You just need a lot of determination: NDSU student still not taking no for answer,
BOULDER, Colo. -- On his spring break, Paul Lundstrom proved it doesn't take two arms and legs to rock climb 80 vertical feet.
It just takes a tremendous amount of determination.
The 24-year-old from Hazen, N.D., has cerebral palsy, a condition that has left him with hemiplegia, or limited use of one side of his body.
Last week, Lundstrom, a mechanical engineering student at North Dakota State University, donned a climbing harness and stared up at the menacing west wall of the Castle, a giant rock formation in Boulder Canyon often used by beginning climbers.
Despite the fact that he is only able to perform basic grasping motions with his left hand and has little control over his left leg, Lundstrom conquered the first climb of his life -- forcing his body upward for 1½ hours, then descending the Castle's jagged face.
Chad McFadden, 30, who led the ascent, has been a mountaineer for 10 years and has been on expeditions to the Alps, China, Pakistan and Patagonia.
"I have always believed that climbing is a metaphor for the struggles in life. Paul proved that to me once again," McFadden said.
"His climb showed me he is persistent and driven. He overcame fears and misconceptions with his first climb. He was exceptional for a person with a disability."
Lundstrom, who has a caustic sense of humor and contagious smile, is exceptional by many people's accounts.
Mary Jo Larson, a physical therapist at the Sakakawea Medical Center in Hazen, has worked with him since he was 9 months old.
After hearing of his climbing accomplishment, she said, "That is amazing. That is absolutely amazing. Just for Paul to walk on level ground uses so much energy."
Larson explained that cerebral palsy occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen. Lundstrom, she said, has two types of cerebral palsy, spastic and athetoid, which result in stiff, difficult, involuntary and uncontrolled movements.
She said the combination of spastic and athetoid cerebral palsy is rare, making Lundstrom's achievements even more astounding.
Trying something new like rock climbing, though, is very typical of what Lundstrom has done throughout his life, Larson said, as she rattled off a list of different athletic and artistic endeavors he's tried, including throwing the shotput in high school track and field, ice skating and piano lessons. "You never told Paul that you couldn't do anything. He just wouldn't take no for an answer," Larson said. "He's always been amazing, always an inspiration to all of us who work with him."
"It doesn't surprise me," said Jed Falk, a friend of Lundstrom's at NDSU, when he learned of the climbing feat.
Falk, 23, who is also majoring in mechanical engineering, said he took Lundstrom windsurfing when they worked together at an internship for Dakota Gasification Co. in summer 2002.
"It's not whether he'll do it, just when he'll do it," Falk said, referring to his friend's appetite for adventure.
Lundstrom is a typical college student in many ways -- he belongs to the Sigma Chi fraternity, loves to bar hop, watch movies and hang out with his friends -- but he also rides a quarterhorse named Spider, throws pottery and fervently rebuilds truck engines.
Working with his hands and using his mechanical inclination to solve problems are two of Lundstrom's passions.
When he realized that making tall ceramic vases and bowls would require two hands, he invented a tong-like tool that helped him pull the clay with one hand.
Lundstrom said his older brother, David, has played a large role in convincing him he can do anything. "When I was little, if I said something was too hard for me to do, he'd tell me, 'No it isn't,' and he would help me. I was brought up that I can do whatever I want to do."
To Lundstrom, his cerebral palsy is not a disability, but rather a minor inconvenience.
The physical aspects are sometimes frustrating for him, he said, but mostly he wants people to understand that he is capable of just about anything.
"I guess the biggest challenge is overcoming other people's image of me, because it happens a lot. They don't know what to think of me, and I have to show them I can climb 80 feet."
Lundstrom, who will graduate in December 2004, added, "Why do I do the things I do? Very simple. I want to."
Quinn, a native of Hazen, N.D., is a intern at the Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colo.