets into his climbing harness in the hall in Andernach. 14-year old Kilian helps him to do so. Before starting to climb, he carries out the partner check. This is absolutely essential as safety is paramount. Occupational therapist Christopher watches silently on as Kilian checks the harness fastenings, the rope attachment point and the knots. The carabiner is not yet closed when Kilian wants to give Max the go-ahead. Christopher Nink lets them get on with it at first. “After a couple of hours of training, the children are so experienced that they notice after a short while that they shouldn’t start climbing,” says the keen climber. This is also the case this time. Kilian tugs on the sleeve of Max’s t-shirt and tells him to wait. Kilian had noticed in time that something wasn’t right. He skilfully locks the carabiner on Max’s harness. Meanwhile, the six-year old can check whether Christopher’s equipment has been put on correctly. Safety always comes first when climbing. It’s important to check very carefully that the equipment donated by Höhenpass fits properly and is used correctly.

Rolling dice when climbing? With Christopher Nink (centre) it’s part of the experience.

Focus on fun elements

Climbing together encourages interaction – and social behaviour. Kilian, the older of the two boys, obviously feels comfortable in his role watching over Max. The 16-year old is proud of being able to take on the responsibility. This is just one of the positive effects of climbing as a therapy. There are many more besides, as Christopher knows: “For example, it contributes towards strengthening the entire body, increasing self-esteem and overcoming anxiety.” Christopher works with participants of all ages and combines therapy with experience, sport and fun. When he trains children and young people at the Kanditurm, the focus is always on fun elements. Like the balloons, which Max enthusiastically reaches out for. People like him who come to climbing as a therapy are dealing with impaired movement or restricted coordination.

New incentives all the time

Little Max is slightly impaired in terms of gross and fine motor skills. He also finds it hard to concentrate. Whilst looking for a suitable hobby, he has already tried a lot of things. With his mother and his brother Michel, he tried playing the guitar during rehabilitation before he started school – and he also tried climbing. “Only one of those caught on,” his father Dominik Pauly remembers. “And that’s climbing. He still loves it today.” Max also shares his enthusiasm with his father. As there are hardly any suitable options near where he lives in Cochem, he signed himself up with Max to a trial therapy climbing session with Christopher Nink in Andernach, which is about 50 kilometres away from home. “We liked it right away. It’s very varied; Christopher is always coming up with new incentives for the children.”

At first, Max was rather awestruck when faced with the climbing wall. The height inspired in him the proper respect. He only dared to climb to a height of three, maximum four metres. Then he quickly went back down again. An additional factor was that his muscles are not that strong, making it difficult for him to hold on or push on upwards. That’s all in the past now though as he has made clear progress in terms of strength and coordination. That’s also down to the fact that Christopher is always setting him new challenges. For example, he attached little notes at various heights, which Max had to collect to get bonus points by climbing. In this way, he was able to climb safely up to several metres and at the same time improve his hand-foot motor skills.

There’s only one direction for Max when it comes to climbing: upwards.

Climbing influences all areas of life

“Max is challenged more than in standard occupational therapy but at the same time he is not overexerted,” says Dominik Pauly. “The great thing about it is that the progress made in climbing also has an effect on other areas of his life.” Max’s father knows this from personal experience. One event has remained a lasting memory: when the six-year old was given a new bicycle, it was difficult for him to coordinate pedalling with moving up or down a gear. “One day he managed it, because his coordination and strength had been improved considerably thanks to climbing. It was a great experience for us!”

At the Kanditurm, meanwhile, Max and Kilian are kidding around with Christopher. Both boys get on well with each other – despite an age difference of about eight years. “Therapy in small groups is brilliant for Max. We have never regretted finding out about the offer in Andernach,” says Dominik Pauly. Christopher often gets feedback like this from parents. They tell him how much progress their children have made. That’s partly because the occupational therapist asks for their expectations in advance so that he can respond to the individual limitations of the children and young people. On the other hand, the youngsters themselves also generally play a large part, as the 33-year old explains: “As a rule, the children are so motivated that they also want to be active outside the climbing centre. They do exercises, for example, which can easily be done in quarter of an hour at home. Over time, training becomes something that can be done independently.”

Tirelessly moving up

It’s still too early for Max to do workouts. He wants to test his limits and boldly grabs the next hold. He’s now become used to increasing heights. He can usually manage eight metres, sometimes ten to twelve. Christopher has hidden several parts of a jigsaw puzzle in the climbing centre, which the six-year old is collecting one by one. He is tireless, even when the next part seems to be out of his reach. He’s already throwing the next piece down to the ground. He proudly looks down at his therapist – before quickly moving on up. “Maybe there’s also a plate of chips hidden for me under the roof,” he shouts. That’s what he always says in order to motivate himself. But the culinary delights are something he’s still waiting for.

For more information about climbing as therapy with Christopher Nink: Here you can visit his website.