Peak Potential Climbing

JenFu Cheng from Fairfield, NJ

The Project

Peak Potential is a non-profit organization that teaches rock climbing to children with disabilities as a means of improving quality-of-life. It was an incredible challenge building this organization during strenuous medical training, but waiting for a more “convenient” time was not an option. When we first started teaching children with disabilities to rock climb, many people thought we were crazy. Those people didn’t see the potential in these children to do great things. Our kids proved the doubters wrong. We met challenges along the way. Keeping the program free was our promise to the families to make sure cost would never be a barrier. But, we nearly ran out of money several times. Funding 100 sessions a year was a huge challenge. It took teamwork and initiative to fundraise aggressively to keep the program alive and thriving. We built partnerships and friendships that have lasted for years. Our dream has always been to bring children outdoors to experience the wonders of nature. Again, we met with barriers and opposition. Plenty of people felt that it was too dangerous and that kids with disabilities were not capable. We had to earn the trust of the parents, the State Park officials, and supporters. We made it outside with four kids in October and it was amazing. Now, it’s time to get hundreds more kids with disabilities climbing outside.

The Progress

The Peak Potential Outdoor Climbing Day was incredible. We had four kids--three with cerebral palsy and one who uses a prosthetic leg. For an entire day, the kids scaled the cliffs of Peterskill State Park in New York. The rain threatened at one point but stayed away. The trail to the cliffs was a little rough, but the kids managed under their own power. For some of the participants, it was their first time in the woods. Their sense of accomplishment must have been incredible when they looked over woods from the top of the rocks they had climbed. Next year, we hope to host several more outdoor climbing days for dozens of children. We plan to partner with physicians, brace makers and therapists to develop tools and prostheses to allow even more kids to participate. And, we plan to do so as we have always done, free-of-charge to the participants.

The Team

Peak Potential was founded by individuals with a passion for rock climbing and the desire to share it. Our team has always been diverse, ages 13 to 60+. Some of our former participants have come back to serve as volunteers, and Peak Potential has become a community! Within our community, there is a core group of leaders who have pledged to commit even more. Our program is led by an elected board and appointed trustees. The strength of our leadership comes from its diversity. As founder and Medical Advisor, I’m the “elder” who brings the experience of someone who has been committed to Peak Potential even before Day 1. By trade, I’m a pediatric rehabilitation medicine physician, but I have been a passionate rock climber for two decades. Climbing has taken me around the World and has allowed me to “rope up” with amazing individuals. Expanding adventure adaptive sports and recreation is my mission. Andrew Chao is our President. He brings the energy that comes from youth and his knowledge of the financial world from his “day-job.” Mark Shaker, who has been a volunteer for a decade, serves as our Treasurer. His degree in Biomedical Engineering helps in solving many of our challenges. David Gursky, a medical student, is our Secretary and brings innovation and expertise. Our board is rounded out by a financial planner and attorney. As a team, we have managed to create much from very little. But, we have the skill and experience to turn greater resources into even more amazing things.

The Fearless Changemaker

12 years ago, I was a first-year resident in the field of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. I had this dream of starting an organization to teach climbing to kids with disabilities. Being a passionate rock climber, I wanted to share this amazing sport with kids who may otherwise not have the chance. Working 80-100 hours a week in the hospital and studying every free moment was just a fact of life for someone in medical training. But, I did not want to wait on this dream. Every delay meant more kids missing out. After 36 hour shifts in the hospital, I would come home, grab a snack and start writing mission statements, filling out forms, and contacting potential supporters. I recruited friends to volunteer and we acquired the needed equipment. After a year of building, we successfully launched Peak Potential with our first climbers, two amazing kids with cerebral palsy. Everyone had a wonderful time, and with that event a twelve-year journey started. Since then, we have taught rock climbing to hundreds of kids with disabilities, indoors and outdoors, always free or charge. With 100 sessions every year, Peak Potential has become a huge part of the lives of volunteers. Every single session has been rewarding, but I am most proud of the session when our first child stepped onto the climbing wall. At that time, there were no manuals to follow. We were starting something new. And, everyone present on that day knew that it would become huge in the lives of many people.

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