Touchstone Blog Archive
Monday, August 15, 2011
  Profile of Paul Shain- Ironworks Member
Paul Shain, a long time Ironworks member, began climbing with his 12 year old daughter when he was 57 years old. Shain is now retired but works part time for a non-profit that teaches young people in Richmond television production. Twice a week, Shain heads out to the Berkeley Touchstone gym to climb and stay fit. He took a few moments to share his climbing experience with the blog.

My membership with Ironworks dates to the opening of facility (I was amongst the first few hundred who joined.) At the time, my main motivation was my 12-year old daughter Emily’s interest in climbing and my desire to spend quality time with her and reinforce her interest in physical activity. I was 57 years old. Our joint climbing experience was a special one and both we cherish those experiences. She’s now out of college and living in Chicago but a joint trip to Ironworks is a mandatory event every time she visits.

Twice a week we religiously took to the gym, sharing the challenge of the wall and the special closeness what ensued for our shared experience. We both fell in love with climbing. One lovely aspect of the experience was that she was a natural and I was a natural klutz. In the first year, she was doing 5-11’s and I was struggling (and I mean STRUGGLING) with 5-9s. It was particularly sweet to share an activity where my daughter was so clearly the leader at a time when she was entering her teen years. It was empowering for her to star and to be the one who mentored me in the gym. I, of course, loved it all.

Shain and his daughter

Over time, I began to learn a bit and became a respectable but not particularly advanced climber. Time passed, my daughter grew up, and went away to college. Although she was no longer around to partner with, by then I was hooked and continued to climb, introducing a friend to the sport and meeting regularly with him and with my niece to ensure that I got a couple of climbs in every week. I was now over 60 and the health benefits that climbing provided; flexibly, range of motion, strength, balance, and breath control had become the centerpiece of my exercise regimen.

Little did I know that climbing would literally save my life.

When I was 62 years old I began to experience symptoms of heart distress. Fortunately, I heeded the warning signs and after extensive testing, I underwent open-heart surgery for a quintuple heart bypass operation. My arteries looked like shredded spaghetti with a myriad of tiny capillaries that had developed in their place to keep my oxygen flowing. I am convinced that the years of rigorous exercise climbing fostered and nurtured those alternative capillaries and, in effect, saved my life.
Ten weeks after my surgery, I was back at Ironworks, rehabbing and continuing to grow as a climber. That was 6 ½ years ago.

I have just passed my 69th birthday and continue to climb twice a week. While my degree difficulty has remained pretty constant (making most 5-10 Cs and Ds with occasional hard earned 5-11s). What’s cool is that I continue to improve and am making many more climbs without stopping than I used to. My technique continues to improve and I’m as enthusiastic and energized by climbing as I was as a novice 11 years ago.

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