Philippe Ribiere – para-climbing’s ambassador
Well I came to climbing by accident. I was at a summer camp when I was a teenager, and a friend of mine asked me to do a sport. I was really strong at bicycling so I went to the bike club and the boss looked at me and said “No!” Right away I didn’t have a chance to talk to him, he just said “No!” I didn’t want to lose my temper so I left but on the second day I went to the climbing gym, and the guy said “hey you, get on your shoes.” I was 17 years old.
No, no, no just a regular camp. I always in my life wanted to do regular things. My parents never treated me as handicapped and no one called me a handicapped person so I was already in.
Two years, for the first two years to be honest it was not my passion. I had to deal with other stuff. But I do remember in 1995 I went to the National Youth Competition, I came last, but it was the first time you see a handicapped climber. And it was soon after this happened I was reading the first magazine made by Patrick Edlinger and there were good stories about all the hippy climbers, and we started to train, we started to go on some training camps and I really enjoyed the climbing… it was only on the rope and on the rock at this time, I learned like everybody else.
I started in the south of the France, near Montpellier. We have these limestone areas and some famous crags so it is not so deserted. I remember during this period climbing was evolving and was starting to grow, there was some money but the spirit was still climbing on-sight and respecting the rules and stuff.
It was not commercial back then, it was more lifestyle than bullshit.
The story starts in 2002, already for years I was working to promote the handicapped climbing and to push the International federation to make this new category. And so I was giving some demonstrations at competitions and in this period I met the main manager of Petzl and he said “Hey you! You! You look good ha, and I’m pretty sure you want to do something in the future!” And they welcomed me to the Petzl team with Chris Sharma, Jerome Meyer, Liv Sansoz, and all the others. I was the little baby in this team. I was really impressed, but at the same time Petzl wanted to show me in the roc-trip movie just to show that it’s true, a handicapped climber can be a good climber. It was the main focus. And now I’m kind of, I don’t know if it’s the right word, a mascot. I’m the mascot of the team.
And also the ambassador of it.
When I started I was a handicapped person who climbed, then I became handicapped climber and then, more recently I become a professional climber. Six years ago now. And this changed totally the vision and the subject about handicaps in the climbing community.
Yes for the first year in 2003 I was a king in Paris, seriously, because in France we had this period where for the handicapped people we make allowances, we make access in the restaurants for example and everything was for the handicapped. And in this period when it was new, I knew already that to the climbing wanted to be an Olympic sport
I think so, I think so.
I think it was more complicated than this. At first they needed to have more and more climbers because they maybe had one in France, one in Spain, one in Italy… but we are not sure about the potential, how to make it a category if there were just a few athletes.
We had to promote the para-climbing and then people came, and we had enough climbers to make a category and to make competition. It took 12 years of working but at the end of 2011 we had the first world championship in Arco, where I got my Bronze Medal, and I think the honor of this bronze medal maybe helps all of the handicapped climbers to join me, and to make a team.
50, across all the categories. And it’s grown since then.
During the year of 2011, in the summer I was contacted by the French coach and he said “Philippe can you help me to collect all the climbers?” And then 2012 in June the Worlds it was new people, it was new for everyone, it was good.
Well you know to train hard for the competitions helps me to know my new possibility on the rocks, and on the bouldering I couldn’t imagine that I could do 6c or at least try 6c… it’s helped me to do this. So now I want to push my new limit to do 7a. 7a on the bouldering and why not 7b on the crag?
Yes for sure, definitely! For instance when I was climbing before, especially with my right hand, I struggled to get the crimps. And now after training on the village wall, opening my fingers and exercising my extensors… To understand my handicap, my handicap on the crimping, I have no flexibility in the wrists, I’ve got no strength in my forearms and I have short hands. So this training has given me the possibility to have open hands now, for sure and I can dream, maybe one day 7b or even 7c.
Sometimes I do in Slovenia, I train a lot in Slovenia. I have a Doctor and I have a trainer, this is where I can get that for free because in France it’s so expensive and nobody can take the time to do it. I’m a professional this way, whenever I have an injury I go there.
Well you know I didn’t choose first the climbing to challenge my handicap so I cannot really answer this question because I don’t know exactly? When I started I was in the normal team, in school I was not interested in the handicap. So on this way I don’t think it makes any addition to my handicap. But it is true that when I meet some doctors about my disease to talk about rehabilitation, I asked the Doctor what it did in my arms and it helped me, now I can pinch, I can do the crimping because I thought I could not do because I have a weakness in the muscle. And this is why I can see more in the future now.
Yes, I mean one thing is that I did research with some scientists who compared me to an 8c climber. On the jug I have 60% of their strength. On the 5cm edge I have 45% of their strength and on the small crimp I have 35%. When I climb I just push down on the right or the left so I use a lot my feet.
Now, I think I learned this from the training because beforehand I never used my feet. I was in too much of a hurry. It was like I had blinkers on. You know I’ve been climbing for 20 years and then maybe in the last 5 years I learned just to have the time to look around, where are my feet? And now the feet and the pressure with my hands is really the most important.
I would say Fontainebleau for France, otherwise you know I’ve traveled for 19 years and it’s a very hard question, but I would say maybe my home town in the south of France.
Your two homes.
I’ve two homes but it’s not fixed homes. Now I’m travelling 5 years in the van, I live like the wild one, and I love it. I’m happy!