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Rec therapy team gets creative with adaptive tree climbing

Adaptive Tree Climbing at Mary Free BedEvery patient who comes to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital is different. Also unique is what each patient enjoys doing.

That’s why Mary Free Bed’s recreational therapy team works to individualize activities catered to each patient’s interests that promote rehabilitation, wellness and independence. Newberry, Mich. native Charles Wallace came to Mary Free Bed in 2010 for outpatient therapy after sustaining a severe spinal cord injury when he was struck by a car during a motorcycle ride in 1985. Years later, Wallace reached back out to Mary Free Bed to ask about adaptive tree climbing.

“I learned there is such a thing as adaptive rock climbing,” he said. “I thought, ‘why not try adaptive tree climbing?’

“Prior to my spinal cord injury, I always enjoyed being in nature, spending time outdoors hunting, camping, fishing and hiking.”

Michael Burkhart, a recreational therapist at Mary Free Bed, reached out to an experienced local arborist and a former Marine/firefighter rope rescuer to help Wallace learn the necessary skills. Together, the group held extended sessions over a two-day period in order to accommodate the eight-hour trip Wallace made from his home in the Upper Peninsula.

With the necessary precautions taken before the climb, they gathered at the arborist’s private residence, which Wallace called “a great location for tree climbing.”

During his trial climb, Wallace’s nerves made him second-guess himself, however, by the last climb, his feelings changed.

“I can only describe it as exhilarating and even better than I imaged it would be,” he said.

Wallace wasn’t the only one feeling great.

“Working with Charlie and having him reach his tree-climbing goals is the sort of thing that got me into this profession,” Burkhardt said. “I couldn’t have been happier for him.”

Wallace is grateful he was able to try something new that gets him outside.

“I now have a new outdoor activity that puts me back in nature in a way I never thought possible,” he said. “A big thanks for Mary Free Bed Rec Therapy for making this a reality.”

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