ELLSWORTH — When doctors saw that Maureen Beck was born without her left hand and arm below the elbow, they floated the idea of amputating her toes and “install[ing] them as fingers” in place of her hand.
“I was born in 1986, which [I’m told] was a pretty wild and crazy time,” Beck writes in a post on her blog, “Mo in Mountains.” “Like I said, drugs were cool back then.”
But even for a professional rock climber, 10 fingers didn’t turn out to be necessary. Today the 2005 Ellsworth High School graduate and star of the 2017 film “Stumped” has 10 toes and five fingers and spends her days scaling rock faces. And the prosthetic arm she used to wear? “Totally gone! Lost somewhere in my house.”
“Stumped” is among 37 short films on tour as part of the 2017/18 Banff Mountain Film Festival being screened Friday-Sunday, Feb. 2-4, at The Grand in Ellsworth. “Stumped,” featuring Beck, will be the last film to show on Saturday, Feb. 3. The Ellsworth-born climber will be on hand to answer questions after the screening.
Beck grew up in Ellsworth with her parents, Chris and Deborah Whalley, and three younger brothers, none of whom took to the sport quite like she did. Her introduction to clambering up crags came early, at Girl Scout camp in Millinocket when she was 12.
“A counselor would scramble up a rock and run a rope through a bolt at the top. It’s probably not the safest thing, now that I think of it,” she recalls. “But I remember thinking it was just so cool. You have laser focus.”
Growing up, Beck relates that she wasn’t bullied, and that it was often adults rather than children who would tell her she couldn’t do something like catch a baseball, or play goalie on the soccer team (both of which she did). She writes about applying for college and asking her father if he thought she should check the box “disabled.”
“He thought for a moment, then said, ‘You know, you may as well — there might be extra scholarship money in it or something. But you’re not really disabled.’”
Beck, who now lives in Arvada, Colo., with her husband and two “mystery mutts,” may have graduated to bigger rocks since that first Girl Scout camp, but she still feels the same way about the sport. “Climbing is the great equalizer. The rock doesn’t care if you have one arm or one leg. Once you’re on the wall it’s a total Zen moment. Everything else melts away.”
The 25-minute film, directed by Cedar Wright and Taylor Keating, focuses on Beck’s efforts to conquer her first 5.12 route in Boulder Canyon, Colo., called Days of Future Passed. The path is a 90-foot vertical cliff with an overhang at the top. Climbing routes are graded from 1-5.15, with
walking in the woods being 1 and 5 being a technical route where a fall would be potentially fatal. A 5.12 is considered by many to be what separates the intermediate from the elite.
“I thought for awhile I would just be a 5.8 climber and that would be it,” says Beck, who (spoiler alert) finally scaled Days of Future Passed after numerous attempts over the course of months. She finished just before the filming of “Stumped” wrapped up.
Beck doesn’t want to be known for climbing with one hand. She wants to be known, simply, as a climber, and show other people with different abilities that climbing is for everyone. That’s what this film is about, she says.
“It’s more than just a climbing film. It’s to talk about perceptions of differently-abled people, not to talk about a “Spider-Man” mutant child.”
Beck has won a slew of titles, including first place in both the 2017 USA Paraclimbing National Championships and the 2017 International Federation of Sport Climbing Paraclimbing World Cup. Her next big adventure will be in the Canadian Rockies on a three-week, 23-pitch Cirque of the Unclimbables next August. The ascent will likely be done in a day, but her group will be out for nearly a month.
“It’s a style that’s totally new to me. And I’ve never climbed anything where I’ve had to live out of a tent for three weeks.”
Extreme athletes tend to watch their diets, especially when training for competitions. But Beck’s favorite thing to eat when she’s out on the rocks?
“I love Lunchables. I hate Clif Bars and traditional sports food,” she laughs. “I’m trying to graduate to adult Lunchables. I’m a fan of turkey and cheese.”
Beck has a full-time job as a sales coordinator at Eldorado Climbing Walls and also works with the nonprofit Paradox Sports, an organization that offers trips and courses for adaptive climbers. Between her work, several hours of training each afternoon, international film touring and competitions, she rarely has time to stop. But that’s OK.
“I want to be known for pushing boundaries and never settling,” said Beck, when asked what she wants people to recognize her for. “I don’t think I ever want to stop pushing. What climbing has taught me is I’m not satisfied to settle.”
Over the Feb. 2-4 weekend, a selection of The Banff Festival’s films will show at 7 p.m. on Friday-Saturday, Feb. 2-3 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 4. To reserve seats, call 667-9500 at The Grand or 667-7819 at Cadillac Mountain Sports.