Prosthetic legs are no obstacle as Sarah Larcombe rises to extraordinary heights with breathtaking international aspirations

Australia’s most decorated sport climber stands out from the rest with his head, shoulders and climbing wall. But when Sarah Larcombe scales 15 meter walls, she does it with a prosthetic leg.

The 35-year-old won Australia’s first climbing medal in May when she placed first at the World Cup in Salt Lake City. Since then she has stood on the podium at every international competition.

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On Sunday, the Monash University research coordinator swept the Australian Lead Paraclimbing Nationals at the Sydney Indoor Climbing Gym.

“Climbing is like a puzzle that you solve with your body, but the atmosphere can be so intense,” she said.

“It’s the only sport I’ve ever been to where people cheer on their competitors.

“We just love seeing people doing cool things and we all love climbing. When someone is doing really well, you will cheer them on. It could mean you’re losing and you secretly want them to fall, but it’s also really great to see.”

Larcombe was born with a congenital difference in her lower limb and her right leg was amputated as a baby.

As a child, she was a competitive swimmer en route to the Paralympics. Then high school started.

Paraclimber Sarah Larcombe compares the sport to solving a puzzle with your own body. (Steven Markham/AAP PHOTOS) Recognition: AAP

Swimming became boring and Larcombe struggled with her self-esteem.

“If you look or feel a little bit different, high school will take you out a little bit,” she said.

“I’ve spent most of my life hiding my disability. But now I really like wearing shorts in public.”

Larcombe is a relative newcomer to sport climbing. She picked it up in 2019 after watching climbing documentaries like Free Solo.

“I was always googling climbing gyms and trying to figure out what I could do, but I was scared to go there,” she said.

Amputee climber Sarah Larcombe poses for a photograph at the Villawood Indoor Climbing Center in Sydney. Recognition: AAPIPICTURE

“I found it so intimidating because I had never seen anyone with a disability climb.”

She contacted Adaptive Climbing Victoria, an organization that provides climbing opportunities for people with disabilities, and learned to lead climb.

In lead climbing, athletes scale 15-metre walls while strapped into a ceiling-mounted harness.

“It’s like all the fun of bouldering, but you’re full of confidence because you’re not going to fall off,” she said.

Larcombe entered her first competition on a whim in 2020.

“I was just so excited that they had a paraclimbing class and I wanted to make sure they kept it. So I thought, ‘I’m going to sign up for this just to be a number, so in the future it’ll be there for anyone else who wants to try it’. Then I did the competition and loved it.’”

In the years that followed, Larcombe blitzed through state competitions.

She appeared on the international stage at the Paraclimbing World Cup in May. With Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon as a backdrop, Larcombe clinched the title and won gold in her international debut.

Larcombe finished second in Paraclimbing Cups in Austria and Switzerland and is hoping for a Paralympic title shot if the sport climbing bid for the Los Angeles 2028 games goes through.

Amputee climber Sarah Larcombe in action during the Australian Para Climbing Finals at Villawood Indoor Climbing Center in Sydney. Recognition: AAPIPICTURE

But it wasn’t easy getting on the world stage,

There is almost no funding for paraclimbers. Seeking support is like taking on a second full-time job, Larcombe said.

She contacted every possible government organization. Of all the grants she scrolled past, only one was for athletes with disabilities, and it was limited to those between the ages of 18 and 24, although many para-athletes age.

In the end, Larcombe received a few hundred dollars from her local council and made up the rest through sponsors.

Larcombe said accessibility programs like Adaptive Climbing Victoria or Able Climbing NSW help take the sport to the next level by improving the pool of athletes and drawing more eyes to paraclimbing.

“The reason all members of the Australian paraclimbing team are from Melbourne is because of Adaptive Climbing Victoria,” she said.

“They have been so instrumental in building the community and creating inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities to try rock climbing. And once they come and try, so many people come back.”

Visually impaired people climb via ferratas with headphones and listen to the instructors on the ground as they feel their way up the wall.

Others climb with a variety of prostheses or motor-physical difficulties, some using only their arms to pull their entire body weight up the wall.

“The things that paraclimbers do are crazy. You’re really pushing the limits of what you think a person can do with their body,” Larcombe said.

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James Brien

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