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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Road Less Traveled

Last night Kev and I attended the 2008 induction ceremony for the Utah Sports Hall of Fame. Jeff Lowe was one of 5 inductees, and the only one not affiliated with the Olympics, NCAA or a national sports league. He is the first alpinist to be inducted in the Hall of Fame's history.

Let me explain to you why I cried: First of all, what an honor for Jeff, and what a great way to recognize all that he has done to pave the way for ice/rock climbing to gain respect in the world of sports. Second of all, I cried because I don't think it's "fair" that someone with such passion for something can no longer walk without the aid of two walking canes. Third of all, what was believed to be MS is now diagnosed as a much worse neurological disease that is fatally shrinking his cerebellum, and Jeff shared that with the audience last night. I could go on. But I cry about everything so there's no need.

I respect Jeff because he is genuinely a nice person. Whenever I visit the Ogden Climbing Parks office, I'm always greeted so enthusiastically. I am so grateful for the opportunity Jeff gave Kev and for his willingness to give Kev a job after he walked into OCP off the street. Jeff is all about giving as much as he can to others.

The article I've enclosed (from The Standard Examiner) in this post isn't 100% factual but I've included some clarifications in bold based on my knowledge. You should definitely check out the Tribune and The Deseret News because my understanding is that they were at least going to include a photo from the ceremony.

Jeff Lowe's Mountain / Ogden climber honored while fighting brain disease

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

OGDEN -- He may not be scaling sheer cliffs or tackling some of the world's most daunting summits anymore, but don't call Jeff Lowe's career over.

The world-renowned rock climber, mountaineer and Ogden native remains heavily involved in the climbing world as director of Ogden Climbing Parks, the organization he founded with a vision of getting more people involved in the sport.

Lowe, 58, says his career is winding down as he gradually succumbs to a degenerative neurological disease that is breaking down his motor skills and will, he says, eventually claim his life.

Still, he maintains his passion for a sport that has been his life since early childhood.

"Sure, I miss it. It was my life," Lowe said of climbing. "But I really enjoy passing it on to others."

Lowe beams with pride when talking about the strides that have been made in gaining mainstream acceptance of a sport that has historically been misunderstood.

"In the 1960s, I wouldn't tell people I climbed. It wasn't a cool thing to be, and I liked that about it. But today, I think people realize that it takes at least as much dedication as ski racing and other sports."

He might be reluctant to accept credit for that progress, but he got some this week, regardless.

Tuesday evening at a ceremony in Salt Lake City, Lowe became the first mountaineer to be enshrined in the Utah Sports Hall of Fame.

Lowe said his first climbing experience came around age 5 [actually age 7], when his father took him on a trip to the Teton Range in Wyoming.

He immediately took to the sport, and the rest is history.

Today, he is credited with about 1,000 first ascents of climbing routes around the world and pioneering some of the world's most difficult routes.

He has also been instrumental in the rise of ice-climbing as a mainstream sport.

Lowe speaks of the Hall of Fame recognition as if it were not for him, but for the sport as a whole.

"I think it's great that climbing is getting that kind of respect," he said. "Hopefully, it will give some more credibility to what we're trying to get going with Ogden Climbing Parks."

He highlighted a number of accomplishments for Ogden Climbing Parks in 2008.

They include the implementation of climbing schools for inner city and at-risk youth and people with disabilities [Jeff brings climbing TO the schools via the portable rock wall. He doesn't have a "climbing school"]; the purchase of a portable climbing wall; outdoor climbing lessons and demonstrations at the fall Outdoor Retailer show; the beginning of ClimbFest, a festival of art, literature and the environment related to climbing; and the High Adventure Mountain Film Festival, which had a successful debut this year.

The organization has also identified and improved access to local climbing spots, built a core of volunteers, and made progress toward an ice-climbing tower in downtown Ogden.

Among those achievements, Lowe said he is most proud of the group's efforts to introduce at-risk youth to the world of climbing.

"I'm committed to kids in the inner city who otherwise wouldn't get a chance to try it," he said. "It teaches people about their relationships to themselves and the universe. Getting frustrated doesn't work in climbing. You have to deal with things that are out of your control."

Dealing with things that are out of his control has taken on a whole new meaning for Lowe in recent years.

In 2001, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. But this September, doctors told him that he actually has olivopontocerebellar atrophy, or OPCA, a condition that shrinks the cerebellum over time.

"In some ways, I'd rather have MS," he said. "They're often mistaken for each other, but this (OPCA) is always fatal."

The condition has him using two canes to get around, but that hasn't stopped him from working to leave one more big imprint on Ogden.

He's working with city officials in the hopes of bringing a year-round ice-climbing tower to downtown, something he said would not only bring more recognition to the relatively new sport, but would also go a long way toward making Ogden a destination for outdoor sports lovers.

"It gets more difficult with the current economic situation, but I think we can work together and get something done. We just need to get more creative."

He said the one solution that could make it viable would be for some downtown office buildings to implement a geothermal energy exchange system, which uses the constant temperature of earth below ground to cool buildings in the summer and heat them in the winter.

"We could reduce their energy use by 30 percent. That would more than make up for the energy the tower would use."

While he intends to continue working toward the ice tower, Lowe's declining health has prompted him to rethink his priorities.

He's looking for someone to replace him at the helm of Ogden Climbing Parks so he can finish his autobiography and spend more time with his daughter, among other things.

"I'll try to find someone over the winter. I'll still consult, but I can't spend all my time on it.

"It's time to get serious about finishing the things I want to do."

If you'd like to donate to Ogden Climbing Parks, just click the link in my sidebar. It'll take you to OCP's site.

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