Victor Meier’s story is not about only having one arm. His story is about tenaciously finding a way to do something he wants to do.
Meier, director of youth sports and fitness with the 75th Force Support Squadron (FSS) at Hill Air Force Base, decided to try his hand at rock climbing to increase his arm strength for his adaptive workouts.
He soon realized rock climbing put too much stress on his elbow; however, he still wanted to be a part of the sport. At the Warrior Fitness Center, he saw that there were more people who wanted to climb than those who have the certification to belay or teach the sport.
“So, I was like, I can be that person,” said Meier. There was one small hitch. Even though there are other one-armed rock climbers, there didn’t seem to be anyone else who was belaying with one arm, much less with just a left arm. No instructions, no YouTube videos, but that was not going to deter Meier.
Meier enlisted the assistance of Eli Whitman, director of community services with the 75th FSS, to help him figure out a way to pass the belay class. “It was kind of a science project for us,” said Whitman.
Whitman has been rock climbing for more than 20 years and also has been climbing with mountain search and rescue for the past eight years.
“It’s challenging because he is missing his right arm and a lot of belaying requires your right arm to do the pull, brake, under, slide (PBUS) method, which is the gold standard for climbing and belaying,” Whitman said.
After doing some research and talking to the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah, and a few search and rescue peers, Whitman discovered they could modify the PBUS method and still be within the gold standard.
Instead of sliding the right hand toward the assist device as a person with two arms would do as they pull up the slack, Meier steps on the rope to allow his hand to slide up, which allows his brake hand to never let go.
They also tested different devices to see which device would give Meier the best ability to stop a climber’s fall. They found that a geometry assisting device works better than a mechanical assist device, which most climbers use.
“He picked it up really quickly, and that’s what you really want,” said Whitman. “Within minutes, he had it figured out. It’s all about how comfortable the climber is with the belayer anyways. Vic can stop a fall; he’s a belayer.
“Ever since I’ve known Vic, he has always been the ‘I can do it’ kind of guy, and his ability is not hampered in any way. In some ways, he’s more able than most. He has this drive, and he’s not going to let his missing arm hold him back.”
“Some things are easy, some things are not,” said Meier, who admits to having a stubborn personality. “My mind right now is I could probably do anything I wanted to do…. The biggest thing is I fight through [the challenge of missing an arm] because I know there’s stuff out there more important than worrying about it. So yeah, it does suck, don’t think that it doesn’t. But you just gotta take the good with the bad and live with it; that’s what I do.”
That philosophy is what got Meier through life since he lost his arm when he was 13. From kicking for his high school football team, to joining the Peace Corps, to rock climbing and belaying at the fitness center, he may only have one arm, but that’s all he needs.
This article was adapted from an original story by Cynthia Griggs, 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs.